Romances are interracial (and interspecies), gender codes are switched, and all the dancers have triple identities in Tory Dobrin’s wonderful travesty ballet troupe, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. The 42-year-old ensemble is a haven for strong male performers who, because they are short or gangly or chunky, may have trouble finding spots in other companies. What they have in common is superb ballet technique and comic timing; dancing delicate female roles en pointe, they’re capable, in the blink of an eye, of transforming themselves into fishwives or prizefighters. Not afraid to play to the house, they conspire with us to pay homage to tradition even while giving it a kick in the tutu. Trockadero swans squawk and snap, vicious as the real thing. They shatter the smooth, passive Swan Lake stereotype without breaking character.
Ensconced at the Joyce through New Year’s Eve with two different programs, the eighteen Trocks — half American born, half from abroad, four of them Italian — each play male and female roles, with different Russian stage names for each gender. A standout in Program A is Yakatarina Verbosovich, a petite blonde who plays the Swan Queen in Act II of Le Lac des Cygnes; in male parts she’s known as Roland Deaulin, and out of costume she’s Chase Johnsey, a Floridian who this year was nominated as the best male dancer in England, the first time such recognition was given to a guy in a female role. Johnsey’s a marvel, a ringer for Madonna; in Program B, on view three times next weekend, he plays the ballerina in a reconstruction of Marius Petipa’s Paquita. That bill opens with the troupe’s notorious Act II of Giselle, which has décor by the late, great Edward Gorey.
In addition to the birdy warhorse, Program A offers the New York premiere of a pas de six from the 1842 Napoli, an homage to Copenhagen-born choreographer August Bournonville. A much lighter, sunnier style than the Russian technique for which the Trocks are famous, this Danish pastry, set in Naples, foregrounds two smallish male dancers, Carlos Hopuy and Long Zou, both fleet of foot and game to partner the four much larger “women” in their care.
Also on this bill is Patterns in Space, a tribute to Merce Cunningham that includes three dancers, plus live music by Lariska Dumbchenko (who also distinguishes herself in Raymonda’s Wedding) and Yuri Smirnov (the endlessly versatile Robert Carter, celebrating his 21st year in the Trockadero) on such instruments as a kid’s xylophone, kazoos, and castanets, not to mention kitchen equipment, hair clippers, cans of hairspray, gargling, and a panoply of imaginative animal sounds. As was often the case with the late, lamented Cunningham company, the actions of the musicians are as compelling as those of the deadpan dancers.
As the Dying Swan, a famed Trocks item in which a neurasthenic ballerina’s tutu molts all over the stage, Carlos Renedo as Maria Paranova plays the audience like a violin, surreptitiously demanding more and more adulation. And for their triumphant final outing, a pair of scenes from Petipa’s 1898 Raymonda, sixteen dancers pull out all the stops.
Every piece here is a reminder of the core of the troupe’s appeal: Though wildly funny, it’s also dead serious about ballet history and technique. Director Dobrin, who began dancing decades ago in Los Angeles and came up through the ranks of the Trocks, learned his history on the fly, falling in love with old videos of Russian ballerinas. The company’s style, abetted by real Russian coaches, is much more florid, and fluid, than our other local troupes. We eat their stuff up because they serve it with such affection, and in such huge helpings.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
175 Eighth Avenue
Through December 31