Trock Through the Heart!

This past weekend I was lucky enough to see a one-night engagement of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the historic Pantages Theatre in Tacoma, WA.

For those of you unfamiliar with the “Trocks” (as they are affectionately known), here is a little history: Founded in 1974, an all-male group of dancers came together for the purpose of presenting a playful, entertaining view of traditional, classical ballet in parody form and en travesti (in drag). Since then, the TROCKS have established themselves as a major dance phenomenon throughout the world. To quote from their site:

The comedy is achieved by incorporating and exaggerating the foibles, accidents, and underlying incongruities of serious dance. The fact that men dance all the parts–heavy bodies delicately balancing on toes as swans, sylphs, water sprites, romantic princesses, angst-ridden Victorian ladies–enhances rather than mocks the spirit of dance as an art form, delighting and amusing the most knowledgeable, as well as novices, in the audiences. 

I’d first learned of the Trocks from a documentary about them shown on PBS several years ago. I was immediately intrigued. Sure, I found the campiness of their premise to be tons of fun, but what really got my attention was just how incredibly good the dancing was. All of the performers are skilled technicians and at the top of their craft. Just thinking  about how much strength it takes getting a 160lb. man up en pointe exhausts me and I’m just sitting here. These guys can really, REALLY, dance.

The show started out silly and got increasingly serious, the better to draw the audience in with cleverness and camp, and then hold our attention with flawlessly executed Fouettes and Adagios.

The first piece of the evening was Act II of “Swan Lake,” featuring the brawny, hairy chested men in tutus. The group’s schtick-in-trade is to closely follow the original choreography (in this case by Lev Ivanov), then unexpectedly toss in a pratfall and some slapstick. A ballerina fell flat on her (his) face. Another hollered “ugh!” while leaping. A maverick corps member suddenly began sashaying Broadway-style while the others vainly tried to keep the ensemble together. Another ballerina got kicked in the head. Still another mugged flamboyantly at the audience. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. My face hurt by the time we got to the first intermission.

After we’d all pulled ourselves together and given our facial muscles a rest, it was right back to the riotous comedy with “Patterns in Space”, a hilarious parody of modern dance innovator Merce Cunningham and experimental composer John Cage. Three dancers moved about solemnly but aimlessly while two onstage “musicians” made “music” by rustling paper bags, popping sheets of bubble-wrap and gargling water (while hanging upside down), among other oddities.

Next was a real treat for ballet history enthusiasts, “Le Grand Pas de Quatre” saucily mocked a quartet of great ballerinas who came together for an all-star showcase in 1845. The tyrannical grandiosity of Sveltlana Lofatkina (Fernando Medina Gallego), the dancer evoking Marie Taglioni — the eldest of the original foursome — induced into the audience such gleeful a state of schadenfreude for the dancers under her gaze, you couldn’t help but root for her next holier-than-thou tactic. Posed with delicacy and seeming refinement, with the mere glint of her eyes (empowered by gargantuan fake lashes), she forced one co-star to keep lowering her groveling bow — ballet protocol as torture.

This was followed by the Trocks signature solo piece, “The Dying Swan,” danced by Katya Lukinatmeya (Briton Spitler) in a flurry of molting feathers to the music of Saint-Saens.

The troupe concluded its performance with a largely straight version of Massenet’s Spanish-flavored “Majisimas,” which provided plenty of opportunity for the dancers to dazzle with effortless leaps, double air turns and other feats of pyrotechnical skill.

I urge you, implore you, beg you – even if you’re not a fan of ballet or dance – if the Trocks come to your town, you MUST see them perform. Consider it a decision for your health, you’ll lose pounds in belly fat from laughter alone.

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