With a glorious summer now beating a hasty retreat, I made my way to The Peacock Theatre in an altogether different haze; every centimetre of exposed skin and outer clothing coated by a thin mist of insidious drizzle. It did not make for the best of moods but, thankfully, I was about to reacquaint myself with those unique farceurs of drag ballet: the remarkable institution that is Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. The discomfort of damp clothes quickly disappeared amongst a sea of satisfied smiles.

The “Trocks” - as they are affectionately known – have been touring for over forty years, presenting formulaic programmes within which structure most individual component dances are regularly changed. This performance began a long, eight-week tour of the British Isles.

<i>Swan Lake</i> © Zoran Jelenic
Swan Lake
© Zoran Jelenic

The opening “white” ballet was the Trocks’ irrepressible deconstruction of the second act of Swan Lake. Seeing it for the umpteenth time is like watching a much-loved comedy sketch (think the Two Ronnie’s’ Fork Handles or Monty Python’s Dead Parrot). We know exactly what is going to happen, and when, but we laugh all the same. The novelty comes in new interpretations of these much-loved characters: here, with Carlos Hopuy as Odette (dancing in the guise of Alla Snizova); and Duane Gosa’s Siegfried (performed as Vladimir Legupski).  

Hopuy – trained at, and formerly with, the National Ballet of Cuba – is a talented dancer, underpinning the considerable comedy in the exaggerated egotism of his ballerina with excellent technique. It is hard not to fall into the mind-set that Hopuy is a ballerina, because his physicality and style are of a woman dancing; and Gosa appears to play Siegfried as a cross-dressing female.  It is the ultimate in gender-fluid performance underscored by split-second comic timing.

Then there are the multiple shenanigans of the eight-strong corps de ballet, including one dancer continually ignoring the “fourth wall” in a performance of comic ineptitude, including messing up the cygnets’ pas de quatre. Anyone who has seen juvenile ballet performances might recognise the one dancer determined to show aunts and uncles that she is different from the rest!     

As ever, the second act consisted of a trio of divertissements, opening with the Harlequinade pas de deux, danced to the Drigo score as a relatively serious and pleasing interpretation of the Petipa choreography, by company newcomer (this may even have been his debut), Takaomi Yoshino – as danseur, Boris Dumbkopf – and Chinese dancer, Long Zou – in “his” alter-ego as Nina Enimenimynimova (I had to think about that one – its “Eeny-meeny-miny-mova”)!

*The Little Humpback Horse © Zoran Jelenic
*The Little Humpback Horse
© Zoran Jelenic

The programme’s centrepiece – La Trovatiara Pas De Cinq (although credited – deliberately incorrectly - as a pas de six in the cast list) – continued the vintage theme, albeit in a new work, choreographed by former Ballet Idaho artistic director, Peter Anastos – a regular go-to choreographer for The Trocks. The theme is inspired by Verdi (the title obviously somewhere between Il Trovatore and La Traviata), set on an imaginary quayside, in nineteenth-century Tripoli, with pirate girls and knive-wielding knaves. The switch here being that the lead pirate woman, “Eugenia Repelski” (Joshua Thake) was considerably taller than either man (Roberto Vega as Mikhail Mypansarov, and Kevin Garcia as Sergey, another of the Legupski brothers): in her pas de trois with them, instead of being partnered by holding hands, “Repelski” held balance by pressing down on their heads! Thake – who joined the company, in 2011 – is a commanding presence.

Again, as always, the second act concludes with the ubiquitous Dying Swan, danced here with great expressiveness by Gosa in his female guise as Helen Highwaters. The final act is generally a sequence lifted from the Trocks’ own interpretation of an obscure Russian classical ballet, here being the underwater scene from The Little Humpbacked Horse, a ballet that the Mariinsky still performs, in St Petersburg. This provided an opportunity to see the charismatic veteran dancer, Robert Carter (now in his 24th season with the company) perform some brief solos as the Queen of the Underwater (he had also danced as one of the big swans in the opening work).  

They may have been touring since 1974 but there is invariably a fresh energy to The Trocks, here, perhaps enhanced by the fact that six of the dancers are new in 2017/18; a turnover of almost half the company. The performers may change but the “names” live on: Minnie Van Driver is now in, at least, her third body (Noah Herron having succeeded Trystan Merrick and Joseph Jefferies); Hopuy has recycled the names of Alla Snizova and Innokenti Smoktumuchsky, previously owned by Aviad Herman; and Mypansarov might now be Vega’s farcical moniker but it used to be worn by Carlos Miller. The world would certainly be a less joyful place without the Trocks!