Dance: Trockaderos swan about for laughs

WHATEVER HAPPENED to that MP who was always moaning about men in tights? He could have a right old time at Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where all the "ballerinas" are chaps in tutus and toe shoes, and the ones playing male roles act even more mimsily camp. But in this instance they are meant to be funny - and part of the time they are.

The high point of every programme is The Dying Swan - not for the dancing, which is a pretty corny spoof of the famous solo Fokine made for Pavlova, but thanks to the costume by Mike Gonzales. This contrives to moult all through the number so that the stage becomes covered with feathers, while the dancer ends up in a plain yellowish bodice and skirt, resembling more plucked duck than majestic swan.

But what is Cross Currents doing next to such an obviously popular and funny number? It purports to have choreography by Merce Cunningham, but Cross Currents looks nothing like anything I remember seeing Cunningham dance with Carolyn Brown and Viola Farber many years ago.

People around me sniggered a little, presumably because the Trockadero cast looked so ludicrous and danced so badly. Embarrassing. If I were Cunningham I would forbid it.

Incidentally, Cunningham was a much funnier dancer than any of these, when he chose to be; just as Jerome Robbins's The Concert produces more guffaws than Peter Anastos's Yes, Virginia, Another Piano Ballet, which is a mildly amusing send-up of Robbins's more serious Chopin ballets. It struck me that Yes Virginia... got its biggest laughs not for the bits that took off Robbins, but for knockabout incidents when dancers fell over or landed "accidentally" on top of a piano. The Trockadero version of Swan Lake is a curiously old-fashioned number, burlesquing a style of production that was already out of date when the company began 25 years ago.

It does have one sharp (and still very valid) comment to make on classical ballet in showing us a partner who pushes his ballerina round for extra pirouettes. But what mainly struck a chord with Saturday night's audience were the more obvious jokes such as the pratfalls, grimaces and waving hands, and the dancers out of line or time, and the heavy-handed, interminably repeated mime gestures.

In Swan Lake, beginning the show, and in Paquita which ended it, we are meant to be impressed by the supposed virtuosity of men dancing on point.

Well, excuse me, but men have been doing that, occasionally, in ordinary ballet companies for many many years, and less clumsily than most of the Trockaderos.

In fact, it was the passages which they tried to do more or less straight, such as Odette's solo or the beginning of Paquita, which showed most of them to be not particularly good dancers.

Clowning is what they do best, and it doesn't help to suggest otherwise.