Twenty-four years after its founding members first rose on their toes to lovingly lampoon the stylistic conventions of classical ballet, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is still pirouetting across the globe to rapturous receptions. The all-male troupe, currently stopping in Gotham for a weeklong stand at the Joyce Theater, has become a cultural institution of sorts, and it’s still clear why. They wed the physical capabilities of male dancers with the grace and grandeur of ballerinas, and blend them together with a layer of expert clowning. The result is an exaltation of the ballerina’s otherworldly art that simultaneously brings it crashing down to earth.
The dancers’ fantastical monikers alone are worth the price of admission. Featured in the opening segment of this week’s program, the second act of “Swan Lake,” were Mikolojus Vatissnyem (that’s “what’s-his-name” pronounced with a goulash-thick Slavic accent), Margeaux Mundeyn, Medulli Lobotomov and Mikhail Mypansarov, for instance.
The classic tale of the doomed love between a prince and a fey fowl is a Trockadero signature piece, and while their repertoire has been expanded adventurously over the years, their tongue-in-cheek deconstruction of this dance remains the supreme example of their style. That style relies on an accomplished execution of classical dance movements interlaced with little intrusions of reality. An expert series of pirouettes ends with a distinct look of nausea on the dancer’s face, for example, and the stylized battle between the prince and the evil Von Rothbart for Odette descends into a veritable brawl.
It is indeed breathtaking to watch the corps of swans flutter onstage on point, but there’s another kind of pleasure in seeing these girls throw off streams of sweat when they twirl, or wrench themselves through a turn when they lose momentum. Their carefully painted faces have the elastic expressiveness that real ballerinas are forbidden; they twist their lips into moues of envy or discomfort, and their smiles are just a little too ingratiating. Gracefulness and buffoonery are pleasurably mixed throughout the show.
A delightfully realized excerpt from “La Vivandiere” mined some of the evening’s more robust laughs from the simple teaming of a pair of dancers in a pas de deux: the diminutive Igor Slowpokin (Manolo Molina) and the beaming giantess Svetlana Lofatkina (Lev Radchenko, a former Kirov Ballet dancer whose intense athleticism was exhilaratingly married with feminine grace). With Lofatkina on point, she towered a good four feet above her partner, who struggled valiantly to maintain his dignity.
Also new to New York was the solo turn by Ida Nevasayneva (Paul Ghiselin), an astonishing creature who danced a version of Anna Pavlova’s “Dying Swan,” with choreography “after” Michel Fokine. Rather far after, in fact, as Ida, who resembles a cross between Diana Vreeland and a bulimic flamingo, danced her way to doom with a combination of exquisite, rococo elegance and authentically birdlike awkwardness, obliviously hemorrhaging white feathers with each step.
The evening’s final act was “Stars & Stripes Forever,” choreographed by New York City Ballet principal dancer Robert La Fosse and inspired by George Balanchine’s “Stars & Stripes.” With glitzy drill-team style costumes by Mike Gonzales and plenty of high-stepping and saluting amid a swirl of red, white and blue, this was a display of patriotic pageantry that had a layer of politics beneath its sequined surface.
If you cared to, you could see the Trocks’ affectionate nod to Americana as a big-hearted fanfare in the face of the right-wing politicians who are again making headlines by denouncing homosexuality as a threat to the American home and hearth. For although their appeal is well nigh universal, the art of the Ballets Trockadero is unquestionably rooted in a gay sensibility.
“They are our stars and our stripes, too,” these performers seemed to assert with every graceful movement, “and we intend to keep it that away.” And indeed as they head off for South Africa and Greece, among other destinations set for the new season, their status as cultural ambassadors of a distinctly delightful stripe cannot be disputed.