Campy antics informed by love, hard work and brilliant coaching.
by Joel Benjamin
The early, halcyon days of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, fondly called “the Trocks,” were an intimate affair—they performed in tiny spaces, showing off the original directors’ uncanny knowledge and fondness for the classical ballet tradition with all its silly rituals and shiny stylizations. It was gloriously campy and witty.
Deeply attached to those balletomaniacal memories, I became hypercritical of how the Trocks evolved. I believed they had lost their way and pandered to their audiences with overacting, too much makeup, and too much shtick.
But, you know what? It’s time I took that stick out of my you-know-what and just enjoyed the Trocks for what they are: a brilliant, brash entertainment which just so happens to center around classical ballet. As for mocking ballet, William Forsythe has done far more damage to the art form than the Trocks ever could do with their knockabout versions of the classics.
Despite my previous dissatisfaction with the troupe, it has reached international fame. The Trocks sells out long seasons at the Joyce Theater where it is presently ensconced, bringing its bitchy but wise take on ballet—and modern dance—to audiences hungry for fun in these dreary times. I found myself laughing out loud at their take on Giselle and Paquita (Program B). And I allowed myself to enjoy their antics, which are truly informed by love, hard work and brilliant coaching.
Giselle (Act II) is ripe for satire and re-interpretation. In Yelena Tchernychova’s staging to the rightly famous score by Adolphe Adam, the Wilis (young ladies who died before marriage) have become a cross between zombies and vampires, complete with outlandish wigs and crooked makeup. They are led by their Queen, Myrtha (Olga Supphozova/Robert Carter), whose bounding leaps and hauteur were totally suited to the character. (The noms de guerre chosen by the dancers are a show in themselves.) Her two cronies, Moyna (Helen Highwaters/Duane Gosa) and Zulma (Nadia Doumiafeyva/Philip Martin-Nielson), misbehave dementedly until the three, along with a corps de ballet of zombies, unite to kill Hans (Roland Deaulin/Chase Johnsey), the gamekeeper who has come to leave animal skins on Giselle’s grave. His race up the theater aisle and attempts to get back onto the stage were breathlessly funny.
The centerpiece of Act II is the long Pas de Deux for Giselle (Lariska Dumchenko/Raffaele Morra, dancing as if in one long, mad scene) and the guy who did her in in Act I, Albert (Jacques d’Aniels/Joshua Thake) who loves his own tush more than he loves Giselle. Their lumbering duet and histrionic parting—punctuated by poorly-aimed tossed lilies—was more vaudeville than ballet, but funny.
Edward Gorey’s dreary, smeared forest backdrop is not his best work, but his design for Giselle’s grave (with its hinged door) was terrific. Mike Gonzales’ costumes’ torn, layered look were a new take on Wilis’ couture. Kip Marsh’s lighting was properly moody.
Paquita, long ago reduced from a story ballet to a display of classical ballet purity, was staged by Elena Kunikova after the original by Marius Petipa, to the bouncy, circusy score of Ludwig Minkus. Led by a nearly technically perfect Alla Snizova (Carlos Hopuy), partnered by a not-so-technically-perfect Sergey Legupski (Giovanni Goffredo), the cast romps through a series of ensemble dances, trios, duets and tricky solos dressed in Mike Gonzales’ sensational tutus. (His set included fancy red velvet hangings just inside the proscenium arch.)
The famous Pas de Trois was performed by Doris Vidanya (Matthew Poppe) and Nina Immobilashvili (Alberto Pretto) who dwarfed their partner, Ketevan Iosifidi (the darling, technically gifted Long Zou). They carried it off with all the usual campy competition, with Monsieur Iosifidi struggling to support his amazon terpsichorean partners.
The three solos, choreographed to show off different facets of ballet technique, were decently acquitted by Mmes Highwaters, Yakatarina Verbosovich (Chase Jonsey) and Tatiana Youbetyabootskaya (Laszlo Major), who played mercilessly to the audience.
The Trocks’ Artistic Director, Tory Dobrin and his associate, Isabel Martinez Rivera know their audiences, but back up the nonsense bits with real academic knowledge, using respectable, knowledgeable coaches. The production values are sound even if some of the ballet technique isn’t. But, that’s all part of the fun.
Photos: Zoran Jelenic