POINTING UP THE FUN IN CLASSIC STYLE
Dance Performance Critic The Herald
Everybody’s waitin’ for the Trocks to arrive…
Those droll pre show announcements have sent out the message to all of their friends that everybody’s ready to dance. And now, they’re coming on stage – let’s get this party started!
For Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the party started some forty years ago, in New York. Now Trocks appeal has gone global and audiences worldwide eagerly scan venue listings to see when they can get a ticket to the ballet ball where classic pointe work slips into spoof, and the burlesque joke becomes a serious celebration of an artform and its repertoire. When the Trocks cite Marius Petipa as their stylistic guru, it’s a hand on heart – foot in pointe-shoe – witness to the respect the company has for the 19th century Russian traditions that generated what we think of as the heritage ballets. So even when Act Two of Swan Lake plays out like Duck Pond, the humorous mishaps – with hints of slapstick on the wing – are juxtaposed with the artless finesse of the ballerina who dances Odette.
Yes, you might catch sight of a little chest hair, tufting above the bodice of her tutu – but what will strike awe into your gaze is the poise, the prowess, of the faithfully recreated pointe work. And perhaps, as our Swan Queen flutters into the arms of her slightly ridiculous Prince, you’ll think – why should she trust this guy? He can’t really support her properly … Which is, in a nutshell, the true tragedy of Swan Lake: Prince Siegfried lets Odette down in the end – albeit not by dropping her on the floor!
Like all the best jesters across eons, the Trocks use wit and mischief to draw attention to truths that might otherwise go unnoticed, or be shrugged off. The truth, here, is that many of our major ballet companies worldwide fret about being tagged as old fashioned by modern audiences if they revive more than a handful of those 19th century works from the Imperial Russian stable. The Trocks, however, relish the legacy of Petipa and his associates and honour it in deed, and in name – names, actually. Take a moment to savour the likes of Ida Nevasayneva or Doris Vidanya. Cod Rooshan, of course, but somehow those monikers conjure up old style Kirov divas whose determined layers of blue eye shadow were as much a part of being a ballerina as the tutus, the tiaras and the spectacular whisk of 32 fouettées.
In the hours before curtain up, their aura is like an inspirational presence drifting from the costume rails in wardrobe to the empty stage where lone figures in tracksuits and pointe shoes make final assessments of the venue’s dance floor – how hard is it, underfoot? does it have a rake that slopes from upstage to footlight? Nobody wants to take an unscripted tumble during one of the straight repertoire pieces where the technique and timing inherent in the comedic send ups cross over into bravura performances by guys who simply dazzle in the guise of ballerinas.
Backstage, meanwhile, in front of brightly lit dressing room mirrors, a very special alchemy has been in progress as – in a transformation to echo that of maidens turning into swans – a group of men have morphed into a troupe of ballerinas. Eyebrows are getting arched a little higher, powder fluffs over layers of make up, mouths begin to pout as crimson gloss creates a cupid’s bow on lips that are usually over shadowed by signs of a moustache. The overall effect has a wink of drag queen, but in many cases it’s more of a nod to Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, with added eye liner.
An hour earlier, Philip Martin-Nielson had settled into a chair in front of one of these mirrors, unpacked an array of personal cosmetics, pulled his hair off his forehead with a stretchy bandeau and prepared to assume a new identity. Deft brush strokes highlighted cheek bones, a steady hand flicked black kohl into smudge free exaggerations of Cleopatra cats eyes. As one pair of false eye lashes was topped by another four – all made of real hair because artificial ones just don’t have such feathery bat ability – Nadia Doumiafeyva’s reflection stared back at him with just a glint of haughty triumph. Miss Nadia was now in charge. And for Martin-Nielson, her arrival is more than welcome.
He’ll tell you, with an unaffected frankness, of how – aged only three – he was diagnosed with such severe autism that his mother was urged to sign papers that would have seen him live out his days in a residential institution. Luckily, his mother pushed the pen away. Enrolled him, instead, in gymnastics and sports in hopes that activity would bring him focus and coordination. As he gradually began speaking, however, he was able to voice what his inner being craved: dance. Ballet saved my life, he says, describing how dance classes at the age of 6 unlocked him from the cage of his autism. When Tory Dobrin, the Trocks artistic director, saw a 17 year old Martin-Nielson in an audition class he knew nothing of this harrowing, uplifting backstory: he saw talent. As soon as he graduated, Martin-Nielson became a Trock… The party started for him in late 2012. It means ice buckets – not for interval cocktails, but for bathing sore feet and ankles. It means early class after a late finish on stage the night before. Does he, or any of the Trocks, regret the rigours? As Nadia calls it – Doumiafeyva… Enjoy!
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