It takes a certain type of talent to make an audience erupt with laughter without saying a word. With over-the-top facial expressions, stylized gestures and excellent comedic timing, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo did just that during its performance at Zellerbach Hall Feb. 5.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (colloquially known as the Trocks), is an all-male drag ballet troupe known for its gender-bending, subversive take on traditional ballet. Founded in 1974, the group has gone on to receive international recognition for stunning performances en pointe and en travesti. During its performance at Zellerbach Hall, the troupe did not disappoint, leaving the audience breathless with both amazement and laughter.
As the lights dimmed, a nasally, over-the-top European accent sounded over the speakers and introduced the program for the night, mentioning names such as “Helen Highwater” and “Natasha Notgoodenuv.” This satirical beginning successfully set the tone for the performance, as the Trocks brought their signature blend of classical ballet and comedic drag.
The sound of Chopin filled the auditorium, and the curtains rose on a company of dancers in dazzling white tutus. The opening of “ChopEniana” captivated the audience with elements of traditional ballet, but it quickly transformed into something even more fascinating. Dancers bumped into other dancers; they communicated via dramatic pantomime and ditched arabesque arms for awkward, wave-like undulations.
Nevertheless, one could not deny the talent of each dancer, both individually and as a group. They made performing en pointe look easy as they conquered the stage, forming beautiful lines that extended from the tips of their fingers to the points of their toes. So, when they flexed their feet and awkwardly bent their bodies, it was all the more startling — and all the more humorous.
Following the first intermission, a pas de trois dazzled the audience with its upbeat partner work. However, this beloved ballet staple came with a twist: The dancer in the traditionally male role was about half the height of his partners. He visibly struggled to lift the towering ballerinas and scurried to and fro to keep up with their movements. It is in this way that the Trocks rather wittingly poke fun at traditional gender roles in ballet, actively working against audience expectations while cultivating an entertaining spectacle.
Throughout the performance, the audience wholeheartedly joined in on the fun. At one point, a single spotlight showed on the empty stage; it passed back and forth, evidently searching for an absent dancer. A light laugh arose from the crowd, and then a single round of applause echoed from the back of the hall. The laughter then escalated, warmly welcoming Olga Supphozova for her stunning rendition of “The Dying Swan.” She quickly rose as a shining star of the night, showing the swan not only dying, but quite literally falling apart before the audience’s eyes. Feathers rapidly fell from her costume, and she visibly struggled to stuff them into her bodice. Occasionally, her legs would buckle and she’d collapse on the floor; yet, the audience got the impression that she retained full control over her presentation. Overall, the piece cultivated its own special brand of dramedy that one simply could not look away from.
However, the Trocks saved their best performance for last: the colorful, camp “Valpurgeyeva Noch (“Walpurgisnacht”).” A painted backdrop of ancient Rome set the scene as an ensemble of fauns, nymphs and maidens filled the stage. Synchronized partner work, high-reaching leaps and seemingly endless turns accompanied more contemporary, animalistic movements — the Trocks married all the things they do best. The result was an absurdly divine celebration of drag, myth and ballet, culminating in a much-earned standing ovation from the eager crowd.
On the surface, ballet and comedy do not immediately go together. Yet, the Trocks made this combination seem only natural, artfully leaving the audience with both laughter and gender-bending food for thought.