Dallas — Dudes en pointe and in tutus were the talk of the town all week, and patrons packed Dallas City Performance Hall on Friday night to see Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (or the “Trocks”) presented by TITAS. The New York City troupe was formed in 1974 to produce parodied ballets in which the female parts are performed en travesti (males portraying females), and they quickly rose to international fame for their uproarious take on classical ballet—and for their astonishing technical abilities.
Act II of Swan Lake opens the performance. Prince Siegfried and his friend Benno are on a swan hunt when they encounter Odette the Swan Queen, who is under the spell of Von Rothbart. Familiar variations, such as “Dance of the Little Swans” (a quartet), receive full comedic treatment as the dancers seemingly bumble their way through the choreography. The work sets the stage for the sort of things one might see at a Trocks performance.
The dancers perform exactly as one might expect from a man trying to do a woman’s part. Yet throughout it all they’re still en pointe, a skill which takes tremendous strength and precision. And while their arabesques might not be as beautiful, or their feet as articulate as their female counterparts, one can’t help but marvel at the talent required for such a feat.
Most of the less-than-perfect technique, however, is grossly exaggerated on purpose. Soft developpes turn in flinging legs, feet flex instead of point, and the fine movements of the body sharpen to look more like jazz dance at times.
If the technical quirks don’t conjure some giggles, then the acting surely will. Intensely exaggerated facial expressions and deviations from the pristine grace of a ballerina produce the most laughter. Bird-like head bobs from the swans (a la Matthew Bourne) interrupt the not-so-graceful waving of the arms befitting their characters.
Behind-the-scenes issues come to the forefront with the Trocks, as well. Ballet pantomime can be confusing to a new patron, so the dancers play out a segment where the intended meaning of a pantomime gets lost in translation. Costume issues that are usually worked out in dress rehearsal turn into a full-on fight between a dancer and a skirt.
The company proves that no ballet is safe from their clutches in Go for Barocco. Dancers in black leotards, black skirts, and pink tights go after the father of American ballet himself, George Balanchine. Obvious moments are re-created, such as the vertically-switching arms from Serenade (which we saw last week from Texas Ballet Theatre on that same stage), and subtle hints from Mr. B.’s repertoire permeate the ballet. Intricate weaving, coquettish hip movements, and of course, the flexed foot appear at every turn.
One of the Trocks best-known pieces, The Swan, patterns itself after Anna Pavlova’s famous solo depicting the last moments of the majestic fowl. It, too, features a white-clad ballerina fluttering about the stage, but the similarities end there. The dancer’s tutu rains feathers as the swan’s life ends in a most ungraceful manner.
By this time, one might wonder whether these men have any true merit as ballerinas. Certainly they can support themselves en pointe and bust out a deliberately bad pirouette, but what kind of technical chops do they actually have? The pas de deux from Don Quixote gives the answer. While some subtle comedic moments pop up here and there, the sole purpose of this piece is to astonish. Alla Snizova (aka, Carlos Hopuy) completes every last bit of Marius Petipa’s choreography with precision and fire, including zesty fouetté turns and light-as-a-feather piques. Don’t look for ballet bobbles here.
The finale of the performance, a set of variations from Petipa’s Paquita, combines all the elements of the evening into one whirlwind segment. Stunning legwork, backstage drama, intentional mishaps, and plenty of rockin’ pirouettes close out the night. (In most instances it wasn’t clear which performer danced in which piece, but taken as a whole, these guys make quite a troupe.)
The show runs long, and the hilarity of the previous sections starts to wear a bit thin. Judging from the audience’s reaction during the curtain call, however, most of them probably had the opposite opinion.