I love the ballet. There’s some indelible beauty in watching the perfection of human grace, form, and movement. The ballet reaches for impossible heights and makes them seem almost attainable, remaining just tantalizingly out of reach. When a ballet manages to accomplish all of these things, one feels transported into another realm entirely, enraptured by the feeling of magic and limitless wonder. When it fails however, for whatever reason, the break of immersion that results leaves a viewer feeling disinterested, removed, and separated from the amazing physical acts unfolding in front of him.
In that sense, Alberta Ballet’s Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is both a success and a failure. In the ways it differentiated itself from the standard show, it massively succeeded, having a focus on humour, gaffs, gender-bending performances and generally being both self-aware and light-hearted. The show itself began with a tongue-in-cheek advert spoken by a stereotypically Russian accent, making fun of the tropes of the esteemed Russian Ballet. During the first of three acts, laughs from the audience almost drowned at the music as dancers had fun with their parts, playing the part of the fool, the jester, and the unaware fumbleton. As an abridged story of Swan Lake played out, dancers would trip, fall, shove each other around, or walk very slowly across the stage in order to highlight the seriousness of Ballet and poke fun at it.
This laughter, however, seemed to fade as the show wore on. It seemed as though the gaffs were being repeated one too many times, and that their frequency simply went down. By the third act, the show was hardly funny at all, which, while not necessarily a problem in-and-of itself, exposed the other flaws of the production.
Now, for those reading on, let me preface the following negativities with a reincorporation of the fact that I adore Ballet. I have extremely (some might offer unrealistically) high standards of the show, and I enjoy the Alberta Ballet enough to have subscribed to seasonal passes in the past.
And for that reason, I would highly recommend attending the Alberta Ballet’s other, more serious shows (BalletBoyz being the next, coming as soon as February). But in the future, give this production a miss.
The issues stem from the vapidness of the choreography above everything else. Routines seemed rather boring, with there being rather few stand-out moments that really took your breath away (though the solos towards the end of the show were quite amazing). Moves or sequences were repeated ad nauseam, to a point where they stopped being engaging, funny, or amazing. The third time someone moved very slowly across the stage for comedic effect, I felt nothing but was bored. And unfortunately, with a dearth of interesting arrangements, sequences, and moves, the show must stand up on its humour, which also followed the same repetitive two-note pattern of having rebellious dancers that don’t care and self-aware nods to the audience that usually involved slapstick.
The best way to sum up the show is by describing its best and worst moments. The second act opened with a short and utterly bizarre segment of two ‘old-maid’ characters making noise with a random array of quotidian goods (ropes, saucepans, shakers, etc). This was accompanied by rather uninteresting sequences performed by three amazingly talented dancers. It was such a strange and weird moment, that it almost seemed like an attempt at satirizing ultra-modern performance-art dances, as it satirized Swan Lake and Don Quixote. It was so inexplicably awful and out-of-place that I’m honestly still confused what was going on.
The best part of the show closed out the second act, when a male-dancer, dressed in the now iconic Black Swan costume, moved out onto the stage. The twist here was that his tutu was stuffed with feathers that cascaded out around him as he moved, creating this beautiful shower of white fluff. He mixed grace with prods at the aforementioned movie by exaggerating Nathalie Portman’s last moments, and this surreal, beautiful, and captivating scene was capped off with his making fun of ballet’s habit of milking audience applause.
Ultimately, this show was let down by being non-cohesive. I would definitely recommend seeing Alberta Ballet produce something that has a set through-line or narrative, where more complicated choreography can really transport you to that imagined place of sublimity that only ballet can do.
Banner photography courtesy of Gene Schiavone.