On Friday Evening, while thousands of college basketball fans from around the country stormed the streets of downtown Dallas for an outdoor country performance, a far different event was taking place nearby. A sold-out crowd of balletomanes gathered at City Performance Hall for the Vaudevillian ballet company, Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo. It’s classical ballet in parody form, en travesti. The performance included Swan Lake Act II, Don Quixote Pas De Deux, Go For Barocco, The Dying Swan, and the finale, Paquita.
Founded in 1974, the original Ballet Trockadero was a proving ground in which all forms of societal constraints on classical ballet were broken down. The founders created a sort of masquerade, wherein the artifice of the traditional Russian form became apparent. The concept is somewhat like another Vaudevillian tradition, the circus, in which the constrictions of gravity and natural law are dissolved. But instead, the limitations of ballet traditionally decided by ethnicity and gender bias are done away with for comedic effect. The acknowledgement and subsequent shunning of ballet’s historically rigid structure is the nucleus of the audience’s laughter, and there was plenty of laughter to go around.
Bits of silliness begin even before the curtain. A quick glance inside the playbill reveals a series of clever dancer biographies. The following pseudonyms and faux factual details are found therein:
Ida Nevasayneva, socialist ballerina of the working class.
Natalie Kleptopovska, originally a dresser to a great ballerina, began her career when one night she locked her mistress in the armoire and danced in her place.
Maya Thinkenthighya, radio active properties prevented her from appearing with Trockadero until her recent release from a special sanitarium in the black sea.
After a side-splitting casting change emanating over the loudspeaker, (and delivered in an exaggerated Russian accent to boot) the show commenced with Swan Lake. Scenery, costumes, and narrative were all basically in line with the original, but Trockadero sprinkled in their own well-timed quirkiness. Ballerina heads pecked about in chicken-like fashion, as opposed to the elegance of the swan’s expected swoop.
For the first 2 full minutes of Don Quixote I could not at all determine the ballerina’s gender. “She” came soaring across the stage in split leaps, dizzying quick-whip pirouettes, and an authentic 32-fouetté finale. This was a first-rate performance with exquisite technique and stunning footwork, equal to any prima ballerina performing today. Bravo.
Then the theater went silent. The stage was dark until one white spotlight streamed onto the upper left corner and waited. Since no dancer appeared, the light traveled across the stage to the left corner and waited again. Still, nothing. Finally, the ballerina enters on the opposite side. Once the spotlight caught up with our ballerina, we see she is a white swan who is ferociously molting feathers, dropping them along her path wherever she dances. She reaches down to collect them and vainly attempts to stuff her costume, under her arms, and even her bra. This was the Trockadero’s take on a suite from The Carnival of Animals. But here we have The Dying Swan, as opposed to just The Swan.
The closing act, Paquita, gave way, once again to the Trockadero’s satirical nature. While the production elements were faithfully derived from the seriousness of Marius Petipas’ vast influence, there was still hardly a moment that didn’t find the audience chuckling. Yet, underneath the humorous façade was beautifully classical technique, a corps de ballet ever in sync, and a prima ballerina who had no trouble completing triple pirouettes en pointe. This was all despite her heavy masculine build. The result was high comedy, artfully executed.
Image Credit: Sascha Vaughn.