The Internet is full of name generators that can instantly equip ordinary citizens with new identities as porn stars and other larger-than-life figures. But among fans of the so-called travesty ballet, a more specific taxonomy game is possible: What's your Trock name? The choices are endless almost. You just can't be Sveltlana Lofatkina. Or Olga Supphozova. Or Ida Nevasayneva. Because those are some of the names already taken by members of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male comedy dance troupe dedicated to celebrating the classical ballet through aggressive cross-dressing and witty exaggeration.
Every member of the Trocks takes one female and one male alias (which explains how dancer Yonny Manaure can be both Margeaux Mundeyn and the only slightly more masculine Jacques d'Aniels). The result is a company fully staffed to perform the most lyrical choreographies in the canon as long as the sight of beefy divas clad in oversized pointe shoes and exhibiting copious amounts of unfortunate bodily hair doesn't strike you as especially inelegant.
The gender politics of dance are an obvious target as the Trocks take to the stage for another evening of same-sex pas de deux and other affectionate travesties. But it's the theatrical pretensions of the art form in general that provide them with nonstop vaudeville fodder. Witness their rendition of The Dying Swan, in which the title bird molts all over the stage, dropping feathers left and right while on "her" way to a melodramatic demise that's prolonged more for the pleasure of the performer than the audience. The rampant egomania we associate with dance suffers a direct hit to the solar plexus every time one of the Trocks physically undermines a castmate on stage, or another gets lost in a reverie of showboating that puts her horribly out of sync with the corps.
The group was founded in the drag-happy downtown Manhattan of the early 1970s, making them spiritual contemporaries not only of Baryshnikov and Nureyev, but of Jayne County and David Johansen as well. Few artists can claim such a well-rounded lineage, and in the ensuing three decades, the Trocks have become accepted mainstream entertainment, praised for their rigorous, scholarly technique and touring regularly. (Their summer visits to Japan are said to have fueled a thriving fan club.) Along the way, several members have been lost to AIDS muting, some critics have noticed, their parodies of the classical ballet's more tragic narratives but the approach and the repertoire have stayed largely the same.
As with all comedians, the Trocks have to work three times harder than their "serious" counterparts to get their message across. (Weighty male frames balancing on pointe for extended periods of time you do the math.) Beneath the rubber starfish they wear to interpret the underwater scene from The Humpback Horse, these are some well-schooled professionals who claim to regard their chosen material with the respect not just the outlandish temperament of an old-fashioned Russian company.
The need for (and value of) such devotion naturally raises extra-luminous warning flags over any indication that the act might be slipping. In a review published last January in The New Yorker, Joan Acocella observed that the great Robert Carter (who dances as Supphozova and the male Yuri Smirnov) was visibly cutting corners, not bothering to raise his feet high enough and finishing his pirouettes lackadaisically. Yet for the layman, the more salient question is how readily the Trocks, even at their best, can succumb to the P.D.Q. Bach syndrome that of the highbrow in-joke that's a source of unbridled hilarity to fellow aficionados, but which leaves average Joes and Janes shaking their heads and surmising that you hadda be there. Filmed performances show that the full effect of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo lives in close-up, with the fatuously rapturous look on a dancer's face conveying the subtext that, yes, this is all inherently ludicrous, and what a way to live. Seen from farther away, their goonish dips and pliés can strike the uneducated as only slightly more embellished than the real thing. (Dance is an exaggeration in the first place the illusion of effortless grace imparted to movements that are often painfully unnatural.) The Trocks' act could be the best-yet argument for gold-circle seating, or it could merely be the long-awaited answer to the age-old question, "What's the difference between parody and homage?" About 10 rows, is what it looks like.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
8 pm Tuesday, Jan 10
Hard Rock Live