Gender-bending ballet troupe toes the line to a pointe
BECKET — The all-male company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, making its Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival debut this week, boasts performers who subject their toes to an unpretty fate, choosing to wear pointe shoes, those instruments of torture for countless young girls studying ballet. It’s not pretty for the audience, either, seeing giant feet in otherwise delicate slippers, hairy chests sprouting above bodices, and muscular legs bulging from beneath the tutus, but it is hilarious.
Of course the whole enterprise would be a one-note joke if it weren’t for the salient fact that these men train, rigorously: Dancing in general, and pointework in particular, is not for the faint of heart. The Trocks present fairly straightforward — and when they’re not mining the material for slapstick or winking satire, rather decent — excerpts from warhorses such as “Swan Lake,’’ “Le Corsaire,’’ and “Raymonda,’’ making up in power what many of them lack in the way of the female’s elegantly tapering metatarsal, slender calf, and comely ankle.
Indeed, there are many moments that could pass for the real deal. Each of the dancers takes on a female and a male persona, with gloriously silly Russian-ized names. Pepe Dufka (Raffaele Morra) plays his Von Rothbart with the expected amount of manly menace, and in the “Le Corsaire’’ pas de deux, Mikhail Mypansarov (Emanuel Abruzzo) is all bare-chested virility as he ably tosses off the famous solo’s barrel turns and pirouettes a la seconde.
More impressive are moments such as Nina Enimenimynimova’s solo in “Raymonda’s Wedding.’’ Long Zou is small and lithe in comparison to some of his towering colleagues, with nice lines, a pliant back, and perfectly shaped port de bras. He is, simply, lovely, and could likely hold his own among actual ballerinas. As Odette, Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter) is poignant as often as hammy, and, like Lariska Dumbchenko (Morra’s female side) in “The Dying Swan,’’ displays beautifully rippling arms.
Lest we forget, though, the company’s aim is to be funny, and even when expected — we know that fish-dive is going to end badly — the endless pratfalls and missteps are snort-worthy. Timing is everything in humor and dance, and the Trocks combine the two adroitly. Dancers crash into each other, into the wings, into the proscenium; they trip and splay spectacularly; they blithely lose focus, stamina, and their correct places in line. Male characters such as Prince Siegfried and Count Jean de Brienne are presented as pretty but dim boors, while the females occasionally eye each other like the only partly apocryphal diva stereotypes from classical ballet’s legendary past. Modern dance is given its due, too, with the 2001 piece “Patterns in Space.’’ The live “after John Cage’’ musical accompaniment — which includes popping paper bags, bubble wrap, and gargled water — effectively upstages the three unitard-wearing dancers going through their dry “after Merce Cunningham’’ paces.
Still, the parody genre can wear quickly, and it’s the company’s penchant for detail, as well as its obvious reverence for the field, that makes it all work brilliantly. For once, the majority of the Ted Shawn Theatre audience stayed to clap and cheer, and even waited for the curtain to close before bolting for the parking lot.
Janine Parker can be reached at email@example.com.