‘Swan Lake’: Variations on a theme

The all-male dance company of 'Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo' perform their own scenes from 'Swan Lake,' 'Le Grand Pas de Quatre' and 'Raymonda’s Wedding.'

BALLET TROCKADERO’S ‘Swan Lake’ 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PR)
(photo credit: Courtesy PR)
In a performance that had the audience rolling in the aisles, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo camped it up as the all-male dance company regaled the packed house at the Jerusalem Theater last week with side-splitting antics and perfectly poised pirouettes and pas de deux.
In existence since 1975, the New York-based company combines classical ballet with hilarious send-ups to create a thoroughly entertaining presentation. They are to ballet what the Harlem Globetrotters are to basketball – experts at their craft but having a lark at the same time.
The names devised for the dancers are a good indicator of what these guys are up to. I had seen the Trocks (as they are affectionately called) decades ago in Montreal, and I will always remember the name Natasha Youbetyourbootskaya.
In last week’s performance, the corps de ballet included such mocked-up monikers as Natalie Kleptopovska, Maria Paranova, Minnie van Driver, Olga Supphozova, Sonia Leftova, Nadia Doumiyafeyva, Stanislas Kokitch and Mikhail Mypansarov.
Clad in tutus and pointe shoes, as well as beautifully styled hair and makeup, the exquisitely toned members of the ensemble jetéd and fouettéd across the stage in their own versions of scenes from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Pugni’s Le Grand Pas de Quatre and Glazunov’s Raymonda’s Wedding.
For example, in the Dying Swan scene from Swan Lake, Odette, the queen of the swans, fluttered onto the stage, with a flurry of feathers falling fast and furious. After some very well-executed artistry performed to Tchaikovsky’s heart-rending music, interspersed with comic gestures and moves, such as trying to scoop some of the feathers back on, Odette ultimately withered to the floor, flailing in a heap of white fluff.
As the program literature explains, “The comedy is achieved by incorporating and exaggerating the foibles, accidents and underlying incongruities of serious dance. The fact that men dance all the parts – heavy bodies delicately balancing on toes as swans, sylphs, water sprites, romantic princesses, angst-ridden Victorian ladies – enhances rather than mocks the spirit of dance as an art form.”
Whether they were deftly playing it straight, so to speak, or tripping over each other and making faces, what came across very clearly was that the dancers were having such a good time.
In sequined tutus, white gossamer dresses and frilly pink gowns, they danced with a sense of joy and total abandon that was a delight to see.
After a point, it didn’t matter whether they were men or women or men dressed as women because the sheer power of their performance took center stage.
For their grand finale, the Trocks did an energetic hora to “Hava Nagila” that had the Jerusalem audience on their feet and cheering.
IN ANOTHER but totally different tour de force, the London-based Imperial Ice Stars recently wowed Israeli audiences with its breathtaking presentation of Swan Lake on Ice. Magnificent from start to finish, the performance was simply spellbinding.
In the Jerusalem performance, the entire stage of the Jerusalem Theater’s packed Sherover Hall was transformed into a skating rink, where the formidable dancers/skaters performed Tchaikovsky’s ballet in a brilliant choreography by Tony Mercer that integrated the classic steps of the ballet with the masterful moves of championship- level figure skating.
It was like watching the best Olympic ice dancing sequence – but for two glorious hours. Ballet is beautiful, but with the enhancement of the grace and artistry of skillful skating, ballet on ice is spectacular.
And as if the superb dancing and skating were not enough, at one point in the ballet Odette and later a duo were whisked up into the air by wires and executed some ethereal aerial artistry.
Putting yet another original spin on one of the world’s best-known ballets, there was no Dying Swan in Mercer’s production. Rather, contrary to many of the versions of the ballet where the ill-fated Odette either dies or is doomed to remain a swan, loveless and alone, this version had a happy ending. Odette shed her swan trappings and, with her liberated long blonde hair flowing in the breeze, skated off into the sunset with her handsome prince, to live happily ever after.
Happily for the audience, that may have been the end of the story, but it was not the end of the performance. In an exhilarating grand finale, the cast pulled out all the stops and presented a dizzying display of its entire arsenal of skating skills. With cheers and bravos, the audience rose en masse amid the thunder of unbridled applause.
A classic is a classic because it transcends time and traverses cultures. Whether Swan Lake is presented in its traditional manner, on ice, in drag or serves as the theme of an Oscar-winning movie like the 2010 film Black Swan, Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, written in 1876, will continue to delight audiences worldwide for generations to come.