It is the famous pas de quatre from "Swan Lake," and the four ballerinas are doing an exquisite pirouette in perfect unison. But wait. Something is wrong. Just a little. Their shoulders are slumping, is that it? The way their hands dangle like dead things? Surely that's not right. Oh my God, now they're bending their knees. They're creeping. In unison.
And the house is cracking up.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is like its name: Everything's the way it should be, except for one detail. The "k." That one little thing. The all-male troupe will perform at the Warner Theatre today through Thursday.
"Originally it was a drag show," said director and founder Natch Taylor. "It was a one-joke revue with nondancers, and we played at cabarets and small places. But after about a year of that in New York and even Europe, some of us broke away."
This is definitely no drag show. It is real ballet, satirizing the styles of a George Balanchine or a Martha Graham, poking pins into the pomposities of The Dance. Time and again the audience is lured into rapt silence . . . only to have a head suddenly tilt sideways or a hand get stuck in a tutu. The effect has destroyed audiences all over the Western Hemisphere and Europe, in sophisticated cities and places like Calgary. Next spring the Trocks will initiate Japan into their peculiar art.
"We can always tell when it's a dance audience," said Taylor. "They laugh at different places and faster."
But even in Calgary, the laughs come easily. In fact, the company's biggest problem is to keep from camping it up, throwing in pratfalls and slapstick. Their humor contains no sexual innuendoes, which is probably the key to their appeal.
"We all started as regular male dancers, and it's a wonderful moment when a guy discovers he can get a laugh out there. But then some can't control it, don't know when to stop, and they don't work out."
Taylor started dancing in high school in his native New Mexico but didn't really take serious professional training until he was 24. After five years with small New York troupes he joined the precursor Gloxinia group and in 1974 formed the Trocks. It's never been easy. He still sews the costumes himself, which he rather enjoys. He gets friends of friends to design the scenery (Edward Gorey did the "Giselle" backdrop for the heck of it). There are no foundation grants, and it's hard to hire an outside artist on promises of ticket sales.
Yet talent is forever battering down their doors. For years the great dancer Anton Dolin has wanted to choreograph a ballet for them. Veterans from the Ballets Russes and other top companies have worked with them. Nureyev himself unwittingly added a hilarious bit of business when a Trock saw him the night he caught his sword in the scenery and almost yanked the whole set down.
"We learn a ballet straight, first. Get it down perfectly. And then we make little changes as we think of them. Sometimes we outgrow a gag and drop it. Of course, just the sight of large men doing these delicate steps tends to magnify the effect. Some of them never do realize how funny they look."
Another thing: each dancer has a name and a character to go with it. Taylor becomes Suzina Laruzziovitch, "famed Country and Western ballerina," who believes she is petite though 6 feet 2. There is Nadia Doumiafevya, "the legendary and enduring baby ballerina whose career was tragically altered by a hurled projectile . . . though most of the swelling has gone down." And Yuri Smirnov, "Cream of the Tartars," and Jacques d'Aniels, and Tamara Boumdiyeva, the Stalingrad Spitfire, and even Margeaux Mundeyn, a dancer's dresser who one night "locked her mistress in the armoire and danced in her place."
Aside from getting too many laughs, the Trock's second worst problem is feet. Male dancers rarely go up en pointe, and the only reason female dancers can do it is that they start very young going around on their toes.
"You should see their feet. All blistered and gnarled, with broken nails and all. Terrible. You can imagine the feet of a 170-pound man who just started going on his toes last year."
The subject is so fascinating to an orthopedic surgeon who travels with the New York City Ballet that he has begun a study of the Trocks.
"I had to cut out the backs of my first ballet slippers," said Taylor. "The biggest you could get was size 8, and I'm 9 1/2. I may be going around in a wheelchair in five years. But it's been fun. And just think: We may be pioneering a whole new field of medicine."