In the first minute of the show Friday, March 3, titters turned to guffaws. The waves of applause soon followed, and they didn’t end till the encore two hours later. In the dance world, only Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo inspires this kind of reaction, and the Trocks’ return to Cal Performances 40 years after they bowed at Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall was full of gratifying surprises.
The all-male dance parody troupe is still the funniest and most sophisticated act around, and it is hard to forget yesteryear’s glittering panoply of faux assolutas with stage names like Tamara Boumdiyeva and Ida Neversayneva. But nostalgia is dangerous. So let me state categorically: In the four decades I have been following the Trocks, they have never danced better. They are even stronger by a wide margin than they were in their last Berkeley visit four years ago.
Fortunately, that proficiency has not blunted the satirical edge. The dancer named Yekaterina Verbosovich performed Odette in Act 2 of “Swan Lake” more than respectably. But it was the fluttering arms, the inclined neck and the attempts to seduce the audience with eyes alone that proved devastatingly funny.
The Trocks’ scholarly rectitude adds to the mirth. Prince Siegfried’s friend, Benno, has disappeared from most modern productions. But here he was, in person, warming up the crossbow. When the prince (Vladimir Legupski) and Odette dive into their conventional mime scene, they enter the realm of the absurd. If you can ignore the body hair, the corps ensembles on pointe were quite something in this classic Trocks number.
What we know as “Le Corsaire” pas de deux united Nina Enimenimynova and Araf Legupski for a thrilling episode in which fouettés dazzled and coupé-jetés soared. The Trocks are masters of finding the narcissism implicit in ballet, and if they can’t quite bring off a step, they fake it or substitute something more daring; I confess that before Friday, I had never seen a body flip in this duet.
That Trocks perennial, “The Dying Swan,” was claimed by the immortal Helen Highwaters. Once she found her spotlight, she molted sufficient feathers to stuff a mattress.
The company’s version of “Don Quixote” is a canny condensation of the Petipa-Gorsky classic, which omits the title character but gives us a taste of everything else. We got gypsy dancers in fright wigs, a hopelessly outmatched suitor for the hand of heroine Kitri, a mysterious figure who metamorphoses into Amour and the besotted barber who plays the guitar as well as he lifts the ballerina with one hand. The Kitri, Alla Snizova, brandished a mean fan.
Somehow, the pas de six from Petipa’s “Esmeralda” made a less striking effect, although Elena Kunikova, who set it for the Trocks, is expert in the Russian style.
The serious quibble about this visit concerns repertoire. The Trocks in Romantic Russian ballet are just fine, but they have also introduced deathless, accurate and loving takeoffs on Balanchine, Robbins, Graham and Cunningham. We should see them again. Maybe next time.Read more