Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Le Lac des Cygnes (Swan Lake Act 2), Swan Lake Pas de Trois, Nightcrawlers, The Dying Swan, Valpurgeyeva Noch (Walpurgisnacht)
New York, Joyce Theater
14 December 2021
This year, the Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo’s visit could not have been better timed. As a new Covid variant closes in, we all need a little cheering up.
But then, the Trocks’s antics are always welcome. Their specialty is knock-offs of classical ballets, performed by male dancers wearing copious stage makeup and pointe shoes. The presentation is Ballets-Russes-style retro: high drama, ballerina airs, piling on as many mannerisms as possible.
On the program was their classic staging of the lakeside scenes of Swan Lake, Le Lac de Cygnes. The twist is that the dancer performing the role of Odette, Philip Martin-Nielson, alias Nadia Doumiafeyva, is really quite a good ballerina, a solid turner with great balance and crisp battus. There are moments in the pas de deux when you forget all about the excessive makeup and funny wigs and just lose yourself in the beauty of the movement, the way it soars on the notes of Tchaikovsky’s score. Then, just in time, something funny happens: a lift doesn’t work, or the swans beat up the prince’s poor, unsuspecting sidekick Benno.
The Trocks’ Swan Lake pas de deux places Benno in the action, a historically-accurate detail. More modern stagings leave him out of this scene. Why is he even there, getting in the way? Odette wonders, too, and keeps shooing him off.
The new work this season is Nightcrawlers, a spoof of Jerome Robbins’ In the Night by Peter Anastos, the troupe’s founding choreographer. Unfortunately, it lacks the attention to detail that makes Lac des Cygnes such a hoot. There’s plenty of material in In the Night to parody. In Robbins’ ballet, three couples offer different portraits of heterosexual love, accompanied by Chopin nocturnes. One is youthful, the other turbulent, the third sophisticated and exotic. I can imagine lots of ways to spin humor out of Robbins’ simplistic breakdown of romantic behavior. Instead, the choreography here goes for generic jokes about ballerinas lifting their male partners, dancers’ arms getting entangled, ladies being dragged unceremoniously across the stage on their back sides, or their male partners preferring each others’ company.
What works in the best Trockadero parodies, like Lac des Cygnes, is that they “get” what is inherently ridiculous about the source material. Ballet has so much that is over-the-top, ripe for parody. All the Trocks have to do is show it to us, with a wink. When that doesn’t happen, as with Nightcrawlers, the jokes go flat.
But the troupe more than redeemed itself with the final ballet on the program, Valpurgeyeva Noch (“Walpurgisnacht”). This is their send up of Leonid Lavrosky’s 1941 ballet set to the divertissement from Gounod’s opera Faust, staged by Elena Kunikova.
Kunikova, a former dancer with the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, understands the style of the ballet – pure, orgiastic, high-Soviet kitsch – so intimately, she barely has to change a thing. She simply presents it as it is, with its prancing fauns and nymphs running around with flowing chiffon scarves and wide eyes. A golden-haired Bacchus (Haojun Xie) poses heroically as his Bacchante (Ugo Cirri) exhibits her virtuosity with a gleaming, rapacious smile, exuding total, glam self-assurance. One big overhead lift follows upon the other, segueing into a series of virtuosic fouetté turns and turns à la seconde. Music, choreography, fauns, and flowing chiffons rise in an inexorable, frenzied crescendo. Perfect Trocks material, executed with panache.
And then, as an encore, the company came out onstage for a rousing, high-kicking rendition of New York, New York. Here’s looking at you, Trocks.