Peacock Theatre, London
September 16, 2015
A near-full house, including a number of well-known ballet personalities, all having a whale of a time, all laughing loudly at the jokes and mishaps of a bunch of men sending themselves, and ballet, up with gay abandon. Yes, the long-running ballet gag that is the Trocks is back in town.
The basic premise doesn’t change, of course, but new dancers bring new personalities and new twists on old favourites. Much of the comedy is of the Morecambe and Wise-style, particularly of that found in any “play wot I wrote” by Ernie. As with them, there is slapstick, but quite often the best comedy comes rather from the way two dancers play off one another and those oh-so-tell-tale looks at each other and the audience. What is really clever is that it never descends into out and out pantomime. These guys know just where the line is, and never cross it.
It is irreverent, but that doesn’t mean it’s disrespectful. Far from it. Some of the ballet jokes are quite sophisticated. Artistic director Tory Dobrin and the dancers do their research and spend hours looking at footage of old Russian ballet divas on whom the characterisations are based. The outsize personalities, heavy make-up, flashing eyes and deep backbends are no accident. With the Trocks, though, they all come with rippling torsos and hairy chests.
Swan Lake Act II is a Trocks classic in which Nadia Doumiafeyva’s Odette (Philip Martin-Nielson) spends half her time dealing with the attentions of the blond-topped and rather girly Siegfried of Vyacheslav Legupski (Paolo Cervellera), and what seems to be most of the rest fluttering her long swan eyelashes at him and us. The funniest moment, though, must surely be Siegfried’s oh-so-purposeful, slow promenade across the stage. How he keeps a straight face is beyond me. Benno, played by the diminutive and highly annoying Pepe Dufka (Raffaele Morra) gets quite a role here to, eventually pulling the petulant child act when he’s told his presence is not required.
The Trocks version of the famous pas de deux from Le Corsaire comes with a few additions, not least an impressive tumbling run from Araf Legupski (Laszlo Major) that any gymnast would be happy with. He’s not averse to admiring his biceps either, although the ease with which he lifted his Medora (Carlos Hupoy as Alla Snizova) suggested he probably had good reason to.
The Esmerelda pas de six doesn’t work quite so well, by far the best moments coming from the four gypises, whose unkempt, teased hair made them look like they had just been pulled through a hedge backwards. Funniest moment was a bored Helen Highwaters (Duane Gosa) deciding to pass the time by eating a banana. Quite a few of what happens in Trocks ballets has undoubtedly happened in serious productions – dancers have wished they were elsewhere, got fed up with partners, bumped into each other and fallen over – but not that!
Everyone’s favourite Dying Swan passed away again, as usual in a sea of falling feathers, Eugenia Repelskii’s (Joshua Thake) final moment coming with quite a thump as she finally keeled over.
Siegfried may have been girly but in Paquita, Giovanni Goffredo’s Sergey Legupski (these Legupskis get everywhere) was an out and out wimp; Having required help with several lifts, his ballerina (Yakaterina Verbosovich, Chase Johnsey) finally called time and ordered a few push-ups. Wooden dancers are usually a killer to a show, but Goffredo was so wooden, so blank of expression, that it was quite hilarious.
Of course, the technique takes second place to the comedy, and there are moments when that’s very obvious, but then acting, comedy and dancing all at the same time is not easy. It has to be said, though, that Johnsey’s fouettés were rather excellent, though; precise, right on the music, mostly on the spot, and certainly no sailing off towards the wings.
“Thoroughly entertaining,” said a gentleman to me on the way out. And he was spot on.
This programme continues at the Peacock Theatre to September 20, followed by programme 2 from September 22-26. Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo then sets off on a nationwide tour. For more details click here.