Les Ballet Trocadero de Monte Carlo at Jacob’s Pillow
Aug. 11, 2010 performance reviewed by Jocelyn McGrath.
The Trocs are simply magnificent, as only a troupe of alternative-reality Russian divas can be. Great-hearted athleticism meets historically-steeped, gestural devotion/parody, and takes a pratfall. It is hard to pin down exactly what makes it all work so powerfully, because there’s so much happening at once, so many cues and directives, the dramatic content changing on a dime from one moment to the next. Some of what you can reasonably expect: slapstick; cross-dressing; extreme bravado and exuberance; bunhead wigs and turbans; over-the-top virtuosic ballet technique; not-so-great, but passable ballet technique; bringing attention to the not-so-great technique with comic effect; hairy chests peeking out of bodices; and some of the largest pointe shoes you are ever likely to see. 2014 Jacob’s Pillow schedule, Contact info. and links
At the time it was founded in 1974, Les Ballet Trocadero de Monte Carlo’s alternative status meant that a dancer wouldn’t generally consider the company until his career in the conventional ballet world was wrapping up. This pattern altered in the 1990s, and for the last twenty years or so younger dancers have made it a primary career choice, allowing for slow but appreciable rise in technical excellence.
The evening’s program is extensive, the show running for two hours and twenty minutes with two intermissions. Some of the pieces are super famous—selections from Swan Lake, The Dying Swan, as well as a beautifully partnered pas de deux and solo variations from Le Corsaire. The other selections, La Vivandiere: Pas de Six (1844), after Arthur Saint-Leon, and Raymonda’s Wedding (1898): A Traditionally Confusing Divertissement in Two Scenes, after Marius Petipa, are the sorts of ballets that seem to have dropped out of the repertoire of most contemporary ballet companies for good reason. And yet, the penultimate and the mediocre are both fertile ground for the Trocs.
Nor do they limit themselves to only romantic three-act ballets. We were treated to an interpretation of Merce Cunningham’s Patterns in Space, complete with black-clad, live musicians performing a cutting-edge soundscape with the most cutting-edge instruments—at one point literally using a scissors and hair buzzer. Also used: a paper bag, a rattly box that seems like a metal lozenge container, bubble wrap, and, oh yes, barnyard sounds also figured in the mix.
The Troc’s best moments involve stretching the laws of physics with a joyous rapture, resulting in hilarity. In the four cygnets variation of Swan Lake, though continuously arm-linked to her fellow birdlings, one odd duck ballerina dances to the beat of a different drummer with a kind of insane abandon, transforming all of the usual tightly controlled synchronicity with her special bungee cord inspired counterpoint.
Other gorgeous moments involve reversing our accepted notions of size and gender; a monumental ballerina is paired with a petite male partner. The social ramifications pale in the face of the physical leverage required to support and promenade so much ballerina beauty. A satirical take on sustained balances on pointe follows. The ballerina prepares to take a balance en arabesque, quickly balances, claps her hands as if between push-ups, and then immediately grabs for her partner again, beaming at the accomplishment. In motion, she smiles beatifically, revolving slowly in her turns like a planet, sailing majestically through space in her jumps. Her weighted grace is stunning.
The predominant gender bending goes in many directions with many different effects—men playing men who actually look like women; men playing women who look like women; men playing women who look like men. For a traditional art form in which a dancer’s biological sex is usually destiny, and huge swathes of vocabulary and technique are rigidly gender-based, the effect of mixing and matching has the effect of revealing what is neither wholly male nor female, but what at the heart of it all, is truly human. Ultimately, a sliding scale androgyny breaks open the conventions of the art, leaving the Trocs free to revel in a fresh and vibrant joy of ballet.