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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 26, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 21
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo's sold out performances a delight and a revelation
Arts & Entertainment
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Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo's sold out performances a delight and a revelation

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

UW WORLD DANCE
LES BALLETS TROCKADERO
DE MONTE CARLO
MEANY HALL
May 20 (May 18-20)


The beloved, all-male dance company, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, returned to Meany Hall last week for three sold-out performances. For those of us who have seen this troupe of talented comic dancers, it was a delightful reunion. For those who are new to seeing men dance the traditional repertoire on point, it was a revelation.

In 1974 when this troupe was founded, men invading the female realm of dancing 'en pointe' could only be considered a joke, and the 'Trocks' billed themselves as comedy dancers. They still call themselves 'The World's Foremost All-Male Comic Ballet Company,' and they are indeed very funny. But they wouldn't be funny at all if their comedy was not based on a solid foundation of technique, artistry, and talent. These men are real dancers, and when you see them perform you haven't just seen a comedy show - you've been to the ballet.

The program opened with their most iconic piece, a compressed version of the second act of 'Swan Lake,' with all the drama of the original Ivanov choreography and the beauty of Tchaikovsky's music. Not only do we have the famous formations of the corps de ballet - only eight dancers instead of the traditional twenty-four - entering the stage in a flurry of swirling tutus and gracefully waving arms, but we have Prince Siegfried, the evil sorcerer, Rothbart, and the lovely Queen of the Swans performing the expected pantomimes and duets. There are multiple opportunities for comedy in these dance episodes, all of which are exploited with admirable restraint by the dancers, whose occasional stumbles, jet├ęs in the wrong direction, and knowing glances at the audience when events become excessively corny, do nothing to obscure the fact that we are seeing approximations of the actual dances that were choreographed in 1877.

My favorite performance was the dance of the four cygnets - that famously difficult and extremely charming quartet in which the dancers hold hands across their bodies and execute precision steps and head movement with military exactitude. Three of the Trocks in this dance were in serious sync with each other, while the fourth cygnet was as confused as only a baby swan on stage for the first time could be. This little swan (if you can imagine a little swan as a rather large, brawny man in a tutu) kept landing on the wrong foot, stepping in the wrong direction, and shooting desperate glances offstage as though someone there could help him. It was funny, sympathetic, and - if you know how the dance is supposed to go - cleverly bollixed-up. It takes real skill to do things wrong in a way that doesn't look like chaos since your mistakes have to be surrounded by fidelity to the original choreography. The Trocks are the masters at showcasing error within the frame of correctness.

Though the Trocks are also known for their hilarious send-ups of modern dance, the program I saw was all ballet, including Maurice Petipa's choreography of the 'Pas de Six' from Esmeralda, and the Petipa/Gorsky choreography from Minkus' 'Don Quixote' - also known as 'Kitri's Wedding.' The most spectacular dance of the evening, however, was the male solo from 'Le Corsair' - famously performed by Rudolph Nureyev, Mikail Baryshnikov, Ivan Vasiliev, Angel Corella, and every other classical dancer worth his salt - performed here by someone, unlisted in the program, who could not only do the astonishing steps, but who threw in a tumbling run for the fun of it. This corsair - as young, handsome, and muscular as required - wore the traditional harem pants and feathered headband. He threw himself into the air and twirled around like a helicopter, landed on his knees, and then barrel-leapt over the entire periphery of the stage to the cheers of the audience. The comedy was in his knowing grins and winks, as if to say 'Isn't this the darndest thing you ever saw?' or, more likely, 'Can you believe anyone would do this for a living?' His final string of unchoreographed flips and cartwheels was so unexpected, and such a clever commentary on the physical absurdity of it all, that the whole audience burst into laughter and applause.

If I had a complaint about this wonderful evening it would be that the sound recordings were not uniformly sharp and clear. The Tchaikovsky 'Swan Lake' was perfect, but the rest of the recordings (hilariously cued at one point with a nod to the 'conductor') did not match the high level of the dancing.

The delightful quality that the Trocks bring to ballet is an expert and knowing appreciation of its beauty and difficulty, together with an acknowledgement of its fundamental over-done-ness, it's extreme-ness, it's aesthetic over-refinement. They are the perfect antidote to real ballet, an art so perfect and beautiful that we aficionados tend to forget the huge expenditures in training, danger, and money that go into it. A visit to Seattle from Les Ballets de Trockadero de Monte Carlo is an event of pure enjoyment on many levels - comedy, cross-dressing, satire - but on the most basic level, it's pure dance done expertly by highly trained and very skilled artists. It's a joy to behold!

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