Just as good as the ladies: Les Ballets Trockadero de
By Mae G. Banner
Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Theatre, Feb. 6
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo were founded 30 years
ago in New York City, but, aesthetically speaking, they come
from Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the
men are good looking” and all the choreography is above average—every
The all-male company, fondly known as the Trocks, won the
hearts of the audience last Friday at Proctor’s with their
knowing, but loving, parodies of 19th-century ballets by the
great Russian and French choreographers. The 28-member troupe
(each of the 14 dancers has both a female and a male persona)
gave powerful performances of Lev Ivanov’s Swan Lake
(Act II), the famous Grand Pas de Quatre choreographed
by Jules Perrot for the four reigning ballerinas of the 1840s,
and variations from Marius Petipa’s Spanish-themed Paquita.
The Trocks are funny, even before the stage lights come up.
Their stage names are outrageous puns, such as Ida Nevasayneva,
Velour Pilleaux, and Jacques d’Aniels, that bloom into laughter
when you say them aloud. Surely, this is why we hear a long
list of cast changes announced in a broad Russian accent before
the dancing begins.
Audience members unfamiliar with the sterling technique of
these men in size-13 toe shoes soon found their laughter give
way to admiration as hairy-chested men became steely swans
who could bourree backward across the stage with one hand
tied behind them. Endless pirouettes, stunning jumps in second
position and astounding sets of fouettes all are second nature
to the Trocks.
There was a good sprinkling of ballet students in the house.
For them, the Trocks provide a lesson in how demanding ballet
is and how glorious it is to give oneself wholly to the joy
The famous 19th-century ballets gave the good parts to women
and used the men mostly as “porteurs” to lift and carry the
ballerinas. It’s no wonder that the Trocks, some of whom would
be considered too short, too chunky, or otherwise unsuitable
to become principal male dancers in major companies, aspire
to perform women’s roles. They bring to these roles a strength
and exuberance that outshines most women dancers.
For example, Robert Carter, a former member of the Dance Theater
of Harlem Ensemble, becomes a square-shouldered Olga Supphozova,
gorgeous in a stiff white tutu and shining blonde wig. She
dances a solid duet with one of the Legupski brothers. She
had such power and presence that I was thinking, “Monique
Meunier, eat your heart out.”
The giggles and gags come not from incompetent dancing, but
from the fact that each Trock is performing every role as
her or his stage persona would dance it, so that every ballet
is packed with subtext. We sense rivalries among ballerinas,
contempt for the wimpiness of a prince, confusion about one’s
cue, or false modesty lacquering an elaborate curtain call.
The subtext is the joke in Le Grand Pas de Quatre. I’ve seen
the 1840s lithograph in which the four stars of the Romantic
age pose together sweetly in their floaty pearl-pink tutus.
The Trocks recreate this pose perfectly, becoming Lucille
Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito, and Marie Taglioni,
all of whom had followings that were the equivalent of Beyoncé,
Christina Aguilera, and Missy Elliot. They were the pop-culture
divas of their day.
Like competing rock and rap stars, the four ballerinas attempt
to upstage each other, but without missing a step of the authentic
choreography. Their different characters and their relationships
are as clear as the dancing. The whole delicious dish is a
puff pastry dipped in vitriol.
Fans of Swan Lake recognized Ivanov’s choreography in the
beating arms of Lariska Dumbchenko (Raffaele Morra) and the
wonderful precision of the four baby swans, which was stretched
to hilarity by the exaggerated giddiness of the one on the
right and by a general tendency of all four to lead forcefully
with their heads when they changed direction. We got an extra
dose of Swan in a solo, The Dying Swan, danced by Nevasayneva
(Paul Ghiselin), who molted as she danced. She ended flat
on her back, but rose for an extended curtain call.
Paquita was a bright contrast to the other ballets. Costumed
in vivid reds and purples and framed by swags of red drapes
tied with gold cord, the dance showed the Trocks in duets,
trios, and a set of solo variations that ranged from skittery
to mysterioso. A real stage-filler, Paquita was a rousing
finale for this satisfying program.
The program notes by Schenectady-born Peter Anastos, a founder
and star performer in the Trocks’ early days, are concise,
informative, and funny. The biographies Anastos invents for
the dancers are a bonus. They read like Edward Gorey miniatures
filled with critical cliches. Example: “She is renowned for
her portrayal of sensitive tortured neurotic ladies and other
The curtain call was another bonus, a full ensemble replication
of Riverdance that circled and flew around a stage boiling
with clouds of dry ice. Cue the audience’s rhythmic applause
and a well-deserved standing ovation.