By BRUCE DENNILL
Men In Tutus / Ballet Eloelle Artistic Director: Victor Trevino / Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways, Johannesburg
Entrenched perspectives can be hugely problematic. There is an audience that enjoys classical ballet and another that doesn’t – possibly for exactly the same reasons (traditions, technique and more). And there are audiences that, while they generally like comedy, prefer satire to parody, or subtlety to slapstick. This makes for some tricky moments for less open-minded onlookers or potential audiences who can’t quite decide how they see the piece.
Men In Tutus is a show that features men – and often large, muscular sorts – dancing the intricate, precise routines generally reserved for ballerinas (including plenty of pointe work). The choreography takes the structures of much-beloved originals and adds a great deal of affectionate silliness, raising a smile from even some of the darker themes in the classical canon.
Is the show simply a novelty? No. It is evident from the opening Pas de Quatre that both the dancing and the choreography is of superb quality and indeed, that adding physical comedy to the mix has made each setpiece more complex and difficult to perform and thus a more impressive overall achievement.
Fans of good technique will find much to delight in, with the tall, statuesque Eugene Obille (six foot and muscular, but flexible enough to nearly touch the back of his head with his pointe shoe) and Walter Battistini (a full foot shorter, but with an explosive power to size ratio) perhaps the most eye-catching of the male ballerinas and both Joseph Phillips and Ian Ocampo (who even makes bowing entertaining) doing excellent work in more traditional male dancer roles.
Equally, there is plenty to giggle and often guffaw at in physical comedy terms, with the barrel-chested Jonathan Mendez becoming an early crowd favourite thanks to some gloriously daft over-acting. Later, company artistic director Victor Trevino absolutely massacres The Dying Swan, leaving most of the poor bird on the stage, and yet there is still a sense of the import and history of the solo.
Go For Barocco, a parody of George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco, is probably one of the lesser-known pieces on the programme, but it is danced so beautifully – again, that technical expertise – that newcomers will almost certainly be inspired to search out the original in order to get a fuller picture of the ideas behind the choreography, rather than to laugh a little at the gentle spoofing of some of its elements.
That ability to simultaneously impress and entertain may be Men In Tutus’ greatest achievement, as it undermines all of the excuses doubters may have about ballet, physical comedy and everything in between. Flamboyant, fraternal fun.