SWAN LAKE: Will Odette (Olga Supphozova) succeed in ditching the prince (Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow) for the real love of her life, his friend Benno (Boris Nowitsky)?
Seeing Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo a week ago Wednesday in Jacob's Pillow's rustic Ted Shawn Theatre, surrounded by nattering mosquitoes, katydids, and picnickers, was probably no more incongruous than the mission of the company itself. Dressed up in drag and lofty intentions, these gender-crossing paragons of terpsichorean comedy can make the gems of ballet seem like rhinestones. Their scrutiny uncovers flaws and facets that make us appreciate the originals more than ever.
Take Swan Lake. The Trocks' rendition approximates act two of the 1895 Marius Petipa classic, where Prince Siegfried discovers a flock of enchanted swans and falls hopelessly in love with their leader, only to see her snatched from his grasp by her captor, the evil magician Rothbart. The hero, played by Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow, does look dim-witted enough to fall for a swan, but you can see why he'd be impressed by Olga Supphozova when she appears. For one thing, she excels at the double-role playing required of great ballerinas, as both the bewitched princess Odette and the diva who grins at the audience whenever she turns downstage.
Less than smitten with Romanoff-Titwillow, Supphozova uses chinks in the choreography to leak another ballet secret: the personal preferences of the dancers may run counter to the established plot. At moments, she seems to have a crush on Siegfried's friend Benno (Boris Nowitsky). He's even dumber than his boss, and he fails to respond to — let alone requite — her vigorous advances.
Indulging these vanities is a specialty of the Trocks. They also lay bare some of the more clandestine difficulties of ballet companies, like budgetary limitations on the number of dancers. The Trockadero roster lists 17 female and 16 male dancers, cleverly obscuring the fact that each dancer appears under both a male and a female nom de guerre. But there are times when a troupe can't cover up its slim resources. The corps de ballet for Swan Lake numbers only eight, not the usual 24 or so, and as they enter for the first time, each dancer applies her own particular haplessness to the steps. For no reason except perhaps that she's the most butch and toothy, the klutziest swan always finds her way to the front of the line-up.
All these coryphées are erstwhile prima ballerina assolutas who've disgraced themselves by accident or committed some political incorrectness of career-threatening magnitude. It's clear that they're appearing in anonymous roles only to avoid starvation. Not only that, some of them have to sacrifice their reputations by taking part in modern works. Patterns in Space, a trio accompanied by overbearing musicians, was inspired by the work of Merce Cunningham and John Cage. The audience gets a big kick out of the pompous kazoo playing and kitchen percussion, but the dancing comments more subtly on its precursor.