Fernando Medina Gallego
Matthew Bourne isnt the only kid on the block doing all-male ballet. That doesnt mean he has ceased to reign supreme in the genre, since the all-male troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is a comedy act there to parody rather than to rival. Nevertheless, if Les Trocks doesnt quite live up to Bourne in terms of sheer quality, it has been around a whole lot longer.
With its current programme presenting excerpts from three ballets, the tone of the evening is set before a dancer has even set foot on the stage. With the troupes name a skit on Les Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, the glossy programme contains a list of fictitious Russian names (such as Innokenti Smoktumuchsky) and biographies, alongside those of the real dancers. Then, before the curtain opens, a few cast alterations are announced which amount to virtually the entire troupe (so Svetlana Lofatkina replaces Helen Highwaters as Odette in Swan Lake). The audience is also requested not to use flash photography as it distracts the dancers who, remembering the Soviet era, think they are hearing gunshots.
In Act II of Swan Lake Baron von Rothbart makes several menacing circuits of the stage before starting to get exhausted. The main joke, however, is that the emotions normally seen in the act, in which the Swan Princess, Odette, reveals her distress at being under the spell of the evil Rothbart, are all here. It is just that, instead of Odette illustrating them gracefully, she goes into a real flap with some priceless facial expressions rather more realistic in a way!
The acts Pas de Deux becomes a Pas de Trois as the dance includes some entertaining rivalry between Siegfried and his friend, Benno, for Odettes affections, whilst the chorus also appear strong. With the Dance of the Cygnets revealing that the dancers are capable of delivering the necessary precision before they then ham things up, and a wonderful moment when one swans high kick sends another flying off the stage, this brilliantly entertaining excerpt is the highlight of the evening.
The next piece, supposedly a world premier of a lost piece by Verdi, La Trovatiara (and in reality using the composers music) is more disappointing. Whilst with Swan Lake, the audience could laugh at the innovative ways in which the performers portrayed the emotions prevalent in the ballet, here there was no similar hook for them to hang their understanding of the piece on. Satisfying neither as a comedy nor as a piece of strong dancing, not even the final dying swan amusing in its own right, but totally out of keeping with the rest of the piece could rescue it.
Happily, the final piece from the fictitious 1885 opera El Cid gave the troupe the opportunity to demonstrate the real extent of their talents as ballet dancers. With the jokes kept to a minimum, the grace and co-ordination of the dancers was demonstrated to the full, whilst a few jaw dropping party pieces were thrown in. Many of the performers are extremely tall, and another strength of the production is that it enables skilled dancers to demonstrate their talents who might otherwise have scant opportunities to dance simply because their physique does not conform to the expectations of classical ballet.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is currently alternating this programme with a second which, consisting of the famous Act II from Giselle, a Vivaldi Suite and The Little Humpbuck Horse, presumably follows a similar structure. Despite certain weak moments, it all makes for an enjoyable evening and, topped off in this instance by the encore New York, New York, it is easy to see why Les Trocks has succeeded in sustaining itself since 1974.
Programme One runs from 16 – 20 September and from 30 September – 4 October 2008; Programme Two runs from 23 27 September 2008; a tour will follow.