The Polk Theater was the scene of high kicks and high jinks last weekend when the all-male troupe of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo squared off to challenge some of the greatest classics of the Russian ballet repertoire. The dancers won and the classics lost, much to the audience’s delight.
The fun began even before the curtains lifted, when an announcer intoned, “There will be a change of cast in keeping with the time-honored tradition of Russian ballet.” Unfortunately, the famous dancer Jacques d’Aniels did not deign to make his appearance, even though I heard rumors that a contingent of distillery executives was driving up from Lynchburg in a pick-up truck filled with red roses. Many other stars were present, however, to sparkle in the firmament, including Tatiana Youbetyabootskaya, Olga Supphozova, and Dimitri Legupski. And let us not omit the unforgettable Maya Thickenthighya.
The comedy stems from a mix of serious attention to detail combined with an outrageous flouting of conventions. The costumes are as beautiful as any you would see in American Ballet Theatre. The program notes are more historically accurate and more informative than any you would find most anywhere. Even the choreography is both correct and trendy, as it quotes, in a postmodern context, from the piece that has been targeted for satire.
The choreography for Act II of Swan Lake, for example, closely followed Ivanov’s original from his 1893 production. The Queen of the Swans, played by the indomitable Vanya Verikosa, preened like a swan, flapped his arms as if they were wings, and held his arm aloft with bent wrist to form a swan’s long neck as he dove forward into arabesque pose. His elegant port de bras, or carriage of the arms, would put to shame most any ballerina. The first steps for each musical sequence began with the same steps that you would see in a Nashville Ballet production of this same work. Dancers added comical interpolations: The Swan Queen vamped the Prince or spun so fast that he staggered off across the stage.
At one point, the Queen “accidentally” flexed his biceps. It was as if a lighting bolt had been sent to remind the spectators, engaged in a willing suspension of disbelief, that this impeccably costumed Swan Queen was, after all, still a man. Mostly, Verikosa played it straight (if that’s the right word), and the comedy grew out of the situation, making it all the funnier.
Other dancers, as in the Harliquinade, played it for pratfalls, which grew boring after a while. The dance’s joke was a one-liner: A very, very tall and lanky ballerina was matched with an extremely short and rather pudgy cavalier. On several occasions the cavalier managed to lift Helena Highwaters, more or less, but in the end the ballerina was forced to carry him instead. The corps de ballet danced with energy, outperforming the leading dancers in this piece.
The dancers for the Don Quixote pas de deux tackled one of the most challenging dances in the 19th-century Russian repertoirethe piece calls for an intrepid dancer who could balance on one leg during an earthquake. It also requires a ballerina who can poke fun at the seductive qualities of the stereotypical Spanish dancer even as she playfully indulges in them. Margeaux Mundeyn and Vassidas Pinski danced the choreography full out, but with no sense of humor. Mundeyn was not up to the bravura technical demands and so simplified the choreography that it became a travesty of the original. A travesty, yes, but not a funny one.
The most successful pieces derived from serious works in which the comedy grew out of farcical goings-on inherent in the original genre. Problems occurred when the dancers had to perform what amounted to a parody of a parody, as in Stars and Stripes. In his original, George Balanchine had already conceived of all the funny moves, only his were done with subtlety. The work was a tongue-in-cheek comment on American xenophobia; its pas de deux, dedicated to Gen. and Mrs. Eisenhower, was intended as a calculated slap in the faces of these American icons. Bob Fosse, the choreographer of the Trock’s version, copied Balanchine’s characteristic salutes and drum majorettes’ high kicks. As in the original, a huge flag descended during the finale. Featured dancers Olga Supphozova and Medulli Lobotmov were, if anything, perhaps too earnest.
The company’s signature piece, The Dying Swan, opened on a blank stage. A spotlight wandered about in search of a dancer, but the Swan took his time. When Vanya Verikosa finally entered, it was in the dark, because the light technician missed the cuebut not the audience, who howled with laughter upon catching sight of the pathetic creature. The swan was not only dying, he was also molting feathers at a revolting rate. The dancer zigzagged on teensy tiptoes across the stage, his pathway marked by a ton of fathers drifting from the pleats of an exquisite white tutu. Verikosa’s interpretation was not noteworthy for its subtlety. In fact, the too-too precious curtain calls were more fun than the dance itself, particularly when the ballerina tenderly plucked a feather from the floor, kissed it, and blew it to the front row, where spectators fought greedily for the souvenir.
Can you imagineblurred gender boundaries, cross-dressing in drop-dead gorgeous costumes, and other such goings-onhere in Nashville, capital city of Southern-belle womanhood? Before the performance began, one guy in the audience nervously called out to a friend several rows in front, “Don’t tell anybody you saw me here tonight!” At the final curtain call, he was clapping as fiercely as anybody else in the audience. We sincerely wish the troupe to “Keep on Trockin’!” And y’all come back soon, heah
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