Parody born of passion

Judith Mackrell, The Guardian
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Parody born of passion: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo the Peacock Theatre. Photograph: Tristram Kenton Tristram Kenton/Tristram Kenton

Four out of Five Starts
Peacock Theatre, London

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo the Peacock Theatre. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

Anyone arriving late for Les Ballets Trockadero’s opening night might imagine they have walked into a straight ballet show. A tall, leggy blonde with pretty arms is spinning gracefully through a Balanchine-inspired Tarantella, while her handsome, preppy partner is beating a tambourine accompaniment with dedicated brio. However, this brief illusion of normality is exactly why the Trocks have been the darlings of the ballet world for more than 30 years. When they choose to, this all-male troupe can adroitly pass themselves off as the real thing.

In fact, the illusion holds for only a few seconds before the man (stage name Vladimir Legupski, brother of Nikolai) begins to hammer his tambourine with the exuberant pique of a two-year-old, while his ballerina (stage name Sveltlana Lofatkina, and nicknamed the Chernobyl Cherub) attempts to kick-box the tambourine with her grands battements. In between, the two of them are camping up the syncopated quirks of Balanchine’s style with an accuracy so wicked that every ballet fan in the audience is hooting with delighted appreciation.

Tarantella is one of the Trocks’ more academic works, in which their trademark physical comedy is slipped neatly between the cracks of an expert stylistic parody. At the other extreme is the pure nonsense of Dying Swan – a moulting Miss Havisham of a performance, given as always by Ida Nevasayneva in a delicious study of shedding feathers, arthritic knees and eyelashes so burdensomely fake they keep swerving her off balance.

Between these lie the second act of Swan Lake, Pas de Quatre and the effervescent Paquita. In all of them devotees of the Trocks will recognise familiar jokes: the resourcefully malicious ways in which the corps de ballet miss their cues and spike each other’s steps, or the henpecked, hapless Benno in Swan Lake, who gets grief from everyone whenever he tries to make room for himself in the choreography.

But the gags work every time because they are rooted in a love affair with ballet. Whether the Trocks are camping up the flashy self-marketing techniques of prima ballerinas, or the agonies of their put-upon princes, they do it with an accuracy born of passion. Robert Carter (stage name Olga Supphozova) is built like a bull but his arms are beautifully responsive, and when, in Paquita, he briefly achieves the transforming power of a true ballerina, the gap between his gender and his role embodies all the slippage between reality and illusion upon which the art form has always fed. This is the funniest night you’ll ever have at the ballet, but, weirdly, also one of the most poignant.

The Guardian