Triumph of the Trocks

Ali Taulbut, West Australian Newspaper, Perth
Posted on

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
His Majesty’s Theatre
Review: Ali Taulbut

Rapturous applause, standing ovations, gasps of admiration: it’s music to the ears of any self-respecting diva of the dance such as Olga Supphozova or Katarina Bychkova of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. “The Trocks”, as they are colloquially known, are an all-male company. They are to ballet what Gilbert & Sullivan were to opera, part homage and part pastiche. At whatever level you personally relate to the ballet, you will find something to enjoy about the Trocks.  The program this season includes old favourites, Swan Lake and the dying swan, as well as newer pieces not seen before in Australia.

That perennial backbone of ballet, Swan Lake, has often been the butt of physical comedy; it’s not hard to parody a work that has women in tutus pretending to be swans. The 16-strong Trocks give it their all with broad strokes of humour. Prince Siegfried (Ashley Romanoff- Titwillow in roguish good form), swoons limply after the ethereal Odette and her troupe of disturbingly thuggish swans. He and Odette gesticulate wildly to recreate the complications of codified ballet mime; their communication is about as useful as drunken charades. Patterns In Space turns its guns on an icon of post-modern dance, Merce Cunningham. In a demonstration of commercial short- sightedness, he forbade the Trocks to (mis)use his choreography, so they messed with the music instead. Against dissonant taped musical squawking, two po-faced, on-stage musicians rustle paper bags, gargle water and bang kitchen bowls in a screamingly funny John Cage send up. There was some dancing going on but, frankly, who was watching?

The all-maleness of the Trocks is as interesting and many-layered as their loving renditions of archetypal ballet and dance styles. From men playing women in ancient Japanese kabuki tradition to Propeller, the all-male UK theatre company, you start to look at the female role in a different way when you remove the feminine from the portrayal. The Trocks’ humour relies heavily on arch looks and poisonous visual asides, showing a ballerina’s displeasure at being upstaged or handled roughly by her partner. And yet in the excellent Go For Barocco, a Balanchine- inspired piece, and the climactic Cuban rhythms of Majisimas, the occasional insertion of a pratfall was jarring. It distracted from the feeling of celebration of the ballerina and her art, which is clearly part of the Trocks experience.

So admiring are they that the opening night program was altered to include a Don Quixote pas de deux, in honour of ballet legend Lucette Aldous who attended; she famously danced the same piece with Rudolph Nureyev. Sveltlana Lofatkina – herself a legend at the barre – proved there is more than one place to hide a fan and William Vanilla acquitted himself well in the bombastically bouncy solo section.

What really comes across is the company’s joy at performing. If the technique lags a little behind the leading lights of mainstream ballet, it’s immaterial as the skills of comic timing are here more important, and spot on. Bravo.

Les Ballets Trockladero de Monte Carlo runs until Sunday.