Watching Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is perfect dance satisfaction

Stephan Bonfield, Calgary Herald
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It was pure pleasure once again to take in Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo, Alberta Ballet’s year-opening act Thursday night at the Jubilee auditorium, and yet another invited company performing for their star-studded 50th anniversary season. And next month we’ll see London’s Ballet Boyz, another group you simply won’t want to miss.

Anytime one sees the Trocs, one wonders how they do all that they do. That core strength, the simulation of female roles with male bodies, effectively affected lines, potential tendon-snapping poses and pointe-work — small wonder that this all-male ensemble is world famous for doing just about anything any other male — and female — dancer can do.

And of course, as act by act and panel by panel unfolded, it became almost overwhelming to watch them mercilessly send up every balletic and dance convention from Swan Lake to Merce Cunningham. While it is tempting to view the Trocs as pure athletic entertainment, the viewer is continually reminded that this most creative of all ballet companies always brings something of an added acute angle (with a few obtuse ones thrown in for better measure) to their deranged re-interpretations of classic chestnuts, making us appreciate our favourite art form all the more.

For example, their reimagining of Le Lac des Cygnes takes Act II of Swan Lake to satyricon extents, tacitly blending cynicism with parody while never overstepping boundaries of good taste nor overdoing the humour. Of course, this never stopped their performances from frequently stepping into the fringes of sheer lunacy. Who can forget Nadia Doumiaefeyva’s Odette, combined with an entirely artificial Prince Siegried (Boris Mudko) and a Benno played comically well by Roland Deaulin to form the most hilariously inept trio in ballet history? Nor can we forget the overacted Von Rothbart, played by none other than Jacques D’Aniels.

A huge highlight was the ludicrous Quartet of Swans in best balletic send-up of every convention, all of which were turned prominently upside down. Dancing well, and then this badly, takes uncommon skill. As the program indicated, don’t try this at home.

I think my favourite, and possibly everyone else’s, was the Dying Swan at the end of Act II, portrayed by Maria Paranova. Watching as the Trocs murdered Swan Lake to general approval and uproarious laughter, particularly granting the added “dying swan” scene a whole new meaning in ridiculous, it was all somehow eminently satisfying to partake in a perfectly executed (almost literally) moulting diva hamming up the scene for all its overblown Romantic-era worth.

It felt as though we were witness to a form of ballet rived by carefully choreographed antics that had cohered smartly into an immense joke, one thankfully we were all let in on and to our great delight. And it’s all for the better too, because the Trocs’ incredible technical proficiency brings us greater understanding of ballet at its minutest muscular level. We appreciate more just how hard ballerinas work to dance such classic panels as the Cygnets’ quartet or the Valse des Cygnes.

Patterns in Space, their Merce Cunningham tribute, featuring the even more comically named Araf Legupski, Inna Kolesterolikova and Helen Highwaters couldn’t have been better. Castanets and percussive random nonsense, forcibly intoned from two stage-left musicians, blended their way to stuffily mimed solemnity, something we don’t quite associate with Cunningham, but it all nevertheless underscored perfectly an often bewildering art form that can leave many believing it takes itself too seriously. Quite right.

Of course, the choreographed “patterns in space” had nothing in common with much of anything, increasing the comic effect brought to hilarious heights by the Cageian “music,” characterized by random water-droplet electronica, complete with siffléing fans and ribbons, gurgling throats and barnyard animal sound effects, including a kazoo rendition of our national anthem.

But, it was somewhere in the middle of the splendid Act III performance of the show in which the Trocs re-enacted the amiable outdoor cafe scene from Don Quixote that my admiration only built by the minute. Watching as the ensemble, including an entirely remarkable Kitri and Basil (Yakatarina Verbosovich and Ilya Bobovnikov) execute a compelling series of difficult dances with unremitting Spanish charm in a Romantic, balletic tour-de-force became only more surprising, as they carried it out in near-perfect seriousness and with considerable technical aplomb.

Truly the Trocs demonstrated that great dance is not about kinesiological categorizations of male and female but about showing us, with both gentle humour and serious art, exactly what the body can do, often to the amazement of anyone who knows how to appreciate this truly world-class company.

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