40 Years of Dedication: The Trocks Combine Just the Right Amount of Parody with Elegance
The glorious mallerinas of the all-male ballet company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, also known as the Trocks, exhilarated and delighted their audience as they re-visited Berkeley after forty years on March 4th at Zellerbach. In celebration of their 40th year anniversary, the Trocks performed scenes from Swan Lake, Le Corsaire, Esmeralda, and Don Quixote.
The Trocks are by all means revolutionary, as they mix elegance with absurdity to completely deconstruct gender roles in classical ballet. Their strong technique and lifelong commitment along with their sense of humor present a visual spectacle for their audience. In addition to making ballet more accessible for anyone with their sense of humor, they also urge the conventional ballet audience to question the rigid gender norms and limitations of ballet.
In an interview to Pointe Magazine, Alberto Pretto, who danced the role of Esmeralda in the show, underlines the overarching problem of gender restrictions in ballet. He recounts his love for pointe shoes, “which were forbidden for men but such a fascination for me.” His concept of the “forbidden” pointe shoes refers to the fact that male dancers do not traditionally dance en pointe, with a few exceptions such as A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and therefore, do not receive the proper training for it. Pretto recounts that auditioning for the Trocks has allowed him to discover “this whole world,” in which “it was okay for a man to dance en pointe and make a career out of it.” Pretto’s story illustrates how he was able to overcome the gender norms of ballet and how the Trocks have inspired him in this process. The Trocks prove that men are just as well-equipped to dance en pointe and that any dancer, regardless of his or her sex, should be able to dance any part that she or he can qualify for.
Although the Trocks use parody to ridicule gender roles in ballet, they are also truly committed to traditional ballet technique and choreography. As they describe in their program, “[Swan Lake’s] appeal seems to stem from the mysterious and pathetic qualities of the heroine juxtaposed with the canonized glamour of 19th century Russian ballet.” The juxtaposition that the Trocks employ surpasses their adaptation of Swan Lake and becomes an overarching theme for the company, as they find a perfect balance between the amount of ridicule and conventional ballet technique that they incorporate in their performance.
The show on March 4th started with Act II of Swan Lake. From the entrance of the swans until the coda, the beautiful lake scene was not only traditional, as they danced to Lev Ivanov’s choreography, but also quite innovative. Dancing the part of Odette, the Queen of Swans, Yakatarina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey) was both very elegant and powerful with her strong technique. Although her following pas de deux with the prince started off conventional and graceful, the audience burst into laughter when corps de ballet started to cross the stage. They had changed the move of “chugs” in the original choreography by adding a circular arm motion, which creates the illusion of swans swimming backwards in the lake across the stage. Their footwork is conventional with the appropriate technique, but with a slight alteration of the traditionally still arms, their movement brings about a hilarious spectacle. The idea is genius, farcical, and perfectly encapsulates in a single move the parody that the Trocks employ.
From a traditional ballet perspective, the pas de deux from Le Corsaire at the beginning of the second act could be the highlight of the evening. In her role as Medora, Nina Immobilashvillli (Long Zou) was perfectly elegant and flexible as she performed numerous penchés and grand jetés. Immobilashvillli also excelled at her long series of fouettés en pointe, which showed that although men have a supposed different center of balance, this does not prevent them from performing one of the hardest ballet moves on stage.
After the “Pas de Six” from Esmeralda, the second act ended with a surprise performance of the Dying Swan by Maria Paranova (Carlos Renedo). No other performance of the Dying Swan could make the audience cry not with tears, but with laughter. As Maria Paranova bourreed across the stage, her tutu decomposed into feathers, which not only made the scene hilarious, but also somehow beautiful as white feathers cascaded down the stage. Dancing en pointe on a slippery floor full of feathers requires extreme control, which Maria Paranova proved to have mastered.
The last act was from Don Quixote, which, ironically enough, eliminated the character of Don Quixote. The program advised the audience, “You may, if you like, imagine the aristocratic vagrant and his constant companion, Sancho Panza, wandering about aimlessly and getting into everyone’s way, which in most versions is all they do anyway.” Alla Sinizova (Carlos Hopuy), in her role as Kitri, and Vyacheslav Legupski (Paolo Cervellera), in his role as Kitri’s lover Basil, performed the grand pas de deux that ended the evening at a climax. As they closely followed Petipa and Gorsky’s traditional choreography, Alla Sinizova mesmerized the audience with her solid poses on balance and numerous fouettés.
With their satirical stage names (I highly encourage you to read the short bios of the company members and their respective stage personas online), funny costumes, comic deviations in the choreography, and unparalleled stage presence, the Trocks invite their audience not only to have fun with them, but also to appreciate their talent and commitment as ballet dancers. The strong technique and the grace that the Trocks dance with en pointe demonstrate that the limits of gender roles in ballet are arbitrary and artificial. Although they criticize the strict restrictions of ballet, the Trocks are all exceptionally well trained dancers, who have together devoted over 40 years to the art of ballet.