Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (Trocks) –
Programme 1: Swan Lake Act II, Le Corsaire pdd, Esmeralda Pas de Six, The Dying Swan, Paquita
Programme 2: Le Sylphides, Patterns in Space, Go for Barocco, Don Quixote
London, Peacock Theatre
The Trocks (Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo) are back in London and it’s been too long – they’ve been away 5 years. I can’t think of another company that always delivers such great dance and great fun. The emphasis there is on the ‘always’ – you come out of seeing a Trocks show and you always feel you had a terrific time and money was very well spent. So a tip to the wise up front – see them in London while you can or catch them on their subsequent UK tour.
In case you have only just surfaced from decades lost in the Amazon jungle, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are New York’s all-male ballet troupe who specialise in sending up traditional ballet en travesti. The rub is that to do this well you really have to know your technical onions, and boy do they know them. They also have lavish costumes and there are times in a Trocks performance when they just do the ballet steps without the laughs and you are seeing good ballet stuff – the real McCoy – even if if all the ballerinas are rather bigger than normal.
Paquita featured in their first bill – its surviving fragments not often seen these days; the last time I recall was Derek Dean’s abbreviated small-scale touring production for English National Ballet back nearly 20 years ago. It’s full of fireworks and lines of ballerinas shimmering away in unison. The Trocks know it well and it sparkles the more for it. Oh, that more traditional companies would put on such short-form classicism, one thinks. Esmeralda in pas de six form is another ballet they shine a light on and make you wish for somebody to do more fully. The Trocks have fun but in this case I can’t help but lament that they didn’t include Esmeralda’s pet goat – a real, and very troublesome goat, I gather in some old productions.
Their star ballerina, without doubt, is Chase Johnsey – stage name Yakatarina Verbosovich. In Le Corsaire pdd and Don Quixote (their new to the UK work this tour) there are laughs, but more fun in a way is that she does such a great rendition of tough steps and I think you could put her on as a surprise guest at the Coliseum or Opera House and, stripped of gags, not so many would twig.
All the above is rather a “ballet as high art” perspective on some of what they do, but the guts of it is far more earthy fun. All their ballerinas have huge back stories, scores to settle and loves to conquer and they see the audience as there to be appealed to with almost petty Tom and Jerry emotions or lascivious asides. Childish emotions run wild and the inner child in us all know it’s never far from the surface. They opened with Swan Lake Act II and it’s probably still their funniest classical piece – just love the way the Swans mimic real Swans, pecking the ground when bored or, when they do get it together, there is always one who is hopelessly out of place. That, and Odette has to put up with a Prince always preening.
Even more of an institution is their (moulting) Dying Swan, where the peerless very elderly ballerina, ‘danced’ by Paul Ghiselin, has now been superseded by younger bodies – for my performance anyway. I wasn’t sure at first but the new ending, which would have Fokine turning in his grave, is very funny. Going for 40 years now the jokes morph as the troupe’s dancers ever change but the comedy remains as wonderful as ever. And many jokes never change – like the spoof announcements at the top of the show about how the dancers are feeling – answer is rather ‘Russian’.
Although they famously send up the classical canon, my very favourite piece, Patterns in Space, is a spoof on Merce Cunningham and his musical partner, the avante-garde composer, John Cage. While two musicians play various no-hope sound making devices the crushed velvet clad dancers bound around the stage, posing oddly, all is desperate confusion but played out with deeply earnest reverence. Your eyes dart from dancers to musicians, trying to take in the endless parade of gags. Witty beyond belief I think anybody who wants to choreograph a contemporary piece should see it, that and the works of New Art Club’s Tom Roden and Pete Shenton, who also strip such dance bare of pretence. It would be nice to see the Trocks take loving aim at some newer choreographic styles like Kylian, Forsythe and McGregor perhaps. But if in 40 years’ time they are still doing their classical thing that’s fine and I’ll still be rolling in the aisles like everybody else – or my spirit will anyway!