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Flash Review 1, 8-21: Power Ballet
Gentle Grace, Explosive Runs from the Trocks

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

The Trockaderos are a peculiar genus in the dance world: like Pilobolus or Elizabeth Streb, prime occupants of specific niches. You hear the name and it goes without saying that you'll see traditional ballets performed by an all-male cast on pointe, with over-the-top charades and sight gags to lift the suffocating cloak of seriousness from ballet. It's also common knowledge that in recent years the company, under ballet mistress Pamela Pribisco, has become pretty good by any standard of judging ballet, and that this combination has attracted full houses of new faces, as was the case this weekend at the Joyce.

The gags are hysterical for the first half hour, then become expected, then finally missed when absent. They poke fun at ballet's prissiness, its staidness, its unwavering faithfulness to tradition. They get miles out of silly theater stereotypes: the diva ballerina, the foppish prince, the competition among the corps, and of course, the unquenchable need to command the spotlight.

The technique, notwithstanding one folly on the bill (I saw Program B, which included Merce Cunningham's "Crosscurrents"), was well-performed ballet. Some of the men have feet that, in pointe shoes, look like women's, or society's conventional concept thereof, if there is one. There are loose, limber extensions and pliant upper backs, and fluid arms; coquettishness abounds. There is also the disarming combination of the feminine strengths of a ballerina with the physicality of the male, often in one phrase.

"Crosscurrents" was more of a set-up for the two onstage musicians than the three dancers; the musicians pulled all kinds of junk out of their instrument box to make the ambient sound, including a tin of cookies, from which they snacked. Though the rendition was all in good fun, the technique performed was unrecognizable as Cunningham; the dancers and dance merely incidental.

The ballerinas occasionally showed the bit of extra effort needed to lift their legs higher, or to scale down their movements to better fit the smaller, original female patterns. The soloists, notably Robert Carter and Yonny Manaure, have perfected the sense of entitlement that goes with the role of prima ballerina. Carter's stunning bravura -- triple fouettes, five turns, back handsprings -- certainly makes for a most unusual female Paquita lead. Manaure's Odette ("Swan Lake") seamlessly combines a lovely, flirtatious side with a street-wise gang leader.

The Trocks have created a new sort of power ballet similar to gymnastics' floor exercise: a bizarre combination of the fakery of gentle grace with frighteningly explosive runs of handsprings and flips. What persists besides this bionic ballet is a sense of self-determination, that anything is possible with the help of a little (okay, a lot) of makeup, fabulous costumes, and loads of humor. It's a very liberating thought. After watching the squarely-built "Margeaux Mundeyn" (Manaure) perform Odette for 20 minutes, it was easy to disregard her bulky anatomy as her arms fluttered as softly as Fonteyn's might have. With a bit of genetic luck and lots of hard work, it could be you or I in her pointe shoes -- engaging the heart of von Rothbart, the prince, and the audience -- and the world would be ours, too.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo continues at the Joyce, with two programs, through Sunday.

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