The legendary Les Ballets Trocadero De Monte Carlo breezed into Philadelphia on the first leg of their national tour to take the Annenberg Center stage. The luscious program by international ballerinas affectionately known as The Trocks performed ballet classics long dropped by other classical ballet companies like a pair of busted pointe shoes. Yes, my dears, The Trocks still bring the brilliant technique of the classic wrapped in dance camp and prima diva vamp par excellence. And after the long haul of lockdown, these ladies were back in classic grande gender-fluid style.
There were several last-minute role substitutions before the curtain went up on the Trocks opening night performance. Still, the radiant and altogether stunning personas are always top-drawer, even under the current tutu and dance belt shortages.
The curtain rose on the bucolic 18th-century tableau vivant of ChopEniania, a reimagining by Alexander Minz of La Sylphide with a dash of Giselle loitering upstage, all set to the riveting and occasionally coma-inducing music of Frederic Chopin. The frozen face of danseur noble Dimitri Legapulski never betrays emotion as he ferries Maya Thickenthighya and VaVara Laptopova around the stage, who themselves are barely noticing the other ballerinas locked in compromised poses as they drape themselves over the stage.
Alas, even at this level of artistry, there are slip-ups as the occasional wayward gam that whacks a demi-soloist in the head. Not to mention the unfortunate moment when Thickenthighya caught a corps member fluffing her tulle in the garden. But make no mistake, those faux pas de deuxs don’t ruin the romance and technical skill or, crucially, the mugging and major shade that was radiant throughout this performance. Next was that timeless neoclassic ‘Go For Barocco’ made ‘after’ George Balanchine by Peter Anastos, in homage to Mr. B’s defining concept of casting two lead ballerinas as the embodiments of J.S.Bach’s violins, catguts and all. Here, a sextet of ballerinas in sexier black tunics straddling that fine line between sharp ensemble geometrics and mid-20th century bump and grind.
Barocco virtuosos Eugenia Repelskii and Helen Highwaters are leaders of the pack, with corps girls Minnie van Driver, Ludmila Beaulemova, Maria Clubfoot, Grunya Protazova competing for pirouette runs and newly fortified pointe shoes. Meanwhile, those limbs entwined ballerina clusters Balanchine loved are here unknotted enough for one dancer (who shall remain anonymous) busted out in a tap solo as part of her rehab for getting over the DTs.
Next was the filler pas de trois by Helen Highwaters and Eugenia Repelskii who both inadvertently towered over compact danseur Solat Sellart, set in the venerated style of Marius Petipa (who was in attendance) set to a Tchaikovsky’s ‘За здоровье Blues.
The emotional highlight of the evening was the great legendary Olga Supphozova (aka Robert Carter), who it was announced would ‘execute’ Michel Fokine’s ‘Dying Swan.’ Supphozova was already goosey-loosey as the follow spot couldn’t locate her on the stage, and suddenly- magically- there she was. The liquid arms rippling over the illusory water, her tutu molting with each turn. Olga recoils elegantly as a pain grips her torso, and she chokes on one of her own feathers. She tragically folds her body over her legs but heroically stops her dance of death, she bolts up en pointe, but her kidney spasms seize her back in exquisite attitude. Olga burned the floor, and, by the final strum of the harp, her goose was indeed cooked to perfection as she dropped faster than a barnacled anchor.
The concert closer was The Trocks’ revival of the Greek god classic’ Valpurgeyeva Noch’ a bawdy bacchanalia led by the Bacchus and Pan, with a guest list of Fauns, Satyrs, Nymphs, and the imperious ballerina absoluta Vavara Laptopova as Bacchante in her dance of everybody else’s death. Meanwhile, it is the orgiastic dance with the fauns that captivate- as those bare-chested horned little in the blue/green tights who scampered around the deities- and even twisted again like they did last summer, in an apparent salute to Philly’s own dance icon Chubby Checker.
And now, for further technical analysis, I’ll turn it over to veteran journalist Anita Stolichnaya to weigh in on the night’s performance.
Tory Dobrin, artistic director of Les Ballet Trockadero De Monte Carlo, made one devastating return to the Annenberg Center stage with a program of their signature ballet repertory, in fine gender-fluid form, well…relatively speaking. There were moments in ChopiEnia where one could not determine if some of the crucial transitional steps were a deliberate variation or something slippy on the floor. But any brittle moments were more than made up for in a dance concert of high drama and pratfall comedy where there are no identity issues. Indeed, everything is beautiful at the ballet, except for one or two wardrobe malfunctions.
Indeed, this program was full of charm and snark with a bevy of comedically inspired dancers whose Vaganova could be all over the place depending on where you were looking, but their pointe work impressed throughout. Nicholas Khachafallenjar (Haojun Xie) steely grande pirouettes and thrilling jetes were outstanding soloists. Vavara Laptopova extended her solo as Bacchante as needed, not to be outdone.
The company’s palpable energy and unison skill in mugging intent enchanted the audience throughout the evening. A highlight was Olga’s shattering interpretation of Fokine’s Dying Swan, her unsentimental dance diva dive before the curtain drops for permanent. One thinks of those rarified moments of stage greatness up there with Sarah Bernhardt’s Camille or Martha Graham dancing Jocasta on a bender.
From broad comedy to subtleties, the dancer’s comedic expressions inspired the ‘dance masque ball gallery.’ This audience, young and old, black, brown & white, GLBTQI+ was on their collective feet with lusty applause as the curtain came down. But there was more. The Trocks paid salute to Broadway, where they opened last month, in a kick line set to Sinatra’s New York, New York…brava! Les Trockettes.
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