Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the Peacock Theatre, London
Diversity, inclusivity and gender-fluidity are vibrantly celebrated by the tu-tu brilliant Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the Peacock Theatre, London.
The documentary film, Rebels on Pointe (2017, dir. Bobbi Jo Hart), features a telling moment between dancer Robert Carter and his mother. Turning to the interviewer, Carter’s mother jokes about ‘always wanting a little girl’. ‘By default’, she laughingly concludes, ‘I had a son with many feminine qualities’. Next to her on a sofa, with sparkling eyes and an irresistible grin, Carter quips that she had a ‘lady’. This brief anecdote about expectations around gender cuts to the core of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Established in the early 70s, the Trocks, as they’re affectionately known around the world, became the first professional all-male ballet troupe to perform en pointe and en travesti (in drag). A ‘lady’ in most senses of the word, Carter – a Trock of almost 23 years – pirouettes, glissades and chassés like any other prima ballerina at the top of her game. The fact that he was born male does not limit his ability to dance gracefully and skilfully, especially when donning a tutu and pointe shoes. It’s this brilliant demonstration of gender fluidity and generic hybridity that makes Les Ballets Trockadero’s latest performance at the Peacock Theatre essential viewing.
The Trocks’ burlesque of Russian ballet is at its best in their signature piece, ‘Le Lac Des Cygnes’. Taken from Act II of Swan Lake, it proudly displays the simultaneous ‘reverence’ for and ‘ridicule’ of traditional ballet, to use the words of artistic director Tory Dobrin. From start to finish the Trocks’ love for the art, history and legacy of ballet is patently and passionately on show, because they perform in drag. ‘Le Lac des Cygnes’ opens with the sorcerer, Von Rothbart, (played by Joshua Thake) pulling a clumsily painted plie-wood swan across the stage. A hastily painted canvas of a craterous rock surrounded by water is the only scenery on offer. And a sketchy recording of Tchaikovsky’s music stands in for a full orchestra. Here, classical enchantment has been exchanged for disenchantment in all comedic forms – and the piece is all the better for it. Unballetic slapstick falls and wobbles; melodramatic hissy fits from an all-too swan-like ensemble; diva-esque rivalry, deliberate upstaging and a pantomime-come-music-hall-style interaction between audience and performers render this Swan Lake archly clever and fun.
But it’s the dancers cast in title roles that exude the spirit of both Imperial Russian ballet and Les Ballets Trockadero. Prince Siegfried (played by the excellent Duane Gosa) subtly mocks the limitations placed on the danseurs in Russian ballet: men are there to show-off their feather-light female counterparts, to literally act the supporting role. Gosa’s Siegfried appears svelte and suave, a veritable Prince Charming, but is purposefully ineffectual. Sauntering across the stage alone, Siegfried wryly acknowledges to his audience the artificiality of the scene, the futility of the choreography, the delightful absurdity of the moment. With make-up as vamped and caked on as the ballerinas, Gosa’s Siegfried challenges our assumptions of what is female and male. Drag, again, frames the foibles of the ballet world as well as its charms and strengths.
As part of their drag ballerina alter-egos, all Trocks have Russian sounding names but with a vodka-like twist. Epithets such as ‘Maya Thickenthigya’ and ‘Nina Enimenimynimova’ indicate how far Les Ballets Trockadero are willing to go in their burlesquing of Russian balletic culture. Carlos Hopuy, the superb dancer who plays Odette in Swan Lake, is a drag-act extraordinaire. His alter-ego is Alla Snizova, who was once a ‘child prodigy…with serious allergy problems’ and is now a ‘consummate actress’. In the role of Odette, Hopuy’s Snizova lives up to her name, no doubt out-performing Polina Karpakova, the original Swan Princess for the Bolshoi in 1877. But Snizova’s theatrics are no match for her balletic prowess. Her arabesques are needle sharp, her triple pirouettes (en pointe) unparalled. Prima and diva of the dance floor, Snizova demonstrates the Trocks’ combined mastery of comedy and technique. Then again, when Hopuy spins dizzyingly onto the stage, one is not looking at a boy playing a girl, or a boy-come-girl emulating a swan, but a gender fluid dancer of exceptional skill.
The Dying Swan is another piece where drag is used to reveal and conceal ideas and expectations of gender. Hanging up his prince costume, in favour of a fluffy feather tutu, Duane Gosa transforms into the titular swan, who is all spindly supple limbs and extended flapping arms. Although it gained the most laughs, this star-turn by Gosa was beautifully moving; a bizarrely sublime collision of bathos and pathos wrapped up in powder down. Twisting, spinning, tip-toing and doing the funky chicken across the stage, en pointe, whilst feathers drift to the floor, Gosa’s parody of one of ballet’s most famous solos is at once affective and humorously affected. Much like Anna Pavlova, who spun to death in the original La Mort du Cygne in 1907, Gosa taps into the dreamy excesses and poetry of ballet even when mocking it.
There were many moments that astonished, touched and tickled the audience, particularly during the later performances of Harlequinade Pas de Deux and with Carter’s bravura turn in The Little Humpbacked Horse. What remained after the Trocks had performed their chorus line to New York New York, was the sheer diversity of Tory Dobrin’s company and corps du ballet. Under the mask-like make-up, mannered movement and garish costumes are professional dancers of high calibre from all over the world. As a family, the Trocks rock an ethos of diversity, inclusivity and community across the world-stage. As adept dancers, they raise the bar(re) when it comes to uncompromising balletic skill being compatible with gender fluid bodies in the arts. May they keep on Trockin’ and challenging expectations about who can do what in ballet. These guys are consistently on point(e) and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo perform at the Peacock Theatre, London, from the 12th to 22nd of September, and then tour the UK and Ireland until November 3rd. For full listings see here: http://www.danceconsortium.com/touring/les-ballets-trockadero-de-monte-carlo-2018/tour-dates-and-venues/ Click below for more information about the Trocks and the history of the company: https://trockadero.org/about-us/history/