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Flash 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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