Founded in 1974 and still going strong, the all-male Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo have become almost as classic as the ballets they perform. Their special mix of travesty, tribute and unselfconscious sincerity appeals to newbies and old hands, and is nowhere more balanced than in their much-loved version of Swan Lake act two.
It features plenty of comedy: caricatures of ballet’s bearing and mannerisms; mimed gesticulations like someone obsessively enunciating words in a foreign language; cartoonish gurning timed precisely to the music; pratfalls, missteps. Yet if the ballet’s airs are deflated and illusions unmasked, its magic remains. The deep myth of the story – prince, wizard, bird-woman – still speaks to our souls, Tchaikovsky’s music casts its spell, and the dancers, especially talented Carlos Hopuy as swan-maiden Odette, both lampoon and embody their roles.
The Dying Swan solo, another Trocks perennial, allows each performer to take his own liberties with the part. Duane Gosa plays it hammy but not overcooked. His moulting swan keels over rather than milking its death scene. A black man as a white swan, Gosa (like the programme as a whole) also makes you notice that men in female roles are afforded liberties that are granted far less to women in ballet. There are more black faces here, and more body types.
Food for thought, then, as well as entertainment. Yet there’s thinner nourishment in the divertissements that complete the programme. If the Harlequinade duet is a blithe showcase for show-off dancing (Long Zou in the female role, Takaomi Yoshino in the male), the faux exoticism of the Trovatiara quintet and the oompah kitsch of The Little Humpbacked Horse make them more surface than substance.