Ballet, but not as we know it Jim

Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

BELLY LAUGH and ballet don't often turn up in the same sentence . . . unless of course you are talking about Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo who man manage both with aplomb.

Not that this is some knockabout comedy troupe – the Trocks, as their fans know them – are much more subtle and sophisticated than that.

Dress a load of blokes up in tutus and tights and send them out to do a ballet scene and you have a sketch, two minutes tops, three if they are good, before the novelty wears off – the Trocks, all men, with a cast of 16, manage a complete evening without the humour even starting to wear thin.

The secret is first and foremost great ability as ballet dancers. Just as, for example, Tommy Cooper had to be an extremely talented magician to  create tricks which went so disastrously and hilariously wrong, the Trocks have to be able to dance to the highest standard to parody what is their chosen profession, and send it up they do, unmercifully.

Ballet, and particularly the Russian classical ballet of the early 1900s, is probably the most stylised of Western art forms with its slow, deliberate walks,  formal steps and start positions, affected gestures . . . and well known dances.

In its purest form it is graceful and elegant full of beauty and emotion but . . . .add a little exaggeration of the affected movement, throw in a few mistakes, usually with someone on the wrong end of a flying leg or ending in the wrong place, the odd collision here and there and then slip in a bit of petty jealousies and bitchiness, with the odd glare, gesture, trip or push and you have . . . Les Sylphides, for example, with music by Chopin. It is a high standard of ballet, with a few bonus flounces, mishaps, altercations and affectations thrown in.

Or we have the black swan pas de deux from Swan Lake – with white swan Odette desperate to get into the act. Some of the humour is visual and dates back to the silent movie era such as casting Yakatarina Verbosovich (real name Chase Johnsey), a tall well-built dancer, as Odile, and Innokenti Smoktumuchsky (Carlos Hopuy), one of the smallest dancers, as the Prince.

PARTY PIECE

Johnsey, with the company since 2004 joined from the Florida Dance Theatre and, amid the humour, showed in the classic Odile solo with a dazzling number of fouettés en tournant that he was a fine dancer as was Hopuy who joined almost a year ago with national ballets of Cuba, Costa Rica and Ballet San Antonio on his CV.

Party piece of the night is the Dying Swan with Ida Nevesayneva (Paul Ghiselin) one of four dancers who take on this Trocks signature role.

This is just pure, deadpan comedy worthy of a Chaplin or Keaton.  First there are the feathers falling from the tutu, enough for several mattresses, duvets, pillows and cushions, with several sacks to spare, along with the odd avian gesture or flutter, wobbly legs and finally death, all en pointe. A performance followed by a long, long curtain call – a send up of the normal ballet entrance through the closed curtain to an adoring audience.

Ghiselin, incidentally is a Trock veteran having been with the company since 1995 and is now 51 – which is a remarkable testament to his fitness. He is the oldest member of the company. The youngest is 18.

We also had La Vivandiere Pas De Six with music by Pugni and ended with Walpurgis Night with music by Gounod, which was based on the Bolshoi's Valpurgeyeva Noch which apparently the Russians see as a piece of Soviet balletic camp  . . . if they think theirs is camp  . . . .

The encore for this talented  ballet company was . . . a morris dance. What else..

An after show discussion with artistic director Tory Dobrin revealed that the Trocks are approaching their 40th anniversary after being formed in New York in 1974 in the explosion of drag and gay shows and the blossoming of the gay rights movement after the Stonewall Riots in Greenwhich Village.

Dobrin said: “It is the only company with its roots in that time. We are not a gay show though. We are a dance company. Many of our members are gay but we are not a gay show.”

Like any other ballet company, he said, there are classes and rehearsals, practice and performance and the idea was not to have men trying to be ballerinas, but men dancing parts normally danced by women – women's steps and dances but with male aggression.

As for en pointe, which is unusual for male dancers, Dobrin said it takes an experienced male ballet dancer five minutes to dance en point, a year to do it comfortably and two to reach the stage of confidence and musculature to attempt more complex steps and roles. For a none ballet dancer for five minutes read years by the way . . .  For a dancer it is adding a new step, for a none dancer it is adding a whole new way of moving.

The Trocks are fun, they enjoy what they are doing and the audience enjoy them, but first and foremost they are a ballet company with considerable skill and ability with gives them a platform for their gentle and affectionate dig at the foibles and affections of ballet – which, from the number of Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers in the audience – is appreciated even by those on the receiving end. To 02-02-13

Roger Clarke 

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