Why in the world would anyone want to see a bunch of grown men in tutus and toe shoes tackle some of the most cherished works in the ballet repertoire? The "Dying Swan" with hairy armpits? I mean, really.
Well, leave your skepticism at the door. The 30-year-old Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo presents a crafty, very entertaining blend of high art and serious camp, pairing physical virtuosity with slapstick comedy and wrapping the whole thing in ornate costumes, outrageous wigs, and lots of attitude.
The company's overly mannered approach to the classics is not only a riotous send-up en travestie, but a surprisingly respectful reinvigoration of a stylized tradition all but lost in the modern ballet world. For the knowledgeable, the exaggeration of familiar dramatic gestures is often riotously funny. For the casual observer, including kids, it's just plain fun. It's a neat little package of both tribute and parody.
The conceit is a hoot from the get-go. The Trocks' talented performers portray a colorful troupe of prima ballerinas with names like Ida Nevasayneva and Vera Namethatunenova (who, according to her bio, once impaled a Grand Dutchess with an overzealous grand jete.) Though the company's repertoire contains a number of modern works, it was the classical numbers that held the floor last night. The most substantial dancing came in the fast-paced Tarantella, which Sveltlana Lofatkina (Fernando Medina Gallego) and Vladimir Legupski (Lionel Droguet) danced with fleet footwork and dynamic turns and leaps.
In contrast, the "Dying Swan" of Ida Nevasayneva (Paul Ghiselin) was heavy-duty mime. This rather scrawny bird was not just expiring, but moulting so badly that the stage was covered in feathers by solo's end. "Le Grand Pas de Quatre," originally choreographed to bring together four of the greatest ballerinas of the romantic age, was full of extravagant make-up and florid characterizations.
The Trocks' version of the second act of "Swan Lake," the company's signature work, is still one of their most effective. The corps doesn't mince the traditional steps, nor do they hold back on the gestural embellishments -- there's rather more pecking and flapping here than in the original, combined with a fair number of skilled pratfalls, patterns gone awry, and shameless mugging. And there is an impressive degree of ensemble precision, despite the wide variety of body types, from tall and rail thin to squat and barrel-chested. The bobble-headed cygnets were a scream. As Odette, Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter) displayed dynamite technique, with steady balances and razor-sharp fouettes.
"Raymonda's Wedding" doesn't make the strongest of closers. The Trocks play the choreography relatively straight. However, sight gags abound -- The White Lady on a scooter, Raymonda accepting a phone call mid-solo, and the company's tallest ballerina bedecked in black glasses and partnered by a dancer who barely reaches her shoulders. Then there's the encore. I won't give it away, but don't scoot out early.