Dance Consortium at the Peacock Theatre
Ballet is not known for its humour (mores the pity). The stiff faces, rigid movements, and rules on rules on rules. The land of daily repetition is not a breeding ground for the brawling baby called comedy. Matthew Bourne and William Forsythe inject intellectual irony into their work, but a burst of laughter would still be out of place in the hallowed halls of Sadlers Wells. “Hold my pointe shoes” screech Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
Founded in 1974 they have blossomed from an off-Broadway cabaret act to a well-respected, arguable pioneer and major player in the comedic dance movement. Returning to the UK after a 4-year hiatus, and then swanning off (you get it?) for a tour that takes them as northward as Edinburgh and as southwards and Turo, The Trocks (as they are known) are off again!
Blending drag and ballet, humour and technical skill the blokes in tutus provide an evening gently poking fun at some of the most famous works. Split into Programme A and B they lampoon Swan Lake, Giselle, Valpurgeyeva Noch, Les Sylphides, and EL CID. Sprinkling in some original work created for them over their almost 50-year history.
The consistent voice-over in a heavy Slavic accent provides chuckles from the get-go. Explaining the substitutions and punny names (Maria Clubfood, Boris Dumbkopf etc..) it drawls “all are dancers are in very very good moods”.
Annnd we’re off, into the world of swamping silliness that is Programme B. Starting with Les Sylphides, music by Frederic Chopin. As the first abstract classical ballet, it is ripe for parody. The corp de ballet tower on pointe. The image of burly men in light little tutus, soft layers, and demure eyes with heavy make-up is a little like watching the ugly stepsisters from Shrek perform. All skilled dancers the giggles come from the knowing twisting of balletic rules. Alexandre Minz’s original choreography has feet splay, toes crunch, hands and dancers wobble in a clever bending not just of gender but also the rigidity of the dance world. A vacant Dmitri Legupski (real name Giovanni Goffredo) as the Prince misses cues, as the flock of ballerinas swirl around him. Petty jealousies are exacted as the dancers’ smash into each other, and send ocular daggers whizzing across the stage. Monty Python on pointe if you will, the mix of dance skills and melodramatic comedy is dynamic. It’s joyfully impish, but can that keep you entertained through two intervals?
A highlight (along with the strong start) and a piece that illustrates the charm of the Trocks is Olga Supphozova’s (Robert Carter) The Dying Swan. Losing feathers as she tumbles through the routine this is a comedic tour de force. He understands the more modern drag lip sync-style, exaggerating his facial expressions and pairing that with athletic determination. Throughout and in his solo particularly he reduces the audience to puddles of laughter.
Sadly, the evening is much much longer than the start and one solo. This is where the gag wears thin. The Trocks’ movement from cabaret to professional dance company has allowed them to spread their wings, developing their skills in flight. The issue is that some pieces seem to drop the comedic sending up, and focus more on real ability. These are rather stale in comparison and could be dropped to make the show more streamlined. A Spanish-inspired Majismas (from the opera EL CID) is one such piece. Raffaele Morra’s choreography is too hung up on impressing us, and even with sassy fan flicking the piece lacks the devilish twinkle of irreverence. The Vivaldi Suite and Paquita Pas De Trois are amusing but again drag (fitting) on for too long, giving us a sluggish feeling.
Overall, despite their almost fifty years of experience, and impressive globetrotting it’s difficult to see how the company can keep on its current trajectory. Relegated from subversive to plain playful by modern changes of opinion and liberalism the yellow brick road stretches onward uncertainly. Their brand of comedy is very specific to the dance world; with an aging (and half-filled) audience, and younger people looking for a very different flavour of drag, I worry that they will be left behind. They keep on trockin, but the boat is certainly a-rockin.
Grab them somewhere on their tour here!