Dance: Angels with hairy armpits
Sunday 18 January 1998
And for all the tutus, wigs and slap, the Trocks (as they dub themselves: a true meeting of trollops and frocks) don't really try to hide this fact. Their armpits are hairy, their bodices unstuffed. They see themselves not as female impersonators, but as exponents of historic works of dance which happened to be created for ballerinas. And they do not mock that ethereal art so much as pay extravagant homage. There speaks a lifetime's devotion in the graceful fluidity of their arms and hands, some quite astonishing extensions (eat your heart out, Sylvie) and a pointe technique that allows grown men of 10 stone to balance their weight for the best part of two hours on the tippy tips of their middle toes.
The comedy is achieved by exaggerating, like heck, the conceits and potential mishaps of ballet's conventions. There's the lofty prima ballerina who so dwarfs her chevalier that she has to duck his supporting arm as she pirouettes. There's the second soloist who lingers cheesily before her exit to soak up the last drop of limelight; the male danseur so bored with standing still he sets to dewrinkling his tights. And there's pure slapstick too: goosings, collisions, travelling fouettes that veer out of control, a corps de ballet that collapses like a tray of meringues. All this is rollicking good fun, delivered with a command of comic timing that is second to none.
The question is whether this sort of clever goofery can sustain an entire evening. On the Trocks' last visit I was unconvinced, but their new programme offers more than physical comedy: it's a ballet history lesson in brief. How often do we get to see recreated the Grand pas de quatre made for the world's four greatest ballerinas in 1845? Perrot's choreography is designed to show off the signature qualities of each: one ballerina's coquetry, another's gaeity, another's sense of ghostly mystery - and the Trocks make hay with all this. I hooted when the music had been playing for 48 bars and, ludicrously, none of the quartet had moved a muscle - frozen into a faux-modest, "please, you go first," before descending to dastardly rivalry for the rest of the work.
And there's another reason not to miss these glorious New York spoofers: they're on a roll. London loves them, they love London, and on a purely technical level the dancing this time (particularly from gorgeous Olga Supphozova, aka Robert Carter) reaches heights of virtuosity that had the first-night audience almost climbing over the seats in disbelief.
Such lack of restraint was more to be expected from parents craning to see their progeny perform in the Royal Ballet's Chance to Dance project, which showed its latest trawl of talent at the South Bank last Wednesday. Just to see the keen assembly of mums and dads from three London boroughs - some sporting huge woolly Rasta bonnets - was a sharp retort to those who think the company exists only to serve an elite. This performance, by 40 or so seven-to nine-year-olds, arose from school workshops on the Ashton ballet Les Patineurs, and the children's dances developed its cheerful skating motifs with unexpected verve and style, translating Ashton's final technical fireworks as a terrific display of cartwheels. The most talented girls and boys may get snapped up for serious training. The others, and their parents, will at least never look on ballet as a no-go again.
I'm not sure I'll ever look at a naked body in the same way after seeing La Ribot, the notorious Spanish performance artist whose belief that "the body is a canvas for art" extends to dying her head-hair sky blue and her pubic-hair scarlet. The Mas Distinguidas ("More Distinguished Pieces") she showed at the ICA are a series of short, sharp solo episodes which try to get at the essence of objects and ideas using the sort of dadaist mental shortcut that sees a folding chair and a human form and imagines them copulating vigorously (we watch this happen, and the effect is both desperate and comic). Not least the most curious aspect of La Ribot's work is that each of her pieces is up for sale. Buy one (price on application) and you get your name in the programme as a "Distinguished Proprietor". I wanted the one in which she does a bony, wriggly sort of rap-dance to a bombastic piece of bullfight music, and in the process graffitis her skin from top to toe in blue marker-pen. Just my luck. Someone had nabbed it already.
'The Trocks': Peacock Theatre, WC2 (0171 314 8800), to 31 Jan.
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