Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
“a dazzling delight”
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo was founded in 1974 and has been coming to the UK since 1998. The UK has always been important to the show because as, artistic director Tory Dobrin explained, the UK audiences were one of the first to appreciate the show and the UK critics really took the show to heart. UK critics gave the show the reviews it needed to be played in the Kennedy Center in the US and even allowed the show to win Best Classical Repertoire, beating many other acclaimed ballets to this credit. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo plays over 100 shows all over the world, features dancers of all shapes, sizes and races, and I was honoured to be able to watch in the heart of Cardiff at the Wales Millennium Centre.
I’d love to write this review with a strong degree of confidence but as I’ve never seen a ballet before, let alone watching an all-male, drag comedy ballet I really had no idea what to expect! The main summary I can think to say about this show was that it was so fun. I left with a smile on my face and having had a really enjoyable evening, both laughing at, and admiring, the ballet. The show is a dazzling delight of expressing unique individuality and exquisite ballet. Half the audience were on their feet by the end and it’s not a surprise as to why!
The show was split into three acts, which made it perfect for a spectator such as myself. By this I mean not a frequent ballet-goer because it allowed me to have a break and reflect on what I’d seen rather than if the show had just run for 2 hours straight. It also allowed me the opportunity to chat to those who do know the ballet, and they could explain to me some of the technical moves, explaining why some of the more niche jokes were funny, and really allowed me to gain a further insight to the performance.
Within these three different acts, there was a different theme to each and at each venue the dances differ. I was lucky enough to witness “Swan Lake Act II” by Tchaikovsky and “Les Sylphides” by Chopin in Act one of the three-part show which was quite possibly my favourite Act. This is because the show and its humour were completely new to me and I was beyond pleasantly surprised. When I had first heard of a comedy ballet I wondered from which angle the comedy would come. I was honestly dreading a Billy Elliot style comedy where the humour was based on the fact that the dancers are quite dreadful. However, the dancers were absolutely phenomenal and the comedy arose from elsewhere, which I found so refreshing.
The first act of the three was focused on quite slapstick comedy, with dancers bashing into each other, pushing each other over standing in the wrong place, facing the wrong way and more, but when they then danced the ballet correctly, I was amazed. Due to their evidently strong talent when they did dance correctly, it was obvious that when someone “slipped”, for example, that this was part of the humour and not a mistake.
The comedic timing incorporated with the entire performance was perfect because I never found myself bored, yet there were never too many jokes saturated within one small time frame. In conversation with the artistic director of the company, Tory Dobrin, he says he wants to offer audiences a show that is well-balanced with different elements: incorporating multiple attitudes, techniques, styles and comedy in every ballet in every act, which I think was achieved perfectly in Act one.
In the second Act, we witnessed the dance “La Trovatiara Pas De Cinq” by Verdi. The story tells of pirate girls on the Barbary Coast and plays on humour with fake swords and a “battle” between the parties. The storyline was easy to follow and the slapstick way in which they branded their swords was entertaining. I did find, however, that Act one of all three in the performance was my favourite because that was the novelty of the show and it had the unexpected element. By the time Acts two and three came about, I already knew what to expect in terms of comedy so wasn’t as surprised or entertained as I was initially. However, I still found myself laughing and really enjoying the performances.
The second Act also played on humour using a lot of height which was brilliantly funny and original from Act one. Mikhail Mypansarov (Roberto Vega) and Sergey Legupski (Kevin Garcia) who played the traditional male roles were significantly shorter than Eugenia Repelski (Joshua Thake), who was in the traditional female role. This made the general dancing between the three of them hilarious to watch because, especially, when Eugenia danced en pointe, she was then a further foot taller than the others and this contrast was amusing.
In this way, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo really challenges our perceptions of gender, gender roles, what we expect from male and female characters and actors on stage. The fact that audiences found it funny was, surely, because it was unconventional and unexpected and this is something I loved about the ballet as a whole – it challenged perceptions and expressed a unique individuality that was excellent to watch.
The final dance in the second Act was the famous “Dying Swan” performed alone by Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter) which had the audiences in stitches. Not only was the costume falling to pieces during the performance, but the fact that the character was dying throughout the performance while still trying to be graceful had both me and the audience in stitches. I heard through the grapevine that Olga (Robert) has been doing this over 20 years and if that was true I wouldn’t be surprised. The comedic timing was perfect and the general performance faultless.
The third and final Act was “Paquita” by Minkus. “Paquita” was stunning, featuring gorgeous costumes, beautiful ballet and an immense amount of talent. There was generally less comedy that I noticed in this Act and had more solo ballets from the ballerinas and danseurs. The finale was an utter spectacle and while I don’t understand ballet, I thoroughly enjoyed the show and appreciated the difficulty of the dance. Artistic director, Tory Dobrin, explained that all the dancers are pre-trained before they join the company so one challenge they face is getting all the dancers onto the same level and the same style of dance to allow them to flow together. In “Paqutia” this flow was superb and all the dancers were in one mind and wonderfully in sync. “Paquita” is supposed to be an exaggerated style of the Russian ballet, explained Tory, but as I don’t know this type of dance, this may be why some of the audience were laughing while I was just enjoying the spectacularity of the show.
Whilst I have admitted that I didn’t understand all of the comedic elements, there was a lot of comedy that was easy for everyone to understand. When a dancer was out of place or facing the wrong way, for example, there was a pause in the music, all other dancers turned to face them, and then the adjustment was made before the dance continued. This comedy was available for everyone to enjoy and achieved what Tory Dobrin has said in that it is a great introduction to ballet for children.
Further comedy that I didn’t initially respond to was explained to me by someone who frequents the ballet quite often. He explained that a lot of the comedy was in the arms. This is because the dancers were en pointe and held feminine postures but this was accompanied by un-feminine arms in strange positions, and this mismatch of ballet and non-ballet was what made the show funny for the niche audience.
Further comedic elements were presented in height, as previously discussed, but also in further mismatches of ballet with other styles of dance that were more obvious to unknowing audiences, such as myself, and general un-graceful aspects that were again, obvious. A lot of the comedy was superbly executed in the dancer’s facial expressions as these were so comical, lively and exaggerated that could be seen throughout the theatre.
Tory Dobrin explained that when the show first opened in the 1970s it received nothing but criticism and people said the troop were “faggots making fools of themselves”. However, in 2018, the show receives a lot of compliments from audiences and critics alike. It has been a long journey in terms of winning acceptance, explained Tory, but when you do something for 44 years, eventually people stop laughing at you.
The show is an amazing depiction of acceptance in changing times. The auditorium at the Wales Millennium Centre was full of adults and children alike all enjoying an entertaining and dazzling show. I highly recommend this fun, entertaining and spectacular show to families, ballet enthusiasts and everyone else!
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo plays at the Wales Millennium Centre for just one more night, before moving on to locations in Canterbury, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Belfast – catch it if you can!