Comic ballerinas in drag dig up ‘underwater’ piece that’s just tu-tu much
NEW YORK — If something smells fishy at the Joyce Theater this week, it’s because the dancers of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo have gone down to the docks in search of fresh repertory to serve to their public.
And what a treasure they have found! In a heroic salvage operation, the irrepressible troupe of comic ballerinas in drag, whose season opened on Tuesday, have uncovered the remains of the underwater divertissement from the 19th-century folk ballet “The Little Humpback Horse,” originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon for Russia’s Imperial Theaters, and reworked by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky.
Miraculously, after suh a long time soaked in brine, this ballet isn’t even a little bit soggy, but still sparkles with the coruscations of exotic sea creatures.
Not that anyone has ever seen a sea creature like leading ballerina Olga Supphozova,the flashy Queen of the Underwater. Supphozova rules her sunken realm surrounded by a harem of coy Starfish wearing glasses, flirtatious Corals, and Medusas in chic hats made from blobs of jelly. Following them come ballerina Sylphia Belchick as a flaky Gold Fish, and premier danseur Marat Legupski, the Genie of the Underwater, whose toothy grin illuminates the deep.
If Jacques Cousteau ever saw this group winking at him through a porthole, he would head straight for shore and gulp down a tall one at the nearest seaside bar. Balletomanes who love the Trocks’ irreverent send-up of the classical repertoire, however, will appreciate this dose of hilarity, which comes just in time for the holidays.
Typically, “The Little Humpback Horse” succeeds because, as kooky as it gets, this ballet is the real thing, staged by Russian ballet mistress Elena Kunikova and based on the Kirov production with its lilting, Cesare Pugni score. While Petipa might hold his nose at the sight of these “ballerinas” with their hairy chests and armpits, the Trocks are sweating to perform his choreography as best they can.
Since the ballet is often murderously difficult, the Trocks save most of their eye-rolling shtick and devious asides for the steps that link phrases together. Viewers can’t help but sympathize with their efforts, and when someone pulls off a tour de force, whipping around in pirouettes fouettés, for example, the audience cheers. In their own way, the Trocks capture the genuine excitement of ballet’s athleticism, while lampooning its emotional impact with their expressions of unquenchable ecstasy.
In addition to “The Little Humpback Horse,” the first of two separate programs features a slapstick version of “Les Sylphides,” notable for danseur Pavel Tord’s appearance as a heavily intoxicated Poet. With his slender frame, unruly blond hair and smeared lipstick, Tord resembles the late Edie Sedgwick on a barbiturate-induced bender at the Factory. He proves to be a passive-aggressive partner, struggling with ballerina Margeaux Mundeyn to Chopin’s Valse (Op. 64).
A searchlight, er, spotlight scans the stage before discovering Ida Nevasayneva as the molting heroine of “The Dying Swan,” and a trio of perky Odalisques simper their way through the “Pas des Odalisques” from “Le Corsaire.” The late choreographer George Balanchine takes his licks in “Go for Barocco,” where the dancers resemble Broadway showgirls who tie their over-stretched limbs into knots.
Balanchine’s duet “Tarantella” has its origin in the strenuous Italian folk dance, which supposedly exhausts the venom of the tarantula spider before it can kill its victim. Performed by Sveltlana Lofatkina and Vladimir Legupski, dangerously armed with tambourines, the Trocks’ version of “Tarantella” has plenty of bite.