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Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

ART TIMES Dec, 2003
(Photos Courtesy Trockadero de Monte Carlo)

Take the concept of grown men dancing the classical ballet repertoire on point, performing some male but mostly female roles, add a background of good, solid technical training and a thorough knowledge of the classics, weave in a sly sense of humor and you have Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

"Swan Lake" (Sascha Vaughn Photo)

I used to think the viewer had to be cognizant of the specific works this company presents in order to fully appreciate the satire, but after being part of a large crowd seated on the ground at Battery Park one night last September, I’m not sure this is so. One did not have to be thoroughly familiar with the pas de quatre from Act II of Swan Lake to realize that the four "ballerinas," who started the divertissement with astute somberness, began to engage in some unexpected variations, brought about by a unique form of syncopation. It was a pleasure to hear the honest howls of laughter from the audience.

This version of the work, the group’s signature piece, also included quacking ducks (or possibly geese), exaggerated mime sequences and a Prince who was presented as an egotistical wimp. His friend Benno was part therapist and part physical support. This version is based on the 1895 production choreographed by Petipa and Ivanov and was staged by Truitti Gasparinetti

Later, in a separate solo on the program, Ida Nevasayneva’s Dying Swan looked truly pathetic, but when the feathers began to molt and float down continuously from her tutu, there were spectators crying with mirth. The program credits the original choreographer, Michel Fokine, who created the piece for Pavlova, but also states that the Trockadero offers "its own distinctive interpretation of the terminal fowl."

"La Vivandiere" (Sascha Vaughn Photo)

An excerpt from La Vivandiere, the romantic ballet staged for the company by the Russian teacher and dancer Elena Kunikova, was most accurate, but was also a takeoff on Romanticism. Several years ago, in an interview about the Trocks, Kunikova expressed her admiration for the steady development of the dancers’ technique and their ability to create humor by improvising on set steps in rehearsal and then incorporating this into the choreography.

The program says that the original concept of Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo has remained the same since its inception: to present a playful, entertaining view of traditional classical ballet in parody form and en travesty. The different noms de plume the dancers take, among them Ludmila Beaulemova, Tatiana Youbetyabootskaya, Vladimir Legupski, Vera Namethatunerova and Yurika Sakitumi, carry out this intent.

There is also the deeper question of gender roles assigned by society. Ballet women in the early 19th century wore white tulle mid-calf skirts (think of the sylph in La Sylphide or the wilis in Giselle) and began to wear pointe shoes at about the same time. The shoes, which allowed them to rise, literally, to the ends of their toes, gave them an additional aura of otherworldliness that enhanced the ethereal floating quality of their dresses, which had tight, low cut bodices. These ballet dancers represented, par excellence, the woman in Romantic literature and thought — frail, yearning, weightless, spiritual — the eternal female. In fact, ballet was the perfect Romantic icon.

"Les Sylphides" (Sascha Vaughn Photo)

As the century progressed the role of the male in ballet was reduced to carrying the female from place to place, and in many instances young male roles were danced by females. With the further development of classical ballet in Russia at the end of the 19th century (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker) the male assumed bravura roles where the dancing required strong, athletic displays of technique, with multiple jumps and turns. The female bodies were less soft and the long tutus were replaced by short stiff ones that were supposed to be kept horizontal by their straight, vertical backs. The pointe shoes had become stiffer by this time, allowing more technically difficult steps and whipping turns.

This, then, was the 20th century inheritance of classical ballet, with each sex assigned specific costumes and ways of moving. A pas de deux was always performed by a man and a woman, always represented an aspect of love between the two and was to be found in every act of a classical ballet. In the latter part of the century modern dance audiences were introduced to the concept of a male/male or female/female pas de deux and eventually this spread to a few contemporary ballet choreographers. But the idea of men donning white tutus and satin point shoes for legitimate stage performances was not part of accepted theater. The English choreographer Mathew Bourne created his version of Swan Lake (seen on Broadway) with a cast of often vicious male swans in bare feet, wearing white-feathered knickers. He gave many of the roles in the work a sex change. However, this was in 1996 and the Trocks began performing much earlier. In 1972 there was the Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet, which performed at the experimental theater La Mama, and in 1974 a new company was formed under the present name. The result is an evening of fun, achieved by parodying a great art form using the technical tools of that art and touching on some of the provocative issues of the present time.

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