Although the concept of men dancing in tutu’s is probably as old as ballet itself, it was Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, first seen in Australia in the 1970’s, which whetted Australia’s appetite for men performing classical ballet in drag.
Victor Trevino, the founder and Artistic Director of Les Ballets Eloelle (say it out loud. It’s LOL), danced with the Trocks, as they became known, for almost ten years, dancing most of the leading roles with that company, before creating and touring Les Ballets Grandiva for thirteen years, and most recently, Les Ballets Eloelle.
At 59, Trevino claims to be the oldest ballerina still regularly performing, and his Dying Swan in which the ageing swan leaves a trail of feathers after her as she tippy-toes en pointe across the stage to die, is a poignant, and funny, highlight of the current show.
Les Ballets Eloelle remains respectful to classical traditions. Members of the all-male troupe are all highly trained dancers recruited from companies like The New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Les Jeune Ballet de France. There’s even an Australian, Natalia Aussiepova (Shaun Neil Pegoraro), a North Queenslander who studied at WAAPA, in the current cast.
The Canberra program opened with Pas De Quatre – Perrot’s famous ballet in which four famous ballerinas, Taglioni, Cerrito, Grisi and Grahn, dressed in graceful long white tutu’s, vie for attention. As the curtain rose on the superbly lit opening tableau featuring the four ballerinas, an audible sigh went around the theatre.
Then followed the famous Le Corsaire pas de deux – a favourite showpiece for Fonteyn and Nureyev, and Go for Barocca – an energetic piece for 6 dancers, based on a similar Balanchine piece danced to the music of J.S. Bach. The first half finished with Victor Trevino’s Dying Swan, followed by a necessary interval to clean up the shed feathers.
The second half of the program is devoted to one of the company’s signature works, Swan Lake – Act 11 in which all the best bits of Swan Lake, including the much-loved four little swans dance, are dispensed with in about 30 hilarious minutes.
During interval an acquaintance dashed over to confide breathlessly “This is not what I was expecting. It’s like being at the opera house!” And in a way that’s true, because all the items were surprisingly well danced, beautifully costumed, with lovely settings that mirror the originals.
The comic value of course relies on the fact that all the roles, both male and female, are performed by men, and while the emphasis is definitely on LOL, with the wicked looks, sly smiles and occasional pratfalls, the surprise is that the works are also very well danced, impeccably rehearsed with remarkable attention to detail and execution.
The soloists are as technically proficient as many of their peers in major companies, and while a man in a tutu might elicit laughs, a man en pointe executing 24 foutes with precision and élan is what sets the audience cheering.
The heady mix of high art and comedy with loving sendups of ballet, its manners, conventions and history allows ballet aficionados to delight in the detail, while the perfectly timed slapstick provides belly laughs for everyone. Les Ballets Eloelle carries on the tradition proudly and remains a wonderful guilty pleasure for anyone interested in classical ballet.
Men in Pink Tights
Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Wednesday 24 October 2018
Men in Pink Tights is currently touring throughout Queensland before heading to Western Australia. For more information and performance schedule, visit: www.meninpinktights.com.au for details.
Image: Les Ballets Eloelle presents Men in Pink Tights (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens OAM