They’re back! Those outraged swans, the toe-shoe terrors of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (who should be the pride of the principality) have returned for a London season and then a long regional tour.
The opening programme on Tuesday night at the Peacock Theatre played all the usual cards. A “classic” given the chop before our very eyes – it was Swan Lake ‘s second act that here met the chainsaw – and then a succession of scenes that verge between mockery and a curious seriousness, as if to say, “We are chaps who want to be ballerinas, and by heaven we’ll show you why!”
This last aspect of the show poses intriguing questions about gender, about impersonation as homage (since, unlike onnagata roles in Kabuki Theatre, there is no artistic purpose to the sex reversal), and about the nature of ballet dancing as cross-dressing. But audiences rock with laughter and the cast responds with a generosity of temperament and technique that is irresistible. And, of course, awful truths about ballet are exposed for our delectation.
Chief treasure of the troupe remains ballet master Paul Ghiselin, whose version of The Dying Swan in performance by Ida Nevasayneva boasts a terrible resonance as well as impeccable comic resource.
There are ballerinas in the outside world who still persist in forcing themselves (and their audiences) through this feathered assault of sentimentality and droopy self-indulgence. Ghiselin, with tormented limbs, and the face of an affronted toucan, kills the bloody fowl for good and all. He deserved even more applause than the ecstatic reception he gets for laying it to what I trust is its ultimate rest.
The Swan Lake is frenzied, and given with massive emotional bravura and flawless comic timing by the divine Lofatkina (Fernando Medina Gallego). The trio of odalisques from Le Corsaire dance all (but all ) the right Petipa steps with gay abandon, and a recent La Trovatiara quintet turns Verdi ballet music to its own sunny ends: it looks in Peter Anastos’s astute choreography rather as if it had also dropped off a production of Corsaire.
The final Majismas is (as Degas said of José Maria Sert’s paintings) “very Spanish, and in such a quiet street, too”, and is played with a certain earnestness as if the chaps would have us believe in their oh-so-Hispanic dance credentials. Not quite the point, I’d suggest, but as vivacious as you could wish.
All great fun.