“Swan Lake” (Act 2), “Le Corsaire” pas de deux, “Esmeralda” pas de six, “Dying Swan,” and “Don Quixote”
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Kennedy Center Opera House
Tuesday, March 23, 2017
by Alexandra Tomalonis
copyright 2017 by Alexandra Tomalonis
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – one of the best company names ever – has changed over the years. Way back in the mid-1970s, when the company danced in crumbling theaters (the Old Met in New York, where I first saw them), its humor was based partly on the clunky technique of the dancers (men dancing on pointe, deliberately, in some cases, not very well), and mostly from an absolutely incisive view of classical ballet: its beauty, and the opportunities it presents for over-the-top performances by star, and wannabe star, performers. It satirized style, and did it brilliantly.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in "Swan Lake." Photo by Sascha Vaughan.
That was during the Ballet Boom, which was slowly winding down at the time, and the Trocks mimicked the Ballets Russes-style companies of an earlier Ballet Boom, when American dancers had to take Russian names, and neither technique nor artistry was near the level of the companies in their glory days. Today is a different time. The Baby Ballerinas and their successors are long gone, and Technique is King – or Queen, in this case. While the current version of the Trocks (directed by Tory Dobrin) still has a dancer or two lost on stage, falling after a jump, or bumping into a neighbor or a partner, this generation of Trocks can whip through a series of fouettés or split jumps with the best of them. Also – a deliberate comment on the current state of affairs, or the irresistible draw of star male roles? – the Trocks now emphasize male dancing. There were always a few female-dancers-dancing-as-men, although it was usually noted in the program that they were dancing “en travestie” (a 19th century ballet convention in which a ballerina would take a man’s part) the emphasis was squarely on the ballerinas and the way they tried to seduce the audience.
The Trocks really know its audience and play to it shamelessly, as great stars often do. Opening night, the pratfalls, the parodies, and the souped up technique drew extremely enthusiastic applause and very happy smiles, worthy of a Grand Gala. Looking around the house, I saw only happy faces. Washington needs these guys!
The program was a collection of repert-ory stal-warts. It opened with the second act of “Swan Lake,” led by Nadia Doumia-fevya and Boris Mudko (the witty names are half the fun). The ballet has changed a bit over time, and much of the humor has become rather too broad, but several of its signature moments remain – the Prince walking across the stage as slowly as possible looking Extremely Noble, the swans doing the breast stroke – and others are new. Doumiafevya was a very winsome swan, which made her strong fouettés (well, there was no third act, so she HAD to do them) all the more surprising and all the more fun. I could have done with a few less bumps and pratfalls, but that’s a quibble.
Two grand pas de deux, gala fare indeed, were very well danced. Araf Legupski gave us a Nureyev-style “Corsaire”. This was one of Nureyev’s signature roles, and Legupski had several moments down pat, especially the slam to the floor at the ballerina’s feet that ends the piece. I’m not sure who Nina Enimenimynimova was channeling, but she balanced the laughs her technique sometimes provoked with grand ballerina mannerisms.
Nina Immobilashvilli and Jacques D’Aniels led the “Esmeralda” pas de six, accompanied by four ballerinas in the most wonderfully tousled and awful gypsy wigs imaginable. Immobilashvilli’s take on her role was dead on: so sad she sagged and looked as though she had no strength, but kept bourréeing and bourréeing and bourréeing nearly into the wings. D’Aniels, a very cheerful hero, had a job keeping her on stage. Then Immobilashvilli would rise to the occasion and deliver the more technical parts of the role brilliantly. But her feet…...
Helen Highwaters – obviously the rebel of the group with her American name – flapped her way through “The Dying Swan,” impervious to the fact that her tutu was losing feathers by the handful. Her death struggle was suitably drawn out, with a terrific sense of dramatic timing.
The program closed with the show stopper of all show stoppers, a one-act version of “Don Quixote,” starring Yakaterina Verbososvich and Vyacheslav Legupski. Unfortunately I could not stay for this, but a trusted colleague let me know that I’d missed the best of the night, that the dancing was excellent and that the humor was “more on the subtle side.” Bravi, Trocks!
Dancers of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in "Esmeralda" (middle) and in "Don Quizote" (bottom). Both by Zoraan Jelenik.