"Swan Lake, Act II," "Patterns in Space," "Napoli Pas de Six," "The Dying Swan," "Raymonda's Wedding"
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
December 13, 2016
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2016 by Leigh Witchel
The Trocks returned for their biennial New York season with their version of the pas de six from Bournonville’s “Napoli.” They’re still getting acquainted with the work’s style; give them a year and it will be funny as well.
The pas de six is one of the most beautifully stitched of 19th century divertissements, streamlined in this version to be done without a crowd and with only six dancers. True to their brand, the Trocks showed their love for the surface details: their costumes were the traditional designs, even down to the colors. But parody, even more than comedy, requires the time to get under the skin of what you’re skewering, and they don’t yet know the ballet well enough to joke about it. That takes repetition. The dancers have started the process: a trio did little waltz steps towards and away from one another, and suddenly with insane cheerfulness they verbalized, “Hello! Hello!” You can almost imagine how that happened spontaneously in rehearsal.
Maria Paranova (Carlos Renedo) in “The Dying Swan.” Photo © Yi-Chun Wu
Also true to their brand, the Trocks dance a Russian “Napoli” rather than a Danish one, accenting the individual steps more than the chains of phrases. The company virtuosos who can do the steps show them for all they are worth; the ones who can’t try very hard. The two doing male parts, Carlos Hopuy and Long Zou, showed the tricks emphatically; the ones dancing as women phrased more.
The rest of the bill consisted of tried and true chestnuts. Both men from “Napoli” were jaw-dropping as women in the evening’s finale, “Raymonda’s Wedding.” In one of the bridesmaid’s solos Hopuy popped out his echappé to show off gorgeous insteps that provoked a jealous gasp. Zou revolved through beautifully placed turns in front attitude as well as fouettés but ended the solo with a double tour.
“Patterns in Space” has also gotten funnier over the years. When first introduced, the dancing in the spoof of Merce Cunningham’s post-modern work was done straight: pity the poor trio of hardworking dancers who got completely upstaged by the musicians. The dancing is still more or less done without gags, but the tomfoolery from the musicians has gotten even more broad. Company stalwarts Robert Carter and Raffaele Morra were a pair of committed, eccentric, post-modernists who created soundscapes by playing scissors, spraying hairspray, gargling . . .
It isn’t really a Trocks performance if the Dying Swan doesn’t molt onstage. Carlos Renedo’s Swan was less of a diva and more of a cheerleader than most, gleefully encouraging applause rather than demanding it. But the most pleasant surprise was in another old bird: Chase Johnsey in the Trock’s perennially diabolical version of Act 2 of “Swan Lake.” In New York, Johnsey has been more often used in showpiece duets, where his technical ability on pointe is featured more than his humor. This time, as his ballerina alter-ego Yakaterina Verbosovich, he let it rip as Odette. From the moment Odette leaped out and flashed a manic grin bang on the end of the phrase Johnsey had the comic timing down. Every Odette has her own personality and gags: Verbosovich was a glamour queen trapped in a world conspiring to poop on her tutu. She mimed the famed explanation of her predicament in Act 2 with crystal clarity . . . only to have the noble but dim prince not get it even after repeat attempts.
Oddly, Johnsey did the toughest parts of the ballet the best. His foot winged seriously in arabesque during the introductory scenes, but once the main duet began, that cleaned up immediately, as if he were relying on muscle memory because it was familiar.
From beginning to end, the Trocks’ sojourn at the lake is even more of a delight if you know the original. The Trocks know this bird inside out, and nothing – and yet everything – is sacred to them. From a von Rothbart who gets winded doing a lap round the stage showing off his cape to a swan corps that threatens the prince like mob goons or does the funky chicken, the humor comes from doing the ballet over and over, as the real Ballets Russes might have. And ballets at the Trocks are like wine – they improve with age.
copyright © 2016 by Leigh Witchel
Bottom: Eugenia Repelskii (Joshua Thake), Ketevan Iosifidi (Long Zou) and Nina Immobiliashvili (Alberto Pretto) in “Napoli Pas de Six.” Photo © Yi-Chun Wu