Saturday, December 30, 2006

In the Tradition of Russian Ballet, There Are Changes to Tonight's Program

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the Joyce Theatre, December 29, 2006

I first saw the Trocks in Greenville, SC several years ago and have loved them ever since. This season's biennal NYC stop on their tour was the same treat it always is.

A heavily Russian-accented voice begins the show as the house lights dim with announcements including this post's title above along with the request to refrain from flash photography as "sudden boorsts of light remind fragile ballerinas of terrible Bolshevik gunfire."

The program opened with "Swan Lake, Act I Scene 2." The principals were Pepe Dufka (Raffaele Morra) as Benno, friend and confidante to Prince Siegfried, Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow (Joshua Grant), who falls in love with Odette, Svetlana Lofatkina (Fernando Medina Gallego), Queen of the Swans, who got this way because of Von Rothbart, Yuri Smirnoff (Robert Carter). This is classic Trock material, and is a signature of the company. The choreography is after Ivanov's 1894 version that followed Tchaikovsky's death the year before. I felt there were fewer moments of quality dancing, sacrificed at the cost of more over-the-top shenanigans than I remembered from the first time I saw them perform this piece. Some favorite items of this production are the romantic tutus and opera glove worn by the Swan Corps, although it's the chest and armpit hair that really complete the ensemble. As Odette, Mr. Gallego did manage to hold some lovely balances during the pas de deux (which somehow had become a pas de trois, with Mr. Morra assisting Mr. Grant in the dips, much to Mr. Gallego's dismay). He also showed some fine technique in his entrechats and remarkably quiet toes. Mr. Gallego did capture the heart of this tender role with all the bravura he could muster. Imagine Charles Busch in a tutu, en pointe, and you'll understand what I'm trying to say. Mr. Grant fills one of the requisite company spots of a freakishly tall and long-limbed dancer. His Siegfried was true to the blondewig he sported, but he did redeem himself with beautiful jete's during his variation. As Von Rothbart, Mr. Carter played it for every laugh he could find. The pas de quatre, Le PetitsCygnettes, was also a highlight of the scene, but cast with the Trock's usual mismatch in the sizes of the dancers. Having seen a dreadful "Swan Lake" while traveling in Russia last October, this performance oddly restored my faith in the work.

One of the additions to the evening's program was the Pas de Deux from "Flames of Paris." This is a bravura dance with flashy choreography. I was unable to capture the names of the dancers for the pas, but their performance was quite good. Being a Trock presentation, there were some campy moments, ones best appreciated by dancers familiar with the music and choreography. The dancer performing the female role should be commended for the fouette' segment, cleanly landing four single-single-single-doubles, followed by another 24 singles during the coda.

The other addition was "La Cacuchka," a Spanish character dance performed by Svetlana Lofatkina (Mr. Gallego) and Lariska Dumbchenko (Mr. Morra). Each in Spanish dresses more ugly than the other somehow, Mssrs Gallego and Morra took turns in bravura one-upsmanship offering some very competent use of castanets. It gave me a bit of an insight to what one might expect from the Trocks' "Grand Pas de Quatre" which is part of the other program on their tour this season. I'm tempted to come back, just for that piece.

Following this was the Pas de Six from "Esmerelda" featuring Gert Tord (Bernd Burgmaier) as Esmerelda, and Mikail Mypansorov (Damian Diaz) as Pierre Grengiore. Here the Trocks are back to their old game of mismatched partners. Mr. Burgmaier is thirteen feet tall if he's an inch, and Mr. Diaz seems to still reach for five feet high. In the pas, the moments of Mr. Tord supporting himself by holding on to Mr. Diaz' head during a supported promenade, was only topped by Mr. Diaz supporting Mr. Tord by holding his armpits (the highest he could reach) for another supported promenade. For a man of his size, Mr. Burgmaier does have impressive extension. There aren't many dancers who can kick a tambourine they are holding over their own heads, particularly of Mr. Burgmaier's lofty reaches.

Closing the program was a new production of Massine's "Gaite' Parisienne." I was hopeful for a fine dancing with a bit of camp thrown in. Instead, it was lots of camp, with very little fine dancing thrown in. Even the costumes appeared to be a mishmash of old pieces tossed together with some badly sewn new dresses. Poor Mr. Burgmaier looked dreadful in that sack of a dress. Mr. Morra, as the Proprietress, tried to maintain some order, but was unsuccessful. Mr. Carter, in the role originated by Danilova, was reduced to a stumbling drunk. I had hoped to see him demonstrate some of the magnificent turns I've seen in prior performances.

There are glimmers of hope in the program, but it looks like the Trocks are making the trade-off of laughs for technique more often than not. In the end, it was an evening of great fun, if not of great dancing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey--Thanks for this report on one of my favorite dance companies. Don't like hearing that they may be overdoing it on the camp, to the detriment of their usually considerable technical and stylistic prowess. The last time I saw them, two or three years ago, they seemed somewhat to err in the opposite direction, with the finale piece, "The Little Humpbacked Horse," played almost straight. Damn, they're good, though. Perhaps they should steer away from ballets that are already based on humor, such as "Gaité"; more fun to play on the serious stuff.

Go to "Pas de Quatre" if you can; aside from the comedy of it, which is of course great fun, they get closer than most versions I've seen to the spirit and style of the piece, as taught by one of the four ballerinas used by Anton Dolin in the 1941 recreation of the piece. The ballet is pretty camp on its own, with or without the Trocks.