LES BALLETS TROCKADERO DE MONTE CARLO
December 15, 2018
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is a rare sort of performing entity that is able to poke fun at the very thing in which it possesses great knowledge and skill. As Victor Borge did with classical music, the Trocks celebrate the tropes and clichés of classical ballet in a way that reminds you just how hard it is to do in the first place. On opening night at The Joyce Theater, this tender sort of satire progressed in such a way that the troupe’s primary gimmick of male-identifying dancers performing en travesti took a back seat to the execution of spectacle.
The program opened with the Trockadero staple Act II of Swan Lake, imbued at every moment with campy magnification. The tactics run the gamut: Long Zou pecks his neck as Odette, and, despite his poised readiness, Duane Gosa never gets his music as Prince Siegfried. Incompetence continues to be the main source of humor, primarily in the corps de ballet, whose incorrect head bobs in Les Petites Cygnes otherwise add satisfying visual counterpoint to the famously unison piece.
Where the work succeeds most, however, is in moments where it is unclear if a blunder comes from the character or its respective performer (who, in the world of the Trocks, is also a named character the actual dancer additionally embodies). Is it Yuri Smirnov or Von Rothbart himself who, overcome with Tchaikovsky’s swelling orchestration, maniacally runs too many laps to the point of exhaustion? Is it Siegfried’s pal Benno who keeps dropping Odette, or that clumsy Innokenti Smoktumuchsky?
Subsequent pieces relied on having the taller, more beefy dancers in female roles, leaving the male parts to the smallest of the company. While the Paquita Pas De Trois is but a well-performed novelty, within La Trovatiara’s spoofing of ballet’s historically more culturally exoticizing tendencies (more of that, please, by the way!) is the physical humor of Joshua Thake’s grandes jetés, reduced to hearty glissades when assisted by Boysie DiKobe and Kevin Garcia.
From then on, the evening became but a showcase of dolled up men skillfully dancing en pointe. Robert Carter may be sending up the maudlin aspects of Dying Swan, but his tutu’s constant shedding of feathers is beautiful in its own right. By the time we get to the underwater scene from The Little Humpbacked Horse, all we witness is an obscure work, ridiculously costumed to the point of normalizing all that came before it.
Reduced buffoonery leaves the true nature of the company at an unclear intersection between drag performance and ballet satire. Is a man wearing a tutu for the sheer sake of laughter necessary or even helpful in lovingly and earnestly poking fun at an art form that has managed to survive a history rife with sexism? Must a man’s performance en pointe also be one of female impersonation? We laugh at hairy chested ballerinas executing double tours knowing women are fully capable of these actions, but beneath that laughter are opportunities for a fuller commentary.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews