Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo Review
December 14, 2021 | The Joyce Theater – New York City, NY
The magic of Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo is guaranteed to warm any frozen heart that dares walk into their show.
Founded in 1974 by a group of ballet enthusiasts, the company, affectionately known as the Trocks, has grown to become an established force in the dance world. Dedicated to performing classic ballets as well as new works, the all-male company dances en travesti with commitment, grace, and cheeky playfulness from the tips of their pointe shoes to the tops of their tiaras.
Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo opened their New York City shows at The Joyce Theater which quickly became a room filled with joyous laughter.
In their typical Trock fashion, and gentle poke at the dramatic Russian prima ballerinas, an announcer in a thick accent communicates that there will be replacements, “Natasha Notgoodenuv will not be on tonight” and “Our pas de deux this evening will actually be a pas de trois”.
(Oh, by the way, all the dancers have European-inspired punny stage names for their female and male alter egos; you’ll have to compare with their website to discover who is playing whom).
Setting the tone, the audience straps in for an unpredictable evening.
The program opens with perhaps their most well-known piece, Le Lac Des Cygnes (Swan Lake, Act II).
If you’re unfamiliar with the tale, the ballet surrounds the tragic love story between Prince Siegfried and the young woman Odette, magically transformed into a swan, er swan-woman. Anyway, she is held captive by the evil Von Rothbart and in most versions it doesn’t end well for the couple. Act II takes us to the lake where Siegfried meets Odette and discovers her unfortunate circumstances.
The curtain rises on Von Rothbart in the moonlit woods (notably lit by Kip Marsh). Performed by Jacques D’Aniels (Joshua Thake), he brings a creepy, goofiness to the already absurd character of Von Rothbart. Thake executes clean lines in his arabesques and builds drama by running around the stage, eventually exiting stage left pulling a wooden swan on a string off with him. Additional gags include swan noises, slapping, a croaking frog soundtrack, and alluding to swan poop on the stage.
The corps de ballet is represented by eight swan dancers besides Odette. They enter the stage doing a long sequence of bourrées, not coming off pointe for an impressive length of time.
Fitted in romantic style tutus, a slight departure from the typical classical tutu seen in other productions, and elbow length white gloves, Mike Gonzales’ costumes are appropriate for the roles. The simple addition of a white glove and the almost “oh well” attitude to a bodice slipping below the chest hair area, brings another layer of comedy to the piece.
But the dancers do get serious because along with the gags, there is also a task at hand and that is the truly difficult choreography.
Boris Mudko (Giovanni Ravelo) dancing the part of Siegfried and Nadia Doumiafeyva (Philip Martin-Nelson) dancing the part of Odette, are brilliant in the famous White Swan Pas de Deux.
The duo completed numerous recognizable steps selected from the Mariinsky version by the Russian choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.
Trickier steps, like the partnered turns, were executed perfectly and Martin-Nelson’s petit serrés, a simple step even the most prima of ballerinas cannot always execute well, were some of the best I have ever seen; his foot delicately vibrated like a tiny hummingbird.
Martin-Nelson’s White Swan solo is done beautifully with solid double turns.
The two Big Swans (their actual name in the full-length ballet) were both capable on pointe and the classic quadruple of Little Swans was expectedly comedic.
A quintessential Trock piece, their Swan Lake Act II is superb in tone, taste, and technique.
Slightly confusing, but perhaps part of the satirical “last minute” show announcements, the middle of the program is slated as “Pas de Deux or Modern Work” (to be announced).
In this case, the opening night audience received Swan Lake Pas de Trois and Dying Swan sandwiched around Nightcrawlers (which was included in the program).
Swan Lake Pas de Trois is traditionally a sequence for two females and one male dancer in the middle of Prince Siegfried’s birthday celebration in Act I. The moment serves as a break for the lead characters as well as a showcase of technique.
The Trocks do the same but of course with flair. The trio enters, two ballerinas who look at least six feet tall each, and their male partner, about two heads shorter than them. The ballerinas, played by Helen Highwaters (Duane Gosa) and Eugenia Repelskii (Joshua Thake) and their partner, Timur Legupski (Jake Speakman) press through the choreography with gusto and charisma.
Especially notable is Thake as Repelskii, who brought charm through the cheeriest smile I have seen on a dancer in a long time.
Following is perhaps the most interesting work, Peter Anastos’ Nightcrawlers.
Set as a parody to Jerome Robbins’ famous In the Night ballet, it also serves as a sequel to Anastos’ other parody Yes, Virginia, Another Piano Ballet which was also a Robbins parody. Those familiar with Robbins will recognize not only the music of Frederic Chopin but nods to choreography like “the carries” from Robbins’ The Concert (which consists of dancers being comically carried across the stage).
A parody of Robbins lends itself particularly well to the style of the Trocks because Robbins’ works often mirrored human interactions; in his In the Night and in Anastos’ Nightcrawlers, we see three couples in different stages of relationships.
Donning dramatic ball gowns and tuxedos with tails, the costumes by Ryan Hanson take us immediately to an earlier time, closer to the turn of the century (the previous one not this one). The dancers portray melancholy, reflective moods. The choreography is emotionally neoclassical and generously peppered with goofy moments: a ballerina carries a male dancer, the White Swan from Swan Lake makes a cameo appearance, a dancer casually reads a book on stage.
Successful in both comedy and mood, Nightcrawlers is a wonderful ode to Robbins.
Lucky us, we were also treated with the Trocks’ witty version of Dying Swan with Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter) as the title character.
After finding his light, or rather the spotlight finding him, Carter enters as expected in the purely classical version by bourréeing across stage, back to the audience, arms fluttering like a bird.
As he floats across the stage, feathers are dropping to the ground from his tutu. The bird is molting. And isn’t that just dang clever? It’s a trick easily achieved by stuffing feathers between layers of tulle, but the effect is significant.
The original classical piece, choreographed by Fokine for the celebrity ballerina Anna Pavlova in 1905, is ripe with metaphor, all crammed into three minutes of somber choreography. The Dying Swan is a stunning creature at the end of its life, hanging onto every drop of beauty.
Much like any dancer who must contend with the burden of time, there is sadness even amongst the laughter of the Trock version.
After pleading to unseen figures offstage and desperately trying to stuff feathers back into his costume, Carter ends on the floor in a swan pose, wing in the air as the spotlight closes in on one last beautiful shape.
Walpurgisnacht, which translates to Walpurgis Night, is a supposed phenomenon of German origin where witches celebrate the arrival of spring with their Gods.
Walpurgisnacht the ballet is mostly performed in one of two ways. George Balanchine created a version in 1975 for the Théâtre National de l’Opéra’s production of Faust and is now performed as an independent work. While Balanchine’s features joy and celebration in a more abstract manner, the Bolshoi version by Leonid Lavrovsky goes more traditional and includes depictions of Gods and forest creatures like nymphs and fauns.
The Trockadero version (which they call Valpurgeyeva Noch) mirrors the latter – the better option in my opinion; if we’re going to be ridiculous, we might as well have fauns in there.
Ballerinas don Grecian-style dresses (sometimes eating fake grapes), velvet leggings and faun horns; the piece is absurd as soon as the curtain goes up. Greek God Bacchus, danced by Nicholas Khachafallenjar (Haojun Xie), and the female priestess Bacchante, danced by Minnie van Driver (Ugo Cirri) lead the over-the-top dramatic ensemble with panache.
Xie demonstrates extraordinary strength by completing several overhead press lifts (the ballerina jumps vertically and bends back at the waist as the male dancer scoops underneath, grabbing at the waist and low back, and pressing the ballerina upwards, elbows extending straight overhead). The lift is not only difficult as is but repeated over and over with a partner equal in your weight is impressive.
The duo also completed the challenging torch lift (the ballerina balances her derriere in the palm of the male dancer, as his arm is again extended straight overhead).
Cirri is an exceptional dancer with clean technique, noticeable in his quick chaînés on pointe and graceful leg lines.
Leading the fauns was Boris Dumbkopf (Takaomi Yoshino) as Pan who displayed bravura tricks with sprightliness.
Once again, my eye was drawn to the cheeky expression on Joshua Thake (this time as his alter ego Jaques D’Aniels) as he pranced around as a faun in the background. And this is one of the delightful things about the Trockadero troupe; each person brought their character’s personality to life every second whether center stage or not. Whereas in traditional classical ballets, dancers are trained to be more or less duplicates of each other, the Trocks are celebrated as individuals.
And it just looked like they were having fun. We need to be reminded that ballet is fun, ballet is ridiculous, and ballet is beautiful which the Trocks expertly showcase. Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo’s Joyce performance is a riotous, provocative, and necessary good time.
Featured Photo for this Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo review of the Trocks at The Joyce Theater © Zoran Jelenic
Leave a Reply