‘TROCS’ DELIVER BIG LAUGHS PLUS DYNAMIC DANCING
By: Hal de Becker
Although weak from laughing, the audience at Ham Hall managed to get to its feet to give a standing ovation to the all-male cast of Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo.
The fun started with the printed program which, in keeping with a former ballet tradition, has the dancers’ names Russianized and their biographies fictionalized.
Thus we read of Boris Nowitsky who “…has been with the greatest ballerinas of our time and even danced with some of them” and Irina Kolesterolika whose “…most famous exercise is the warm up, consisting of a martini and an elevator.” There was also Maria Paranova, Nadia Doumiafeyva and, of course, Stanislas Kokitch and more.
The troupe’s version of Swan Lake Act 11 was the funniest of the evening’s many good- natured assaults on ballet’s sacred cows.
After stepping on bird droppings and running endlessly around the stage in search of Odile, the Swan Queen, the Prince finally dropped from exhaustion while all the swans clustered together bobbing their heads and clucking away as if in a coop.
The Swan Queen’s insistence on marriage ‘first’ and the Prince’s reluctance to do so – the opposite of the serious ballet’s plot - added to the hilarity.
In all the dances on the program, most of the humor emanated from solid pantomimic acting skills with eloquent gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. Just the raising of an eye brow at the right moment in the right situation evoked a round of laughter.
Wildly swinging arms often replaced graceful classical port de bras, and wiggling hips contradicted correct ballet placement. However, as broad as they may have seemed, those choreographed movements always fit the music and circumstances perfectly, which made them even funnier.
And there were some insider moments best understood by dancers, such as a partner’s momentary distraction in a pas de deux that almost results in disaster or a dancer’s self-satisfied expression after executing more multiple pirouettes than usual
Whether serious or as parody Chase Johnsey (real name) made a stunning Odile. His dramatic moments were convincing and his humor, nuanced or flagrant, always delightfully effective. With arms stretched far back like wings, rapid turns, rippling bourrees and soaring leaps his performance was an authentic Russian style tour de force.
He danced again in the un-programed, bravura pas de deux from La Corsaire. This time he took the feral male role calling for virtuoso turns, aerial feats and strong partnering. The latter included overhead lifts which he executed easily although his partner, also male, of course, was about his same size.
With the exception of a string of tumbling moves, amusing because they came in the middle of his solo variation, there was little humor in this pure display of ballet fireworks.
The un-identified Ballerina was also impressive especially in her technically challenging solos.
Humor returned with The Dying Swan, also un-programed. I prefer the Troc’s earlier version in which the Swan’s near-hysterical anxiety upon realizing she’s the target of the fatal arrow was more pronounced.
However, the current rendition was funny enough to keep the audience in stitches as the feathers on the Swan’s tutu gradually fluttered off until by the end they filled the stage.
A scene from ‘Esmeralda’ didn’t rise to the humorous or dancing level of some of the other works on the program. Alberto Pretto’s good dancing and comedic flair in the title role was the most impressive element.
The program closed with the plaza and dream scenes from ‘Don Quixote’. Carlos Hopuy a brilliant Cuban dancer and gold medalist in international competitions provided the program’s other tour de force as the fiery Kitri. His characterization and virtuosity were outstanding.
As Kitri’s suitor, Basil, talented Matthew Poppe shared the honors with his secure technique and partnering. The original choreography for their daunting solos was preserved and impressively executed.
Although waitresses and gypsies in huge fuzzy wigs and multi-layered skirts and dripping with bangles and beads provided some humor, the performance was more a typically exciting balletic finale than a humorous parody.
The high level of dancing throughout this particular troupe of Troc’s may be the reason why some laughs of the past seem to have been exchanged for straightforward ballet thrills.