There are all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds in the company - we're not just a bunch of New York weirdos," says Olga Tchikaboumskaya.
Olga, who's known off stage much more prosaically but far more accurately as Peter Anastos, is the co-director, choreographer and prima ballerina assoluta of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the "travestry" dance company making its Washington debut at Lisner Auditorium tonight. There are 10 men in the troupe. Powdered and rouged, and dressed in full ballerina regalia, complete with tutus, toe-shoes and bodices, they parody the dance classics using such stage names as Suzina La Fuzziovitch, Dame Margaret Lowin-Octeyn and Natalia Zlotmachinskaya.
Sound a bit kinky for the provinces? Founded less than three years ago, the full-time troupe has already charmed audiences in such outposts as South Bend, Winnipeg and Scottsdale, as well as in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York. And on March 5, they will make their nationwide TV debut in a great stint on the Shirley MacLaine special, "Where Do We Go From Here," for CBS. MacLaine, who once trained as a ballet dancer, will appear with the troupe in excerpts from the Trockadero "Swan Lake," and "Go For Barocco," a send-up of Balancine's "Concerto Barocco."
The theater has always been a place where make-believe gets free rein, and one of the human impulses long indulged onstage has been the desire to try on opposite sexual identities. In 16th-century Italy, where classical ballet had its first tentative beginnings, women were not permitted to perform and men assumed all female roles. In the 18th and 19th centuries, both in opera and ballet, the "trouser role" in which women dressed and performed as males, was much in vogue.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has plenty of precedent. But sexual reversal is their means, not their end. This is a dance company, and ballet is what Trockadero is mainly about, in its own peculiarly droll and askew fashion. Mikhail Baryshnikov is a fan. Natalia Makarova has helped coach their version of "Les Sylphides" and posed in a group picture with the troupe.
"There's been a marked change in our audiences since we began," Anastos notes. "We started out attracting a strictly gay crowd, and now it's extremely straight, which is just what we're after [TEXT OMMITTED FROM SOURCE] Especially after Arlene Croce's terrific notice in The New Yorker, which took our work so seriously, all the ballet nuts from uptown started checking us out. Since then we've had a very wide mix - you could see it especially easily on our cross-country tour last winter, where we drew a by and large middle class, professional house most of the time."
Perhaps the secret of Trockadero's success is that they know the art they are poking fun at from the inside out. Classical ballet is so riddled with artifice that it often seems on the verge of self-parody. But bad or amateurish ballet dancing is more pathetic than amusing. The Trockadero dancers come from motley dance beginnings, but company classes are strict and led by an experienced, knowledgable dancer, Betteann Terrell, who was herself a soloist with the New York City Opera Ballet.
Peter Anastos was lured into ballet by a high school field trip. "My high school class in Schenectady was taken to Manhattan to see the musical, 'Oliver.' But I sneaked off to the old Metropolitan Opera House, and wandered into my first ballet performance - the Royal Ballet, with Beriosova and Doyle in 'Swan Lake.' I completely lost my marbles over this experience."
Then he met Mme. Ivantzova-Anderson, a 90-year-old Swedish ballerina who had grown up in Czarish Russia and danced with the Bolshoi Ballet. "She was too, old to move, but she would show us everything with her fingers. I learned so much about style, the grand style and its mime."
Ater a trip to the Soviet Union, Anastos joined the Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet, and already existing travesty troupe in New York, and there he met Natch Taylor, a dancer from Santa Fe who was to become his partner in the founding of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in 1974.
"Somehow we seem to work better in big houses," Anastos says, "we are men, after all, and we need space to move in. The show seems to read way to the back. The people in the rear seats are laughing as much as those up front. And when we played the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, for some reason we were a big hit with the stagehands - you're one of the most professional shows we've ever seen, they told us."
"It's amazing how often our audiences seem to be parodying their own theatrical rituals," Anastos says. "The standing ovations, the cheers, the tossing of flowers - what we're doing seems to pull them right into the same spirit."
The company will present three seperate programs at Lisner, in four evening performances from Thursday through Sunday at 8 p.m., and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Friday evening is sold out, but there's still a good choice of seats for opening night and Sunday matinee.