There was a time, somewhere in the lonely misery of Lockdown 1.0, when we wondered if we would ever see the Trocks again. Everything else was cancelled due to Covid – how would it ever be safe to venture out again? But here we are, just four short (or maybe long) years since their last visit, and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo have returned to our shores for a two week stint at the Peacock Theatre, with two different programmes, followed by a UK tour.
How sad it was, then, that their return should coincide with the death of Her Majesty the Queen, which knocked the stuffing out of us as a nation. We saw Programme A on the matinee of 10th September, when we were all still coming to terms with her death. The usual hilarious announcement that begins each Trocks show that there will be changes to the advertised programme, largely due to the mission of mercy by esteemed dancer Natasha Notgoodenuff, to rescue a production at Le Grand Theatre de Ballet de Croydon (or somewhere equally unlikely) was missing, and was instead replaced by a two minutes silence plus standing for the national anthem.
Whilst this was completely in keeping with the mourning period, and was scrupulously observed by everyone, it was not the perfect way to start a programme of comic dance. Normally, we would be instantly laughing as an unfit von Rothbart started scampering around the stage at the beginning of the Trocks’ incomparable take on Swan Lake Act II. We’ve seen this wonderful piece of nonsense at least a dozen times and it never failed to make us laugh till we ached – until this time. It’s still wonderful and always will be; but the sadness of the day wasn’t in keeping with the pratfalls on display, and it took a long time for us all to loosen up. It did, however, allow us to witness a brand new Trock star in the diminutive but oh so powerful form of Takaomi Yoshino, who, as Varvara Laptopova, performed the most extraordinary jetés and fouettés, gaining amazing height and completely made you forget you were watching a comedy performance.
Without a pre-show announcement, we didn’t know if there were any changes of cast or what the surprise Pas de Deux would be. Actually, it turned out to be a Pas de Trois, from Swan Lake Act I, with two majestically tall ballerinas accompanied by a teeny tiny male dancer doing his best to support them – and in the end, they gave up and hoisted him overhead in a hilarious about-turn from the usual gender roles. We then moved on to Nightcrawlers, a surprisingly stylish and slick parody of Jerome Robbins’ In The Night, with couples mixing and matching, unexpected rapid cross-stage exits and entrances, and a lot of fun to boot. It was Robert Carter’s magnificent creation Olga Supphozova who executed the Dying Swan in the age old tradition, and we finally enjoyed the ludicrously charming Walpurgisnacht, the stage littered with delightfully silly fauns, a powerful coupling between Minnie Van Driver and Jacques D’Aniels, and a scene-stealing Pan by Boris Dumbkopf (that brilliant Takaomi Yoshino again).
We returned for Programme B on the evening of 15th September. It’s amazing what a few days can do for public spirit. No pre-show silence, but a return to the announcement of changes – and the fact that Natasha Notgoodenuff’s errand of mercy had taken her to Les Grands Ballets Imperiales de Slough. It’s funny how rattling off a few faux Russian names and the news that the ballerinas are all in a very very good mood this evening can really help the show start off on the right foot. We kicked off (indeed, it all kicked off) with Les Sylphides, an excellent example of the Trocks doing their trademark perfect combination of comedy riffs with superb classical ballet. Olga Supphozova took every opportunity to milk the show for comedy value, but there were some terrific solos too. Dmitri Legupski didn’t sober up the whole time.
Again we enjoyed a Pas de Trois, this time from Paquita, with some genuinely brilliant dancing from Helen Highwaters (who I think should be now be made a Dame), Elvira Khababgallina (I think) and William Vanilla. The Trocks at their very best. Then came the slightly more subdued Vivaldi Suite, followed by La Supphozova dealing with the terminal fowl again, and finally Majisimas, a delightful mix of mock-flamenco and Spanish bravura with the usual comedy/classic combo.
I’m going to be controversial here. (Gasp!) I’ve checked back, and this is the 15th (and 16th) times that we’ve seen the Trocks since we discovered them in 1998. Their unique selling point has always been that combination of comedy and classical ballet perfection. However, for the first time, there were a few moments when the dancing, primarily from those dancers in a more corps de ballet role, wasn’t quite a perfect as usual. No names, no pack drill. But some of those leaps didn’t land properly and some of the usual elegance was missing. Don’t get me wrong – they’re still brilliant, and we will still see them again for a 17th time (and more!) It’s just that when you expect perfection and it’s not entirely there, it comes as a bit of a surprise.
Do catch them on their UK tour though – Canterbury, Brighton, Norwich, Nottingham, Buxton, Hull, Bradford, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Truro and Belfast, between 19th September and 29th October. Keep on Trockin’!