Founded in 1974, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has evolved from performing late-late shows in Off-Off Broadway lofts to appearing in major venues worldwide. This marked the company’s fifth visit to the Carpenter Center in Long Beach and it is easy to see why they continue to book this amazing company. The performers are wonderfully talented and gifted with impeccable comedic timing.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (fondly called The Trocks), is an all-male cast with choreography that lovingly pokes fun at classical ballet and modern dance. Men perform the ballerina roles en pointe and are given Russian stage names such as Olga Supphozova, Vyacheslav Legupski, Ilya Bobovnikov and Innokenti Smoktumuchsky. These men not only dance en pointe dressed in tutus and dresses , they do it splendidly. They perform as swans, sylphs, romantic princesses, angst-ridden ladies and more. Hairy chests and armpits are flaunted to enhance our fun. These guys know their craft inside and out. They know how to dissect it, tweak it and make us roar with laughter while dazzling us with their technical abilities. Loud laughter rapidly changes to shouts of “Brava”.

Male cast - Photo: Zoran Jeleni
Male cast – Photo: Zoran Jelenic

The program included Lev Ivanovich Ivanov’s Le Lac Des Cygnes (Swan Lake, Act II); a modern work, Patterns In Space, that was added after the program was printed; Mikhail Fokine’s Dying Swan; the “Pas de six” from August Bournonville’s Napoli and a very condensed version of Don Quixote choreographed by Marius Petipa.

Trockadero's Swan Lake Act II - Photo: Sascha Vaughn
Trockadero’s Swan Lake Act II – Photo: Sascha Vaughn

The choreography for Swan Lake is symmetrical and requires almost perfect precision from the dancers. Here lies the humor in The Trocks version of this classical ballet first performed in the late 19th Century. While dancing the required choreography the “ballerinas” briefly go the wrong way, lifts go awry and onstage rivalries are acted out. Prince Siegfried was danced by Sergey Legupski (Giovanni Goffredo) and the Queen of the Swans by Lariska Dumbchenko (Raffaele Morra). Morra is far from petite. He has a muscular physique and sports thick, curly chest hair, but he performed this role with beauty, grace and a great deal of humor. In addition, Morra is a fine actor who understands the subtlety of facial and physical comedy.

Les Cygnets in Swan Lake - Photo: Sascha Vaughan
Les Cygnets in Swan Lake – Photo: Sascha Vaughan

Swan Lake, Act II includes the dance of the Cygnets; a quartet of four young swans that hold hands throughout. The Cygnets is perfect fodder for The Trocks and they make the most of it. A dancer looks the wrong way or tilts “her” head in opposition to the others. Opportunities to trip and/or fall abound. The gags are never overdone, however, and I imagine that adding more slapstick was tempting.

What was delightful about the evening’s modern work, Patterns In Space [inspired by Merce Cunningham’s Points In Space (1986)], was not the choreography so much as it was the two onstage “musicians” whose antics definitely made it difficult to watch the dancers. Performed by Lariska Dumchenko (Raffaele Morra) and Yuri Smirnov (Robert Carter), I was reminded of performances by John Cage playing onstage with Merce Cunningham or of the experimental composer Lucia Dlugoszewski who collaborated with Erick Hawkins.

Patterns In Space - Photo: Zoran Jelenic
Patterns In Space – Photo: Zoran Jelenic

Ms. Dlugoszewski played a multitude of musical instruments onstage during the Hawkins Company performances. Here, one musician appeared as an old white haired man and the other as a stern looking woman dressed in a full-length dress and a hairnet. They made the most of bells, whistles, hairspray, a toy xylophone and one even produced music by gargling water. Their tongue-in-cheek take on modern composers and their impeccable timing were definitely the best part of Pattern In Space.

Joshua Thake as the Dying Swan
Joshua Thake as the Dying Swan

The Dying Swan is a 4 minute solo showing the last moments in the life of a swan. It was choreographed for ballerina Anna Pavlova in 1905 at her request. The Dying Swan requires technical strength, but more importantly, it demands that the ballerina embody the physical and emotional pain of a swan losing its life. The Trocks version, however, brings us an awkward swan who slowly molts most of her feathers as she slowly bourrées and flaps around the stage. Performed by Maria Paranova (Carlos Renedo), her death is anything but tragic and we want her demise to drag on longer.

Pas de Deux from Don Q - Photo: Zoran Jelenic
Pas de Deux from Don Q – Photo: Zoran Jelenic

According to the smartly written program notes, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza do not appear in The Trocks’ version of the ballet Don Quixote. “Due to economic reasons, these two characters have been eliminated.” It goes on to explain that we could perhaps imagine them roaming aimlessly about and getting in everyone’s way! There is, of course, humor in this ballet, but what stood out was the performance of the lead ballerina Yakatarina Verbosovich danced by Chase Johnsey. There were moments when I forgot that this was actually a man in ballet drag. “Her” pointe work was flawless. The partnering was excellent and “her” balance and leg extensions were breathtaking. After all that “she” brought us to our feet with the execution of 32 fouette turns that rival those of any Prima Ballerina in the business. I want to also give Johnsey a shout out for his seductive and sharp use of that fire red fan! In 2008 Mr. Johnsey was named Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch and we are definitely paying attention!

If you haven’t had a chance to see Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo, please go whenever they are performing in your area. You will not be sorry and I promise that you will leave the concert with a smile on your face. If you have had the pleasure of seeing them, go again and again! The fun never gets old.

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Jeff Slayton
Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, "The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber" and "Dancing Toward Sanity". For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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