The performance of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo at the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach proved that after 44 years they are still hilariously funny, and stronger on pointe than ever. The company was founded in 1974 to give an “entertaining view of traditional, classical ballet in parody form…”. The comedy works not just because of their timing, but because they can perform the pointe work so very well. Just recently, a 90-minute documentary film by Bobbi Jo Hart (aka Bobbi Jo Krals) titled Rebels On Pointe was released by Icarus Films. It has received rave reviews by many. The Montreal Gazette called it “An affectionate tribute to a company that dares to defy convention” and the Raindance Review wrote “One of the most affectionately made documentaries at RAINDANCE this year”.
The ballet Swan Lake is extremely well-known and loved by many, and Act II of Swan Lake is arguably the most performed. Presented here as LE LAC DES CYGNES (Swan Lake, ACT II) with music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreography after Lev Ivanovich Ivanov, the comedy works because of this familiarity. The audience knows what should happen and when it goes awry, it is hysterical. Some of the jokes are corny, but they are never boring. Even the names of the ballerinas will make one laugh, especially when read aloud. Prince Siegfried was performed by Vladimir Legupski (Duane Gosa); Queen of the Swans by Nadia Doumiafeyva (Philip Martin-Nielson), and Von Rothbart by Yuri Smirnov (Robert Carter).
Lighting bolts flash across the scrim as Rothbart rubs his hands together and thrusts them forward like an evil sorcerer casting a spell. A soloist knocks a member of the corps de ballet out cold when she gets too close during a grande battement. The Queen of the Swans has her head bashed against the floor during a fish dive lift gone wrong. This is ballet slapstick at its best, but during the coda of LE LAC DES CYGNES the entire company dazzles with its stunning dance technique. Costumes for LE LAC DES CYGNES were by Mike Gonzales, decor by Jason Courson, and lighting by Kip Marsh.
As a former Merce Cunningham Dance Company member, PATTERNS IN SPACE is perhaps funnier to me than many. Choreographed in the style of Merce Cunningham, the movement jokes are spot on. The several tableaux, the many triplets around the stage, and the three solos happening simultaneously, all made me chuckle. The two musicians are, of course, a reference to John Cage, and the two performers do an excellent job of recreating and parodying Cage’s music. The only thing missing was the amplification of the music that they were making. Cage always had his instruments wired to electronic devices that then manipulated the sound.
Another favorite dance performed by this company, THE DYING SWAN, was on the program and unfortunately the ballerina who performed it was announced too quickly for me to jot down her name. (This ballet and Patterns In Space were not listed in the program.) Here, the aged swan is seen molting as she bourrées across the stage, littering the stage with feathers which she later attempts to stuff back into place. The parody is superb and we all laugh at her demise. The curtain call was especially funny as it spoofed how ballerinas often milk the applause by returning in front of the house curtain a few times too many.
LA TROVATIARA PAS DE CINQ with choreography by Peter Anastos is one that I am not familiar with, but I laughed just as much. Loosely translated, it means The Foundling Queen Not for Five. According to the company’s website, it is based on a “lost gem from a misplaced Verdi Opera” about “an all-girl North African Ballet troupe, hailing from Fezon the pirate-infested Barbary Coast, renowned for its lurid interpretations of European Romantic Ballet and sub-Saharan Apache Dance.” It begins with pretty much straight forward and beautiful dancing by the cast before very subtle things begin to go wrong. One ballerina comes onstage wearing black framed eye glasses. A tall ballerina has a pas de trois with two guards who are far shorter than she is, and the partnering brings laughter which gets louder as the guards try to lift her off the ground during supported running leaps. The humor for LA TROVATIARA PAS DE CINQ depends a lot on the facial expressions of the dancers, miscalculations between partners, dancers facing the wrong way, and several wrong entrances. The cast included Eugenia Repelskii (Joshua Thake), Helen Highwaters (Duane Gosa), Nina Immobilashvili (Alberto Pretto), Marat Legupski (Christopher Ouellette) and Sergey Legupski (Kevin Garcia). The music was by Giuseppe Verdi, costumes by Kenneth Busbin and Decor and Lighting by Kip Marsh.
The program closed with PAQUITA choreographed after Marius Petipa and music by Ludwig Minkus. Again, the dancing was strong, especially two variations performed by Nina Enimenimynimova (Long Zou). Zou’s pointe work, leg extensions, and fouettés (whipped turns) reached the level of many female prima ballerinas. She/he was fabulous. Other variations were wonderfully performed by Elvira Khababgallina (Kevin Garcia), Nadia Doumiafeyva (Philip Martin-Nielson), and Alla Snizova (Carlos Hopuy). The entire ensemble looked magnificent in this ballet and the humor was grand. Special mention goes out to Giovanni Ravelo who portrays Boris Mudko, the not-so-apt lead male dancer.
Some of the staff that keep this amazing company running and looking great include Artistic Director Tory Dobrin, Music Director George Daugherty, Ballet Master Raffaele Morra, and Costume Designers Ken Busbin and Jeffrey Sturdivant.
As stated by the Carpenter Center’s Executive Director Megan Kline Crockett, “Long Beach loves the Trocks”, and to the city’s delight the Carpenter brings them back year after year.
Feature photo by Zoran Jelenic.
To view the LA Dance Chronicle Performance Calendar, click here.