Swans, Can-cans and Real Ballet

“Swan Lake”, “Flames of Paris pas de deux”, “La Cachucha”, “Pas de Six from Esmeralda”, “Dying Swan”, “Gaîté Parisienne”
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Joyce Theater
New York, NY
December 20, 2006

by Mary Cargill
copyright 2006, Mary Cargill

It is an unfortunate sign of the times that a program like this, filled with interesting, stylistically varied, proudly classical pieces, can only mean that the Trocks are back. This comedy troupe, ironically, is one of the last gasps of the ballet boom still unapologetically carrying the classical flag, and their programs and productions are at heart a solid introduction to ballet history — their surface, of course, is a hilarious spoof.

No spoof is complete without “Swan Lake”, ballet’s evergreen money spinner. The Trock’s version, is, unfortunately, becoming less exaggerated, since reasonable facsimiles of their snarling, cape-waving, snaggle-toothed, absolutely ridiculous von Rothbart can be seen at both NYCB and ABT. But at least the Trock’s try for the mime, even if the Prince (the long-legged, wide-eyed, and dim-witted Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow — in real life Joshua Grant) seemed to know only three gestures, repeating “Swan, queen, no more” at every opportunity. The Queen, Lariska Dumbchenko, (Raffaele Morra) was understandably quite irritated, and finally just mouthed the explanation.

Over the years, the technical chops of the company have grown enormously, and these gals can turn — even Odette snuck in a few fouettés. The pas de deux from “The Flames of Paris” is, as their program notes, a Soviet relic “that suggests greatness, heroic paths, and an excess of gesture”, including the inevitable fouetté-fest. The Trock’s version has an impeccable lineage, since it was set by the Kirov-trained Elena Kunikova. (In an interview with me, she talked about the joys of working with the Trocks, and their respect and admiration for style.) The hero, William Vanilla (Joseph Jefferies) slapped the floor with real authority and managed his man-of-the people heroics with gusto. Yakatarina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey) bounded through her variation, head bouncing at every opportunity, and threw off her fouettés with amazing precision — she/he even managed doubles. The footwork was delicate, and an absolute joy to watch. Johnsey is a remarkable technician, and a truly beautiful dancer.

Kunakova also set “La Cachucha”, a Spanish character-dance from the Romantic age made famous by Fanny Elssler. This again was performed almost straight, and the flashing castanets, the character shoes, and the modest but luxurious backbends made it seem like a living lithograph, even if it was the Romantic period as drawn by Charles Addams. The “Pas de Six Esmeralda” is also a Romantic novelty, where the gypsy Esmeralda (Gerd Törd, i.e. Bernd Burgmaier) dances though her heart is breaking for the unseen hero, comforted by a perky companion and a motley collection of tambourine smashing gypsy babes. The Esmeralda was a limp pipe-cleaner, propping herself up on her trembling feet like a true champ.

“The Dying Swan” also gets to prop herself up and by gum, she is going to get applause. Raffaele Morra, as Larisaka Dumbchenko, alternated an otherworldly, flowing armed approach, with steely glares at the audience, while apparently oblivious to the molting feathers flying around. It is a Trock staple, and a true classic.

“Gaîté Parisienne” was given its Joyce premiere, and though it had lots of color and character, it didn’t have the comic bite of some of their other story ballets, possibly because the Massine ballet is not well-known enough to parody, or because Massine had already built exaggerated characterizations into his work. The best of the Trocks, like their “Swan Lake” with the Australian crawling corps and “Go For Barocco”s Balanchine parody, get humor from the steps themselves, not just in making exaggerated faces while dancing the actual choreography. But it did succeed, like so many other Trock productions, in making me want to see the original ballet—if only other ballet companies took their history as seriously!

Photo: Les Trocks in "Esmeralda."

Volume 5, No. 1
January 2, 2006

copyright ©2006 Mary Cargill

©2006 DanceView