28 September 2008

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Peacock Theatre, 23rd September 2008

Well, here we are again, Trocks fans. Having seen both their shows two years ago at this very same theatre, expectations were again high and again hit the spot completely. For those not familiar with the Trocks, they are an all male ballet company who specialise in dressing up in tutus and generally taking the piss out of classical ballet. As with all satire, it does help a lot if you have some knowledge of what is being sent up – but with the Trocks you can just as easily go in completely “cold” and still have a great deal of fun. Ballet, after all, lends itself spectacularly to being sent up – think of all the times you’ve seen Morecambe and Wise/The Two Ronnies/Little and Large/The Krankies et al doing The Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake.

What can possibly be missed is the fact that there is actually some incredibly skilful dancing going on underneath all the campery, over made up faces and comic moments. All are trained classical dancers. Some of these guys are strapping six-footers with shoulders (and in some instances, faces) that wouldn’t disgrace a scrum half, and yet they can all manage to dance en pointe – no mean feat for a man. Some of their star performers can cope with multiple single, double and sometimes treble fouettes, while still making it look easy. And of course, pair a big, strapping “ballerina” with a tiny male dancer, and you can make people laugh before either of you have danced a step.

What I particularly like about the Trocks is the way they show off their repertoire – there’s usually a (truncated) entire act from something, followed by a couple of shorter pieces, then a bravura “show off” piece at the end. Tonight’s performance started off with Act Two of Giselle – my favourite ballet and so ripe for sending up that it’s a complete gift. For the non-balletomanes out there, here’s a quick synopsis:

Giselle, having died of heartbreak at the end of Act One after discovering her lover, Albrect, is actually not the simple farmer she supposes but an aristocratic cad with nostalgie de la boue tendencies and an upperclass fiancée, is recruited to the ranks of the Wilis – a troupe of ghostly young women who, engaged to be married, have all died before their wedding day. At midnight, led by their Queen, Myrtha (as in Tidfil), they rise from their unquiet graves, waylay unfortunate young men who just happen to be wandering about the forest by moonlight (possibly in order to meet with other young men, who knows?) and dance their victims to death. As you do. Her ghouls having danced Hilarion (a “gamekeeper” but more likely a “poacher”, and rejected suitor of Giselle) right into the lake, Myrtha commands Giselle to dance Albrecht to his doom in punishment. Albrecht is saved by the power of love – Giselle manages to play for time until daybreak, when the first rays of the sun and the sound of a church bell send the Wilis back to their tombs.

You can’t not send that up, can you? I mean – Myrtha? (Mind you, in La Sylphide, the witch is lumbered with the name of Madge, for heaven's sake.) Robert Carter was a fab Myrtha, rising from the grave with a plastic arum lily standing up on her head, and her Wilis were like extras from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, even down to the arm gestures – no pretty pretty, carefully made up and chignoned spirits here but semi-rotted corpses dressed in tatters, which is just how they should be. Him Indoors told me about a production he had seen a while back where the Wilis actually clawed themselves out of their graves, which sounds enough to give anyone the Wilis.

This was followed by a sparkling pas de deux – Diana and Acteon – then the Vivadi Suite (in which we had the company’s tallest dancer partnered with the company’s smallest one; it was an interesting piece and, much though I profess to dislike Balanchine’s choreography, I really would quite like to see it done “straight” some time. Him Indoors got all pompous about this piece and in his best “Zippy from Rainbow” voice said “Of course, Balanchine was well known for casting enormously tall women so there’s a double layer of parody, isn’t that right, Jeffrey?”) and then the Trocks’ “signature piece” of The Dying Swan, shedding its feathers all over the stage to The Swan from Carnival of the Animals.

The company always finish with something unusual but fun, and for the finale we had “The Underwater Scene from The Little Humpbacked Horse”. No, I don’t know it either! Apparently it’s a very obscure Russian ballet based on a very obscure Russian Folktale – but it’s the type of underwater scene you get in lots of ballets and operas (and, come to think of if pantomimes) where they have a bubble-blowing machine in the wings and everyone dresses up as sea creatures. Think back to the last production of Dick Whittington you saw and you’ll know the type of thing. They followed this with a short encore of “New York, New York” and all wore Statue of Liberty headdresses – although Him Indoors thought they were meant to be starfish, Jeffery.
Great fun, as always guys.
The Trocks Website: http://www.trockadero.org/

What the critics thought: (all reviewers saw a peformance of the first programme; we saw the second)

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