The dance world has been slow to let go of certain stereotypes. Chief among them might just be that men shouldn’t dance en pointe, and that romantic love is best expressed by men and women dancing together.
Which is one of the reasons that Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the 45-year-old, New York City–based company of men in tights (and really, really large pointe shoes) has always been such a blast of fresh air. Not only are they game to get tarted up to play, often hilariously, all the women’s roles in classic ballets, but they also demonstrate serious dance chops that rouse the audience to standing ovation.
In their March 2 performance at MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center, the Trocks, as they’re affectionately known, opened with their famously LOL take on selections from Swan Lake. Here they lovingly re-created, then thumbed their noses at, parts of the original nineteenth-century choreography—including the ripe-for-parody pas de quatre among the cygnets and the melodramatic Dying Swan. Much of the Trocks’ humor comes from heightening the well-worn tropes of classical ballet, and combining them with bits of slapstick, modern swagger, and cheeky gender-bending moments. Their Swan Lake has perfected this particular art.
For their second piece, the Trocks took aim at American contemporary dance pioneer Merce Cunningham. While three impressively permed, velvet-garbed dancers studiously interpreted Cunningham’s athletic, angular style, a pair of avant garde musicians stationed in the corner of the stage created the score from an increasingly ludicrous selection of “instruments,” from a toy xylophone and castanets to a whisk and mixing bowl, paper lunch bags blown up and popped in unison, and kazoos playing snippets of “Macarena.”
The show closed out with a pair of unusual dances. The first was from La Trovatiara, a lost-then-found opera by Verdi, featuring a group of pirate girls forced to perform a dance by a cruel overlord. It’s hard to choose a standout dancer among the Trocks, but special props go to Duane Gosa as the lanky-limbed, over-the-top Helen Highwaters (who, the program bio tells us, “has defected to America three times and been promptly returned on each occasion—for ‘artistic reasons’”).
Last up was the wedding scene from Raymonda, a Russian ballet somewhat obscure to American audiences. Subtitled “A traditionally confusing divertissement in two scenes,” the piece tosses all semblance of plot—which is not really the strong point of the original, anyway—out the window and instead creates a showcase for the Trocks’ remarkable skills (especially those of Nina Enimenimynimova, aka Long Zou). It’s not terribly funny, at least not compared to the other selections on the program, but it is a sight to behold.
It’s also, like all of Les Ballets Trockadero’s work, slyly subversive, challenging our culture’s ideals of masculinity and femininity, heterosexuality and homosexuality, and the interplay between power and romance. The Trocks have made a career out of playfully poking a finger in the eye of the dance world since 1974, but somehow their mission seems even more relevant today.