Tag Archives: les ballets trockadero de monte carlo

Howling in Houston: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

19 Apr

Several factors make Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo one of the greatest ensembles on Earth—they never fail to win over an audience; they tour all over the planet and bring classical ballet to all kinds of people; their comedy is madly intelligent; the dancers always look like they’re enjoying themselves, and they happen to be the incredibly rarefied “men en pointe”. It made for a jubilant atmosphere at Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 at Jones Hall in the humid city of Houston, where the diversity of the crowd (in addition to their raucous laughter) meant that the Trocks had succeeded in obtaining the elusive, the coveted, and the supremely difficult to engineer—universal appeal. I was pleasantly surprised by some of the people I saw, the type of people I never thought I’d see at a ballet, and equally amazed by their assessments: “I didn’t like the first one…” a middle aged man said to his MALE friends (yes, PLURAL) in a thick, sausage-gravy Texan accent “but the second scene and the one after were cool.”

The man first referred to the opening number of Chopeniana (also known as Les Sylphides), originally choreographed by Michel Fokine. Romantic era ballet relies heavily on a specific style and the Trocks had it in spades—and comedic touches in shovels. It’s ironic that men, who tend to have less pliant backs than women, actually achieved the tilted torso so characteristic of Romantic ballet, oddly comparable to ballerinas at the time who had to wear corsets. Not to mention the mannerisms, with delicate hands and limp elbows, and especially the wistful, aloof expression worn on the face of the lead male role of the poet. Various sylphs bickered for his attention, although he remained as vacant as ever, barely attentive as he stared off into the distance when he was supposed to be assisting the lovely faeries in airborne lifts and serene promenades. Still, the luminous spirits of the air forged on, holding their composure as best as they could, even when one particularly buxom one had them falling to their knees and into the splits with every “dynamic” landing from each lofty jump.

Following came the grand pas de deux from Don Quixote, which was surprisingly performed unaltered, a masterful display of classical technique that’s difficult even for an accomplished ballerina. The wonderful thing about it was that the performers had great charisma, an area where ballerinas can be relatively quiet in eschewing brassiness, but the audience loved the showmanship, and when the dancer performing Kitri aced the fouettés in the coda, throwing in double pirouettes for good measure, there was a genuine roar of appreciation—no laughter, no sarcasm, just excited recognition of having seen something spectacular.

Go for Barocco, an original piece by the Trocks, is the ultimate Balanchine pastiche. I had seen Go for Barocco on film before, but having just seen Concerto Barocco for the first time this year, I was amazed by how spot on the Trocks version was. Many of the same steps were used to great effect—the Balanchine patterns where dancers link arms and weave in and out of each other, the hops en pointe, the piqué arabesques—choreographer Peter Anastos certainly knew his source material. It’s often underestimated how difficult great comedy is, and easily forgotten how much intelligence it requires to pull it off. Not all imitations are created equal, but not only did Anastos succeed in creating a challenging work that entertained audiences, but the twists he put on it makes it even funnier the more you know about Concerto Barocco. And yet, an audience member who knows nothing about ballet can still find a reason to laugh, especially when in a somber duet, diva attitudes emerge from the ballerinas trying to establish supremacy, by virtue of stacking their hands upon one another, alternating to see who could finish on top at the end of the music.

Next came The Dying Swan, a parody and tribute to Fokine’s solo for the illustrious Anna Pavlova. It’s one of the crucial pieces in ballet history and choreographically, the most amazing piece to use almost exclusively just the bourée, challenging the ballerina to express all of her technique in her port de bras. For the Trocks, the choreography was nearly the same, though the tutu molted a flurry of feathers until the bitter end. At last, when the swan perished to signal the end of her performance, she took an emotional curtain call that lasted almost as long as the piece itself—truly, a la Russe. Even in these transformations, it’s wonderful to see the work of Fokine performed, as the subtleties of his work aren’t always appreciated by modern audiences and Trocks is very much in the image of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, with their constant touring and modified preservation of certain repertory. Even if audience members had never heard of Chopiniana or The Dying Swan, the Trocks provided a starting point from which people could seek out the original works on their own and play the compare/contrast game, learning—and quite effectively—something about watching ballet and becoming an active participant of it as an informed observer.

Closing out the show was Walpurgisnacht, a bacchanal of fauns, nymphs, and Olympians. Choreographed in the spirit of Soviet era choreographer Leonid Lavrovsky, the mythical figures danced with reckless abandon in front of a moonlit temple, toning down (but never losing completely) the humorous touches and taking the performance rather seriously. It was easy to forget that they were men in drag, the technique behind each of the ensemble dances executed to the full extent of sheer beauty. The piece also put on full display the company’s ability to dance as men too—the lead faun a particularly demanding bravura role with countless turns and bounding leaps in the ubiquitous “stag” position, with both legs bent in the air like a deer. It occurred to me that the dancers of Trocks had the talent to dance in conventional ballet companies, as many of the smaller regional ones are often starved for men, but I’m glad they don’t—it’s a beautiful thing that men who seriously invest into training en pointe have a safe space where their interests are treated with respect and nurtured in order to allow them to grow as artists.

Hope for male pointework to make its way into repertory by all ballet companies in non-farcical forms remains small but vigilant, but with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo having got their size-thirteen-pointe-shoed-foot in the door, their achievements as harbingers of change and acceptance is beyond remarkable.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are currently on tour in the US for the remainder of the spring and through the summer. For more information about performance dates and location, check out their website: http://www.trockadero.org/

Let’s Talk Trockadero

18 May

There’s nothing I endorse more than a good laugh and if you’re in need of one, what you really need is Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male ballet troupe that perform a variety of classical and contemporary ballets, doing the admirable (but not always enviable) task of dancing en pointe.  They have two DVDs in print, now over a decade old and many of the dancers in the filmed performances are no longer with the company, but the repertory remains largely the same.  I’m sure they’ve expanded since, as they continue to create more dances and push the envelope in terms of virtuosity and bravura technique.  As usual, I have yet to see them live…the one chance I almost had was when they toured to my hometown after I moved, but I shall continue to wait for the opportunity because as people like to say, the best things really are worth waiting for (although if you’re impatient like me, you hate it when people say that).

What I find extraordinary about the “Trocks” as they are so often called, is not the fact that they have all these men dancing en pointe (which is by definition extraordinary anyway!), but that they are perhaps the most liberated ballet company in the world.  Nothing is considered over the top by their standards and the result is pure, artistic freedom.  Most classical ballet companies value the art of subtlety, but this is like “Piqué 101”—every ballet dancer knows in order to execute a piqué into arabesque for example, you must push to step onto your leg on relevé and have enough chutzpah to find your balance.  However, the reality is that when learning to piqué en arabesque, many fall victim to erring on the side of caution, never to arrive on top of their leg.  It is my personal belief that in this step, falling backwards is the worst thing you can do because it means you never got there and it looks meek.  On the other hand, fall forwards, and at the very least you passed through and then you have options…a chassé, a whirl of the arms to cover up, etc.  There’s a chance that major ballet companies today are so concerned with proper technique and subtlety they’re not “arriving” and thus we find a number of reviews of tepid performances.  Meanwhile, the Trocks have an abundance of verve and of course they work on technique, but it seems to me that they’re more concerned with their mission.

Obviously, the Trocks aim to entertain with their comical ballets and really, how many ballet companies can say that they’re able to communicate with their audience so successfully and openly?  The painful truth is that artistic directors (particularly in the US) typically have to deal with pleasing an audience, satisfying donors with money, and sometimes stroking the egos of star dancers.   However, the Trocks are so loved for what they do, I wouldn’t be surprised if their audiences are happy to see them in anything.  Sure, those who are more familiar with the Trocks must have their perennial favorites, but when I read on Twitter or Facebook how excited people are to see them (you UK residents in particular were quite the chatty cats a few months ago), it really is about experiencing the whole performance.  I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere that THAT is what ballet is all about.  Just maybe, the major ballet companies could learn a thing or two about throwing caution to the wind and putting in just an ounce of reckless abandon…or go nuts, have two.

What’s also nice to see with the Trocks is the variety of dancers they have, all different shapes and sizes, which is something people want to see.  Obviously, it can look great when you have a uniform corps de ballet like the Paris Opera or the Bolshoi, but accepting dancers based on ability and not body type is what makes the Trocks relatable and inspiring.  Given, the number of accomplished male dancers en pointe make for slim pickings but at least a male dancer who does have the abilities can know that their physicality probably isn’t a deciding factor for a Trockadero audition.  At least in the DVDs some of the dancers didn’t have the highest extensions or the prettiest feet, but that never hindered the performance quality.  It’s definitely a small niche of the dance world, but thank Billy Elliot the opportunity exists for the aspiring male pointe dancer.

I do wish that male pointe work could be taken…(for lack of a better term) more “seriously” too though.  What the Trocks do is amazing, totally legitimate, and sometimes unappreciated in the same way comedy movies never win Academy Awards because apparently laughter is an inferior expression of human emotion than crying.  What I mean is the extent of male dancing on pointe is largely farcical—often relegated to performances in women’s costumes (like the Trocks, drag performances in galas, and I believe Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream) or animal costumes (Bottom in Ashton’s The Dream and Pigling Bland in The Tales of Beatrix Potter, also choreographed by Ashton).  There may be more…though I am not expert enough to know them, and while these are all amazing ballets and wonderful roles, the next step would be to create some chances for men to dance en pointe as they are, no costumes beyond what is normally worn for ballet, so that all opportunities are provided to express a broader range of emotions and ideas.  I actually have a fantastic idea in mind, something I’ve been researching for over a year, but that’s a long story for another day.

Anyway, I guess this didn’t turn out to be much of a DVD review (maybe I planned it that way, even though in all likelihood I did not).  It’s kind of hard to describe the unique touches the Trocks will put on their classical repertoire like Paquita or Raymonda, which is barely further from Petipa’s choreography than changes any other company would make, or the parodies like Go for Barocco (something of an homage to Balanchine) and poking some fun at Robbins in Yes Virginia, Another Piano Ballet (which I really enjoyed).  All I can say is that the humor is done in the most thoughtful ways, with little jokes that may make sense only to the seasoned balletomane, but also an entertainment value that easily appeals to someone who may not be so familiar with the ballets or styles that are being made fun of.  Good times!

Rather than post clips of their performances (a number of which are on YouTube) I would like to draw attention to their contribution to the “It Gets Better Project” in support of LGBT youth who are struggling with bullying and finding acceptance in society.  I’m sure there are young boys out there who maybe want to dance on pointe and could use some encouragement from the dancers themselves!