Unconventional ballet troupe proves to be en pointe

Robert Johnson, The New Jersey Star Ledger
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NEW YORK — As the ballet world moves to distance itself ever further from its past, it leaves behind the playfulness that once made evenings at the ballet so much fun.
With their swaying melodies, outlandish plots and gleefully unselfconscious erotic fantasies, the old repertory favorites are cast aside like broken toys.
Fortunately, this dereliction is not the end of the story. It leaves the field open for those shameless opportunists, the drag artists of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, who have another two weeks to go in their hilarious holiday season at the Joyce Theater.

Like scavengers (or rescuers?), these male ballerinas and their cocky cavaliers swoop down gathering neglected ballets such as “Walpurgisnacht” and “Harlequinade” and pressing them to their hairy bosoms. And speaking of hairy bosoms — why, you may ask, are the veiled Nymphs in this “Walpurgisnacht” the only ones who could use a wax, while the Fauns appear boyishly smooth — even cool — as they rock ’n’ roll behind Olga Supphozova? The Trocks have a method that involves turning gender roles topsy-turvy.

Their latest acquisition, the bacchanal from Gounod’s opera “Faust,”  is a natural for them, since drunken enthusiasm is what the Trocks bring to everything, from the arch classicism of “Raymonda’s Wedding” to the Romantic transports of “Le Lac des Cygnes” to the athletic posturing of “Le Corsaire.” In their meaty hands, “Chopiniana” is a prelude to mayhem, and delicate “La Vivandière” is also an orgy.

Still “Walpurgisnacht” seems like an especially ambitious undertaking. In “Walpurgisnacht,” choreographer Leonid Lavrovsky deploys a small army of mythological characters, who frolic before a moonlit temple in elaborately layered scenes. Some of these voluptuaries lose their bunches of grapes, eager to assume receptive positions on the floor. For the hard-working soloists, however — golden-hued Bacchus and Bacchante; and horned Pan and Panette — robust intrigues do not translate into opportunities to lie down. “Walpurgisnacht” remains a demanding technical and stylistic showcase, even in this crazed edition staged and tweaked by Elena Kunikova. The Trocks’ production is a triumph of madcap energy.

Backpedaling furiously away from the era of Soviet beefcake, the Trocks return us to a gentler and more knowing time in the Pas d’Action from “Harlequinade.” Here neither the one obvious joke — ballerinas who acknowledge they are taller than their cavaliers and gamely shoulder them in lifts — nor the winking intimacies of Lariska Dumbchenko, as an especially flirtatious Columbine, and not even the addition of a gonoidal tenor aria can dispel this ballet’s atmosphere of mystery. Cleaned up and presented by a “straight” ballet company, this evocation of commedia dell’arte Venice would be as magical and compelling as ever. The Trock’s bulls-eye skewering of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, in their pants-wettingly funny “Patterns in Space,” proves that classical ballet is not the issue — any form of high-falutin’ theatrical art is ripe for satire.

So are the Trocks behind the times — or ahead of them in salvaging classical ballet’s past?

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Where: The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave. at 19th Street, New york
When: Through Jan. 2, 2011 Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., and Thursdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees Sundays at 3 p.m. There will be additional matinees Friday at 3 p.m., and Dec. 31 at 5 p.m., but no performances Saturday, Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, 2011.
How much: $10-$75. Call (212) 242-0800 or visit