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Trockadero: Ballet with a Twist

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A scene from the opening act, “Swan Lake”. Note chest hair on ballerina in the tutu.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo presented the best of classic ballet at the beautiful Mondavi Center in Davis Thursday night, playing to a near-capacity crowd.

Tchaikovsky, “Swan Lake,” tutus, pink satin pointe shoes, lifts and pirouettes and breathtaking spins: This performance had it all.

It was hilarious.

Trockadero has been bringing the grace and discipline of ballet to enthusiastic audiences across the globe for 38 years and has become a major player in the world of ballet companies.

The sorcerer Von Rothbart (Fernando Medina Gallego), “Swan Lake”
Odette, Queen of the Swans (Robert Carter)

The international cast is a wonderful troupe of serious dancers. Their athleticism and technical abilities are impressive, and the dancers have studied and performed with some of the best and most prestigious companies in the world.

Prince Siegfried (Brock Hayhoe, aka Andrei Verikose) woos Odette (Robert Carter, aka Olga Supphozova)

They interpret a wide-ranging repertoire of classic ballets, from the divine Russians to the more modern styles of Balanchine and Merce Cunningham. The company has won awards for the best classical repertoire and for excellence in dance and has been the subject of television specials and documentaries as well.

All of the dancers are men.

Yes, male dancers are arrayed in tutus and dance en pointe. But there is no attempt to hide the essential maleness of the dancers. True, they wear beautiful makeup and wigs and false eyelashes. But they do not shave their hairy chests, or stuff their costumes with fake breasts, or hide their magnificent male musculature.

Von Rothbart challenges Prince Siefried for the hand of Odette
(above and below)

They dance classic ballet with mostly traditional choreography, and they incorporate the old-fashioned classic Russian ballet movements of hand and head. The familiar romanticism of the delicate, lissome female dancers audiences have come to expect is present also. Yet the entire experience is handled as a humorous parody.

Each dancer has two alter egos, as they dance both male and female roles, and their stage names are funny Russianized puns: Ida Nevasayneva, Svetlana Lofatkina and Marina Plezegetovstageskaya dance with Velour Pilleaux, Jacques d’Aniels and the five Legupski brothers.

The company plays for laughs, particularly in their signature piece, Act II of “Swan Lake.” The grace of the Dance of the Cygnets is punctuated by the collapse of a dancer who is bowled over by another.

The first: “Swan Lake”: the Cygnet ballerinas defend
themselves from the swan hunter Benno (above and below)

The menacing street-brawl scene of fluffy swans threatening Benno the hunter begins and ends in a flash, leaving the audience wondering if they really did see those bunched muscles and the kick more suited to a steel-toed boot than to a pointe shoe. True, the pointe shoe is a men’s size 11, but it is still made of pink satin.

There are pratfalls and sendups of the hauteur of traditional ballerinas. Occasionally a dancer will break into an exuberant hoedown, or the swans will become a gaggle of barnyard chickens with bobbing heads, squabbling and scratching. A curtain-call tussle over the roses delivered to Odette is hastily squelched when the curtain rises again.

Thursday’s performance included a Pas de Quatre, a piece written in 1845 for the four reigning prima ballerinas of the day. It showcases the four ballerinas trying to outshine and upstage one another in grand diva fashion.

“Go for Barocco” was a delightful piece in the style of Balanchine, with unexpected near-grotesque steps and movements executed with grim technique by six mismatched ballerinas. The dry competitive battle of wills between Vanya Verikosa (Brock Hayhoe) and Yakaterina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey) tickled the audience funny bone, and the speed-walking roundabout had everyone in stitches.

Just before the second intermission, the Dying Swan made an unannounced appearance, dancing the entire piece en pointe while copiously shedding swan feathers about the stage and milking the death throes for every last drop of emotive hamminess. Danced by Paul Ghiselin (Ida Nevasayneva, aka Velour Pilleaux), the Swan has become an audience favorite and is a perfect parody of the solo diva.

“Majisimas” was a lovely Spanish-flavored piece for four couples and the Corps de Ballet. The ballet displayed the most dazzling and intricate classical dancing of the evening, including magnificent leaps, lightning-fast spins and beautiful arched postures.

This final ballet brought the crowd to its feet, and the ovation continued for several minutes until the entire company regained the stage for a short and beautiful gypsy-tinged encore.

To understand the remarkable achievements and the staying power of this unique company, consider the grueling performance schedule: The Mondavi performance was the 12th of 17 U.S. performances in January and February. In March, Trockadero will leave for Europe, spending time in Italy, France and Switzerland. In April and May there will be multiple performances in Colombia, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong.

June and July finds Trockadero returning to Europe, with two weeks at the Folies Bergere in Paris in September and October, and the remainder of the year will be spent dancing in Australia and New Zealand.

The dancers stay with Trockadero for years. Robert Carter dances Odette in “Swan Lake” (as Olga Supphozova) and is an amazing talent. He has been with “the Trock” since 1995. Paul Ghiselin has also been with the company for 17 years. He is the ballet master, and at the age of 50 he is one of the oldest working ballet dancers in the world. His solo performance is stunning testimony to the dedication to athletic and artistic excellence which Trockadero embodies.

The Dance of the Cygnets (above and two below)

An evening with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo guarantees an appreciation for classic ballet, a lighthearted entertainment with plenty of laughter, and a resolution to be certain to catch their next Sacramento area appearance.

Dancers in the encore finale (above and below)

 

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