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Just as good as the ladies: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

Pas de Dudes
By Mae G. Banner

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Proctor’s 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 single step.

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 of performing.

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 kvetches.”

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.

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