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Testosteronic tutus

Virtuosic vamps of Les Ballets Trockadero in one-night-stand @ QE

Heavy lifting. Photo: Sascha Vaughn

Having just celebrated his 45th birthday, Robert Carter is the same age as the illustrious company he dances with, Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Saturday, February 1st, he’ll headline their one-night engagement at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in his assumed persona of “Olga Supphozova,” the troupe’s prima ballerina and senior dancer.

It’s one of the most coveted berths in ballet. As Olga, he’s played some of the most celebrated venues in the world – the Bolshoi, the Folies Bergere, Sadler’s Wells. A far cry from when he first joined the company, at age 21, and was awarded his nom de Trock by ballet master Raffaele Morra.

“In those days,” he recalls, “and going all the way back to our 1970’s origins, we were playing in Lower East Side lofts. We were cruising on that edgy, Gay Lib, Stonewall energy.”

But that’s not what so beguiled him, when he first encountered Les Trocks as a 10-year-old ballet student in his native South Carolina and set his heart on a career of dancing en pointe in a tutu. Rather, he told the Observer in a telephone interview, it was the irresistible challenge of learning to execute those delicate and technically challenging female roles, but with male strength and stamina.

Still, he also admits, he was drawn to the campy allure of dancing in drag to gently spoof the flamboyant divas of ballet’s mid-20th century heyday. “For a lot of people, our comedy kind of undercuts that stuck-up aura of ballet as something unapproachable, only for the elite. It makes it more accessible to a wider audience.”

Nevertheless, ballet purists, too, find plenty to love in a Trock soirée. Expect extra helpings of arabesques penchés, pirouettes, fouettés and tours en l’air. Balletomanes will recognize choreographic echoes of Ballanchine, Merce Cunningham, Marius Petipa and more.

For instance Carter’s own bravura Dying Swan solo early on in the evening: “Olga’s” interpretation of Anna Pavlova’s interpretation of Michael Fokine’s interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. For those in the know,how meta can you get?

But even if you’ve never seen a ballet before, you can’t miss the drollery of Carter’s drawn-out curtain calls. “We usually lead with the more slapstick stuff, to draw the audience in,” he explains, “and then we roll out our more technical pieces later on.”

There will be not just one, but two intermissions to allow the audience to acclimate to the increasingly demanding repertoire and – not incidentally – to strut their own concert-going finery, which is part of the show in its own right.

Judging from past years’ Trock engagements, the QE lobby will sport an eclectic mix of little girls in taffeta, grand matrons in brocade, blue-haired seniors and over-the-top drag queens, inter alia. In Japan, where they’ve attracted a fanatical following, Les Trocks’ annual visit occasions a phantasmagoria of cosplay.

The troupe maintains a cracking pace. What with rigorous rehearsals and a packed touring schedule, all 16 Trocks work at least 39 weeks a year. From Vancouver, for example, they’ll go on to play Victoria and Nanaimo, back-to-back, before heading home.

In addition to the Dying Swan, Friday’s performance will likely feature such Trock staples as the quasi-Ballanchine Go for Barocco, plus a few iconic pas de deux. Antepenultimate item on the bill will be their dazzling rendition of Paquita in the grand Petipa manner.

But then the show will conclude with a couple of quintessentially Trockian “surprises,” Carter promises. No amount of Observer wheedling could pry any spoilers out of him; nothing for it but to attend the QE on Saturday to find out.


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