The Trocks still defy stereotypes, bust guts in 40th anniversary Zellerbach performance

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Classical ballet is known as one the most intense and formal styles of dance. Most ballerinas began their studies at the age of 2, molding their arches and stretching their legs to achieve the ideal, lean body type, training for hours on end under the world’s best to gain entry into a notoriously cutthroat and competitive world. Ballet is an art form based on tradition, on the ideals of technique, athleticism and gracefulness that have been meticulously perfected over the years. In short, ballet tends to take itself seriously. However, Saturday afternoon, with the support of Cal Performances, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo turned any preconceptions of ballet as stuffy, boring or restrained entirely upside down.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, fondly known by its fans as “The Trocks,” was founded in 1974 by a group of ballet lovers who hoped to provide an unconventional, comedic and playful approach to traditional ballet. The Trocks’ distinguishing feature is, of course, that they are a corps composed entirely of male dancers in drag en pointe, each member with his own hilariously overdone Russian stage name and tragicomic backstory. For example, Irina Kolesterolikova, real name Giovanni Ravelo, was discovered “along with Rasputin’s boot, adrift in a basket on the River Neva, by kindly peasants. Her debut at the Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg, was marred by her overzealous grand jeté into the Tsar’s box, impaling a Grand Duchess.”

After its 1975-76 season, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo became a worldwide phenomenon, performing in dance festivals and on television shows internationally. Their blend of entertaining parody, acting and genuinely great dancing has since put the the Trocks in high demand — with appearances in more than 35 countries and 600 cities since the company’s founding. As the traditional stereotype goes, men “can’t dance en pointe,” but with their unique flair and unexpected technical prowess, the Trocks proved that this precept simply isn’t true. The performance Saturday afternoon, which marked the 40th anniversary of their first Zellerbach show in 1976, certainly lived up to that storied legacy.

The matinee began with “Swan Lake,” complete with an overly made-up, blonde Prince Siegfried (Giovanni Ravelo), a sassy yet graceful Odette (Philip Martin-Nielson) and an antagonistic, pantalooned von Rothbart (Joshua Thake.) The performance was side-splitting from the curtain’s draw, starting with the dancers’ exaggeratedly cumbersome movements and gimmicks — including a swan entourage that fiercely bit back at undesired male advances and a botched pas de deux: Odette was slightly too heavy for Siegfried and his tiny sidekick Benno. Though it was extremely funny when the Trocks feigned missteps, sickled their feet or purposefully extended their legs in the wrong direction, it was their acting chops — with facial expressions ranging from stupefied shock to cheeky indignation — that truly had the audience in stitches.

Through these parodic moments, however, the Trocks were clearly world-class dancers in spite of themselves. Interspersed between the humorous pieces of “Swan Lake,” “Don Quixote,” and “The Dying Swan” (whose feather continuously spilled out of her tutu until she tragically collapsed), was the “Le Corsaire Pas de Deux.”An incredible sight to behold, Nina Enimenimynimova (Long Zou) and Araf Legupski (Laszlo Major) performed this duet with mind-blowing perfection in one of the few scenes that made it easy to forget one was not in fact watching classical ballet. Zou and Major flawlessly executed some of the most difficult movements in ballet: double and triple tours en l’air landing effortlessly posed on the floor, mile-high seconde leaps that curled around the stage and double à la seconde and fouetté turn sequences en pointe lasting minutes. With his unbelievable flexibility, hyper-arched feet and graceful extensions, Zou easily matched and rivaled the best prima ballerinas.

In the end, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo proved beyond a doubt that going against the grain can be both technically and artistically rigorous and still joyfully fun.

Contact Madeline Zimring at [email protected].