Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, whose antic approach to classic dances continues at the Joyce through Saturday, provides more than a lot of laughs and the charge that comes from watching skilled ballerinas do their stuff. This 28-year-old, 15-man ensemble, based in Manhattan, tours internationally. It has made enormous strides in the past decade, developing technical prowess under the direction of ballet mistress Pamela Pribisco that would be the envy of any regional ballet company.
For those of us who genuinely believe that ballet is over—that it’s time for the dance world to turn its fiscal and creative energies in directions less ossified and sexist—the Trocks provide ammunition in the form of well-aimed parody, and also demonstrate, by flouting a whole range of conventions, the way traditional ballet reinforces rigid sex roles and attitudes about body shape and partnering. Really tall women and short men are routinely rejected by top-flight troupes, as are dancers of color and those packing a few extra pounds. The Trocks give such performers an arena in which to sparkle, and the result is a level of energy rarely visible on ballet stages. Anyone caught in a nonstop cycle of dieting knows that food is fuel, and that eating too little can chip away at your strength. The dancers of the Trockadero value power over slimness (though several of them, lord knows, are as skinny as your average anorexic ballerina), and can execute the silly multiple fouettés as well as many women, kick their legs to their ears without losing their centers, and hoist their male partners in ways most female ballet dancers can only dream about. Paradoxically, it’s the guys’ passion for ballet that lets them send it up so enthusiastically, and that keeps audiences—gay and straight, young and doddering, many bearing bouquets for their favorite divas—packing the house nightly.
The costuming and makeup are really quite stunning; impersonating a ballerina, who generally has no rack to speak of, is not hard for many male dancers. One African American diva, the rangy Tai Williams playing Nadia Rombova, wore sparkly black glasses with her blond-bun wig in Paquita, the dazzling Petipa work that closes Program B. That the entire roster is composed of guys (who have both female and male alter egos) becomes obvious primarily when you look at their feet. A size-15 pointe shoe is an astonishing thing to behold, and a six-foot-tall dude balanced in a pair of them is a vision rarely countenanced in a traditional troupe. What the Trocks let us see are giant women partnering tiny men. Carlos Garcia, a small Filipino who performs as both Sylphia Belchick and Nikolai Legupski, is a real treasure, especially as Legupski partnering the towering Williams (as Rombova) in La Vivandière. This rousingballet—originally choreographed by Arthur Saint Leon to music by Cesare Pugni and staged by Elena Kunikova (who has impeccable Kirov credentials)—was the sleeper hit of the strong Program A, which left an ecstatic audience crooning. The final piece on that bill, a new production of Don Quixote that blithely dispenses with both the eponymous hero and his sidekick Sancho Panza, offers up terrific Latin-flavored performances by Margeaux Mundeyn, Fifi Barkova, and R.M. (Prince) Myshkin—Yanny Manaure, Manolo Molina, and Fernando Medina Gallego, respectively.
New works this season include one misfire, Debut at the Opera, a solo for veteran Trock Paul Ghiselin as Ida Nevasayneva in a 1928 work by Agnes de Mille, reconstructed by Janet Eilber. Based on the paintings of Degas, and set on a bare stage with a stepladder serving as a barre, it’s unfamiliar to audiences, who therefore have no handle on how to respond. Is it parody, or just fond evocation? This and several other pieces seemed overlong, as they would have in “straight” renderings by an ordinary troupe. Les Sylphides, an abstract romantic ballet to Chopin, here becomes a tedious exercise in crowd control for nine white-clad ballerinas and a neurasthenic man. Peter Anastos’s “pirate ballet,” to music by Giuseppe Verdi, features scimitar-wielding ballerinas but makes too few sharp points. Mugging and attitude will get you pretty far, but finally it’s skill and intriguing choreography that keep fans coming back for more.
I was out of the country earlier this month when New York magazine saw fit to terminate the column of Tobi Tobias, a stellar dance critic whose writing has graced its pages since 1980. We will make room for her here.