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The Trocks, Joyce Theater, New York
From the Financial Times of Tue, 23 Dec 2014 17:18:24 GMT
'La Naïade et Le Pêcheur' by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo©Yi-Chun Wu

'La Naïade et Le Pêcheur' by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Ballet loyalists are so often defending the venerable art against charges of frou-frou inconsequence that we only allow ourselves to titter publicly over it when we are watching Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. “In accordance with zee greatest tradition of zee Russian bal-let,” as a villainous Slav straight out of Rocky & Bullwinkle puts it before every show (both programme A and B), the troupe of divo- ballerinos improves on the absurdities we have been silent about all year.

The relief can be riotous. And if not relief — because your total ballet exposure amounts to a single Swan Lake, say — then laughter. At best, a Trock send-up hits every note on the ballet-familiarity scale, from physical comedy to sophisticated parodies of style, including the Romantic, the Balanchinian and, of course, the Russesian, to dub the bastard form brought to American backwaters and back alleys by travelling troupes from the 1930s until the 1960s.

The humour is sometimes Chaplinesque: both the Little Tramp and the Trock ballerina wheel around — with a board on the shoulder of the first and a stiff leg protruding behind the second — innocently to fell a line of beefy men. The Trock men just happen to be posing prettily in tutus.

Some gags are specific to story ballet. The lackadaisical prince (Giovanni Goffredo as Sergey Legupski) whom the Swan Queen Odette (Robert Carter as ferocious Olga Supphozova) recruits to liberate her from her bird disguise does not understand a word of her pantomimed plea. (I know how he feels.)

And a few antics are funnier when you are clued in to the conventions: that Cupid is usually played by a diminutive dancer, not the likes of hairy, zaftig Maya Thickenthighya (Ihaia Miller); that the dour composer (Carter again) in the Cunningham parody is hardly an exaggeration, despite trousers hitched up to his armpits, the weight of the avant-garde on his shoulders, and “music” made from popping paper bags, tootling on a bazooka and clucking like a chicken.

The ballets do not consist merely of gags, however. Serious loveliness alternates with the comedy, heightening both. All 18 performers are fine dancers — better than they’ve ever been, in fact — with Carlos Hopuy, Chase Johnsey and Philip Martin-Nielson masters of the edgeless, floating quality in the upper body that defines ballet grace.

In Don Quixote’s famous wedding pas de deux, this virtuosity slipped toward poignancy. The male characters in Trock ballets are usually nothing to swoon over. The glazed-eyed princes and poets seem zonked on Quaaludes; the peasant lads and prince’s helpers are two species of dork; the evil sorcerer is a closet femme. But Paolo Cervellera as Basil the barber proved a studly beau for Johnsey, arguably the prettiest girl in the house. With bravado and silky technique, respectively, and an intense rapport, they were electric together. I stopped laughing and believed in this wedding, which at last is allowed to take place outside the theatre too.

As for the season premiere, The Naiad and the Fisherman is a work in progress. As stager, the troupe’s reliably hilarious Raffaele Morra has yet to decide what to exploit in the triangle romance between nymph, fisherman and village sweetheart. But he has started in the right place, where the Trocks often begin — with the dancing. In style, Naiad resembles Giselle, also by Jules Perrot and from the 1840s. The steps, as leading lass Martin-Nielson beautifully demonstrated, endearingly combine humbleness and buoyancy. The ridiculous and the sublime should soon follow.

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