Two flavours of playful dance

In the last week or so I’ve seen two dance performances – both talented and creative, and neither of them taking themselves too seriously, but still very different.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is the New York City-based all-male company that’s been around since the 1970s, doing the repertoire of a classical ballet company but with all the roles played by men.  I had wanted to see them since I first read about them in the Globe and Mail sometime in the 1980s.  When I heard that the Alberta Ballet was hosting them for a few days in Edmonton, I was excited.

I enjoyed the performance.  I think I would have liked it more if I was more knowledgeable about ballet, because I don’t think I picked up on all the inside-joke-y parody bits.  They performed part of Swan Lake, a piece from Les Corsairs, a Balanchine-esque piece called Go for Berocco,  a dying swan solo, and a Spanish-themed piece called Paquita, with variations.  The twelve performers were costumed suitably for male or female dancers for each piece (simple flowing dresses for the Balanchine piece, pancake tutus with Spanish-dancer decorations or matador-type jackets with white hose for the Paquita, classical outfits for the Swan Lake).  The performers dancing female parts danced competently en pointe and their male-dressed partners executed graceful lifts,  and they were all graceful and strong enough that it was clear we were watching talented dancers.  But they were also very funny, with facial expressions and little bits of stage business adding what the characters were really thinking about each other, and with all the dance gestures just dialed up to parody.  The scene-stealing curtain-calls were a good example of that.

Then at Canoe Festival this weekend, I enjoyed a dance/movement performance created by Jake Hastey of Toy Guns Theatre, called “Fortuitous Endings (What to do when you wake up drunk in a BBQ cover in your neighbour’s backyard)”.  This one had an ensemble of nine performers: Christine Lesiak, Celeste Tikal, Mark Sinongco, Robert Halley, Dario Charles, Richelle Thoreson, Rachel Gleiberman, Krista Posyniak, and Cory Christensen, along with singer Must Be Tuesday. It had a similar playfulness and natural sexiness to the Toy Guns pieces at the 2014 Fringe.  It was longer, running almost two hours with an intermission, but the pacing was good and it did not feel too long.   Between movements, various members of the ensemble read aloud the last paragraph of a variety of books, from Existentialism for Dummies to Le Petit Prince and Where the Wild Things Are. Couples connected, struggled, and parted, with regret, wistfulness, resentment, or anger. They made use of the aisles in the Westbury Theatre and sometimes slipped between rows of seats and engaged audience members directly.  The musical score included both Wonderwall and Nessun Dorma.   Costumes seemed both natural and beautiful, and good use was made of occasional nudity.  And parts of it were hilarious.

Several of the dancers performed compelling solo pieces.  As in the summer I was struck by Robert Halley’s grace and control making him stand out as a technically skilled dancer.

The closing piece involved each of the twelve performers setting up some solitary comfort on the stage and then engaging with it oblivious to the others, as if getting on with post-breakup life – making and drinking elaborate coffee drinks, working out, creating origami, sunbathing on a beach, and so on.

In the Ballets Trockadero show, the choreography responded to traditional expectations of rigid gender in dance by sending them up in an over-the-top way.  Although the performers were all male, they were performing as exaggerated versions of ballet character male and female, makeup, costume, and all.  Amusingly, the program contained not only twelve performer biographies under the performers’ real names, but twelve bios of the female personae and twelve of the male personae, with delightful pun-filled names like Nadia Doumiafeyva and Sergei Legupski.  Fortuitous Endings basically just ignored those traditional expectations, with couples of various genders and age differences expressing fluid sexuality in a natural way, and with female performers sometimes lifting male performers as well as vice versa.  And in 2015, I found myself preferring that treatment to the parodic stereotype-breaking of Les Trocks, which would have blown my mind in an earlier era.

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