The Lowry, Salford

Dave Cunningham, Manchester, UK
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Venue: The Lowry, Salford, United Kingdom

You have only to look at the members of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (AKA the Trocks) in order to get the joke. The company comprises of (obviously) male dancers dressed up to the nines as ballerinas. Yet their skill and wide sense of humour makes sure that there is no chance this will be regarded as a freak show. The Trocks extend their range, parodying much more than ballet and explore the rich area of theatrical mishaps and rivalries to the delight of the audience.

The current programme is in three parts and the middle section includes ‘ Le Grand Pas De Quarte.’ Although intended as a showcase for four top ballerinas it becomes an exercise in oneupmanship as each dancer tries hilariously to upstage the others. Even those of us unfamiliar with ‘ The Dying Swan’ get the point as the poor bird moults all over the stage before expiring in a burst of gunfire. It is a short piece and the joke continues as the milking of the applause lasts almost as long as the actual dance.

There is no doubt of the affection that these guys have for their source material nor that, given the chance, they have the ability to fulfil the technical requirements of ballet. Their pleasure in proving this is clear in the ‘Pas De Deux ‘and ‘The Paquita ‘which closes the evening, showcasing the ability of the cast to dance en pointe amongst other remarkable sequences.

‘Act 11 of Swan Lake’ , which opens the show, is the dance for which the Trocks are best known. It is easy to see why, as it offers the chance to exaggerate the moves to real comic effect. We watch in awe and delight as cues are missed, entrances fluffed and dancers knocked sideways by mis-timed high kicks. In a lovely moment, a dancer who forgets his steps slips in some Riverdance moves.

The gender of the dancers is neither ignored nor emphasised and no attempt is made to make them look overly feminine. Chest hair is on full display and the height differences between the tallest and the shortest dancers is mercilessly exploited.

Ballet dancers embody grace, and a performance will make difficult actions seem effortless and disguise the time and training it has taken to achieve such standards. The Trocks, on the other hand, get the maximum comic effect from showing just how hard it is to perform so well. They gasp for breath, stagger flat footed and make clear that doing the splits really does hurt – especially when you topple over afterwards.

Yet throughout the show the enthusiasm of these multi-talented performers is never in doubt, as they cheer themselves on performing ecstatic handstands. As a result we are on their side and laugh with, not at them. The overall effect is reminscent of being invited to share a very funny, private joke.

It works, as the laughs come thick and fast, even for non ballet fans. Oh, and don’t rush off after the curtain call – there is an encore.