Is ballet a laugh? It can be many things: virtuoso, transporting, brassy, bewildering, beauteous – and sometimes it can tickle the ribs. But funny? As in ha-ha? Rarely.
The all-male Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, though, are a hoot. Assuming cod-Russian stage names and playing both male and female roles, the dancers have a unique take on the art of ballet that is part parody, part tribute. They lampoon the wistful mood of Les Sylphides: starlet squabbles break out in the corps, farcical mime (“Call me later, OK?”) punctures the swooning lilt of the music.
Offsetting these down-to-earth “ballerinas”, Bernd Burgmaier plays the (male) Poet as an otherworldly airhead, wandering off at inappropriate moments and barely aware of his partner, let alone the audience. In The Dying Swan, Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter) expires gracefully, absurdly, her tutu shedding feathers like a split eiderdown.
pushes the neoclassical "American" style of choreographer George Balanchine to just the right level of comedy
But the Trocks aren’t simply a bunch of guys with pins to burst the ballet bubble. They are also serious dancers, both on and off pointe, and underlying the pratfalls and the high-strung histrionics are respect and affection for their art. In Les Sylphides, well-built Minnie van Driver (Joseph Jefferies) dances with poise and fleetness; in Raymonda, Svetlana Lofatkina (Fernando Medina-Gallego) whips off dazzling spins. And in Go for Barocco, the company pushes the neoclassical “American” style of choreographer George Balanchine to just the right level of comedy: his jazzy inflections become cheerleader poses; his spare athleticism turns, hilariously, into power-walking.
Is it possible to overdo it? Not when it comes to Flames of Paris, with its swaggering Soviet style. Gallego bigs up the male role, all bounds and brio, while the remarkable Yekatarina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey) commands the stage with a bravura technique and the majestic attitude of a true prima ballerina. Virtuoso, brassy, beautiful and funny, they play the audience like pros – and the audience love them for it.