The familiar fluttering strains of "Swan Lake" began as Von Rothbart took to the stage, hair ever so slightly manic, but confidently swirling his voluminous cape and then ... getting snagged in it. A bewigged and very blonde Prince Siegfried, accompanied by a very confused Benno, made his way across the proscenium in search of ...
At last! The Swan Queen nimbly made her leaping entrance, chest hair sprouting from her bodice.
Welcome to the world of the Trocks.
Putting things in a more formal tone, the ballerina, Lariska Dumbchenko (Raffaele Morra) was part of an all-male troupe called Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo that specializes in ballet parody en transvesti.
In fact, the company is a regular bastion of classical ballet. The Pittsburgh Dance Council program at the Byham Theater Friday night had a "Swan" trilogy, starting with the second act of "Swan Lake," which sported a corps de ballet of eight dancers, whose Bolshoi ("big") presence seemed to multiply before our eyes. So they were also able to perform the dance of the little swans (loved the pecking) and the sweeping big swan duet, with tour jetes that seemed to pause in midair.
That was followed by the "Black Swan Pas de Deux," with a very muscular Yekatarina Verbosovich (Chase Johnsey) -- yes, there were fouettes and those broad shoulders gave an extra oomph to the porte bras -- partnered by a petite but deceptively strong Prince, Innokenti Smoktumuchsky (Carlos Hopuy).
And ballet diva Marina Plezegeovstageskaya (Roberto Forleo) agreed to perform the "Dying Swan" only at the last minute, according to an announcement, elegantly molting her way around the stage.
That would be enough to send most audiences floating out the door. But the Trocks parodied some bits and pieces of Balanchine in "Go For Barocco," created for the company by its founder, Peter Anastos.
While this "Barocco" wasn't as musically delicious as the originals, it was fun to pick out the various porte bras sections from "Serenade," the perky hops en pointe from "Concerto Barocco" and more.
Besides, it served as a sorbet among the ultraclassical menu, which concluded with the real technical fireworks of the faux-Spanish "Paquita." Starring the ultraconfident Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter) with just a little help from Marat Legupski (Giovanni Ravelo), this work was, like the others, 80 or 90 percent the real choreographic deal.
Yes, the Trocks don't shy away from the traditional technical hurdles inherent in these ballets, which earns them admiration from the audience. And when they add an occasional twist -- women love the fact that these ballerinas don't often need their soft-pedaling partners -- it turns into feminism at its finest.
But the core of the company style contains, believe it or not, a serious balletic attitude, with even a demanding Russian coach behind it all. And that's what makes audiences roar with laughter, for there is an inherent artifice to ballet and these talented performers use it as a playground.
So they were sometimes simply men in tutus, which can elicit a chuckle. Occasionally they went over-the-top like burlesque queens, pratfalls and all. But most often, their smart and sassy humor had an underlying subtlety to it. And that's when I laughed the most.