It takes a certain talent to make an audience burst into laughter without saying a word. With exaggerated facial expressions, stylized gestures and excellent comedic timing, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo did just that during their performance at Zellerbach Hall on February 5.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (colloquially known as the Trocks), is an all-male drag ballet troupe known for its subversive and subversive take on traditional ballet. Founded in 1974, the group has received international recognition for their stunning performances in peak and cross-dressing. During its performance at Zellerbach Hall, the troupe did not disappoint, leaving the audience gasping with both wonder and laughter.
As the lights dimmed, a twangy, exaggerated European accent rumbled over the speakers and introduced the night’s schedule, mentioning names like “Helen Highwater” and “Natasha Notgoodenuv.” This satirical start managed to 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 opener to “ChopEniana” captivated audiences with elements of traditional ballet, but it quickly morphed into something even more compelling. The dancers collided with other dancers; they communicated via dramatic pantomime and arabesque arms dropped for clumsy wave-like undulations.
Nevertheless, there is no denying the talent of each dancer, both individually and as a group. They made pointe performance easy as they conquered the stage, forming beautiful lines that stretched from their fingertips to the tips of their toes. So when they flexed their feet and arched their bodies awkwardly, it was all the more startling – and all the more humorous.
After the first intermission, a pas de trois dazzled the audience with his 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 obviously struggled to lift the towering ballerinas and ran back and forth to follow their movements. This is how the Trocks rather knowingly poke fun at traditional gender roles in ballet, actively working against audience expectations while cultivating an entertaining spectacle.
Throughout the show, the audience wholeheartedly joined in the fun. At one point, a single spotlight showed up on the empty stage; he paced back and forth, obviously looking for an absent dancer. A light laugh rose from the crowd, then a single round of applause sounded from the back of the room. The laughter then intensified, warmly welcoming Olga Supphozova for her superb rendition of “The Dying Swan”. It quickly rose like a bright star of the night, showing the swan not only dying, but literally falling apart before the audience’s eyes. The feathers quickly fell out of her costume and she obviously struggled to stuff them into her bodice. From time to time, her legs would give out and she would collapse on the floor; yet, audiences felt she retained complete control of her presentation. Overall, the play cultivated its own special brand of comedy-drama that one simply couldn’t 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 array of fauns, nymphs and maidens filled the scene. Synchronized partner work, sweeping leaps and seemingly endless turns accompanied more contemporary animalistic movements – the Trocks espoused all the things they do best. The result was an absurdly divine celebration of drag, myth and ballet, culminating in a well-deserved standing ovation from the eager crowd.
On the surface, ballet and comedy don’t immediately go together. Still, the Trocks made this combination feel natural, deftly leaving the audience with both laughter and food for thought.
Lauren Harvey covers the music. Contact her at [email protected].