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Review, 4-23: Grand Illusion
Funny 'Girls' from Les Ballets Grandiva
By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr
NEW YORK -- Ballet is
an unforgiving art, even -- maybe especially -- when it's being
parodied; it demands technical perfection. Watching failed attempts
to reach that perfection can be hilarious, if we know it's the artists'
choice, not just the best they can do. In the ever-expanding world
of toe-dancing men "Les Ballets Grandiva" targets the humor of ballet
conventions more than its tricks. "Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte
Carlo," our most notorious travesty ballet, has improved its technical
mastery so much that its work has become less parody than tribute.
Aiming at humor more
than virtuosity, the ballerinos of "Les Ballets Grandiva" made their
annual New York appearance, this year at John Jay College (April
18 and 19), with a program that couldn't help putting one in mind
of their more polished colleagues. "Grandiva," founded in 1996 by
artistic director Victor Trevino, claims a company of dancers larger
than the Trocs -- 20 -- though not all of them performed. The proficiency
of the grand divas varied widely, but now that the Trocs have raised
the bar, so to speak, occasionally shaky execution is less funny
than spectacular dancing, when it's laced with humor. Comparison
is inevitable, since the two troupes share repertoire: "Swan Lake,
Act Two," "Dying Swan," and guest choreographer Peter Anastos were
three salient elements common to both troupes.
Trevino, in his female
persona Nina Minimaximova, danced Odette, Queen of the Swans. Tiny
and energetic, she fluttered huge false eyelashes and angular arms.
An operatically sturdy-looking Prince Siegfried (Ray Van Mason),
stronger than he looks, easily hefted Odette overhead in their pas
de deux; Francis Toumbakaris as Siegfried's best buddy Benno, a
cute Baryshnikov look-alike, whipped off an impressively difficult
variation without losing character; and Oswaldo Muniz portrayed
villainous, lecherous Von Rothbart.
The corps of eight pulled
all the expected antics: falling off balances, miming free-style
swimmers, rushing onstage late, mugging broadly. It was predictable,
though one real guffaw came when the tallest of the swans being
chased across the stage by Von Rothbart slammed into the proscenium
and knocked herself out.
An assortment of divertissements
followed: Tetsushi Segawa was technically impressive, though blase,
as Conrad the Pirate in the "Le Corsaire" pas de deux, but his partner
Janie Sparker (Deon Allen) struggled with turns and balances as
Medora, a pretty young girl. "Minimaximova" and Muniz did Trevino's
paraphrase of Roland Petit's "Carmen" duet. And Karina (Allen Dennis
as Lucille Ball) was an expressively comic "Dying Swan" with a double-jointed
left arm that she wrapped behind her head to blow a kiss (you had
to be there!).
Anastos chose a musical
potpourri by Adam, Drigo, and Burgmuller for his "Ecole de Ballet"
about Madame (Princess) Repelskii's ballet class and student recital.
Working at oversized barres, the baby ballerinas misbehaved whenever
Madame was correcting others. George Callahan, a local boy recruited
to partner Yoko Moshimoshii (Brian Joe), was endearing as he stumbled
wittily through what was presumably his first dance performance
-- ever! In the recital scene Anastos revisited the same kinds of
jokes we'd already seen in "Swan Lake." Ballerinas did variations
in their assorted childlike characters: the hip-hopper, the shy
flower, the eager one who twirled too fast and barfed in a flowerpot.
Madame, robed as a Russian princess, inserted herself at the center
of the final tableau, basking in the kiddies' applause and reliving
a fantasy of her faded career. Jose Coronado's costumes showed off
-- or appropriately concealed -- the dancers' assets. Lighting designer
Brian Sciarra did a lot with a little equipment to keep the atmosphere
as lively as the dancing.
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