The merest glance confirms it: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (to give the Trocks their full appellation) are a very rare breed, indeed. Because not many men can carry off a tutu and pointe shoes with style when standing still, let alone fulfill the promise of that costume with a brisk whisk of fouettées or a classic arabesque.
Good looking – hair and make up is a stirring hommage to the Russian Ballet school of slap, with its motto ‘more is always more: less is never enough.’ So refined. Even when (to the delight of audiences worldwide) the Trocks slip into spoofery – and it looks like those slips are clutzy accidents – what you see is split second comic timing that’s become second nature after hours, days, weeks in the studio. But then, in the bat of a (false) eyelash, those same ballerinas channel the other tradition that underpins everything they do: they honour the technique that Vaganova, Pavlova and Ulanova made the stuff of dancing legend, a technique charged with the artistic aesthetics of Russia’s Imperial Ballet in its glory days at the turn and pirouette of the 20th century. Modern female ballerinas do, of course, follow in those exquisitely arched and elegant footsteps. They dance the evergreen classics – Les Sylphides, Swan Lake Act II, the Black Swan pas de deux – that are integral to the Trocks raison d’être. But even the most accomplished leading ladies in well resourced ballet companies rarely set pointe shoe in the neglected historic works that are kept vigorously alive in the Trocks’ repertoire. Works like Walpurgis Night, one of the fruitiest gems from the Bolshoi back catalogue, cue nymphs and fauns, maidens in diaphanous draperies, an ardent Bacchante and the god of the grape himself – all cavorting to music by Gounod in recreated choreography that affectionately references the original ballet by Leonid Lavrovsky.
Yes, like a lot of what the Trocks do with such pleasing flair, Walpurgis Night is archly camp. But that was – is – a part of the escapist fantasy that charmed the Bolshoi audiences and still entertains and amuses us today. However if you ask Tory Dobrin, a former Trock ballerina who is now the company’s artistic director, why Walpurgis Night is worth the effort that everyone has put into it, he’ll talk with a deep felt urgency about the need to connect today’s dancers (and audiences) with the heritage that exists beyond a few familiar 19th century ballets. In a way, he’s pinpointing why the Trocks have a very special place in the dance scene.
For even as the en travesti parodies they first aired in a New York loft in 1974 merrily broaden out the appeal of ballet to anyone with a sense of humour, the subtlety and virtuosity they bring to technically challenging choreography – and Walpurgis Night, for all its frolics and flouncing is fiendishly testing – conjure a true celebration of the art form in all its abiding splendour. And guess what?
Once you’ve seen the likes of Lariska Dumbchenko, Olga Supphozova, Yakaterina Verbosovich – or indeed, the inimitable Ida Nevasayneva – encompass masculine strength, feminine grace, expressive delicacy and broadstroke comedy all in one personna, you may well wish that all prima ballerinas were similarly endowed. So, let me get right to the point: if, like these guys, you have the will and the ability to rise to the heights long associated with female ballerinas then there is no big gender divide, only great dance. Dance that is fun, fun, fun. Dance that gives us all a really good time. Dance that makes thousands and thousands of happy fans across the globe look forward to those theatre nights when they can spend a little time with the Trocks.
Mary Brennan is Dance/Performance critic, The Herald