FOR anyone who believes ballet – with its endless curtain calls – takes itself too seriously The Trocks are surely an antidote.
A global phenomenon since forming in New York 40 years ago, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo – to give them their official name – combine comedy with technical prowess to demonstrate a genuine love of the art but with added laughs born of a drag-fuelled pastiche of ballet’s genuine divas.
Leading the charge to Sheffield next month with a new show and more costume changes than you can shake an IKEA wardrobe sale brochure at is the legendary Ida Nevasayneva aka cross-dressing dancer Paul Ghislein.
Describing himself as “probably more of a flamingo than a swan”, he has had to demonstrate two sides to his job – like Les Dawson playing a piano out of tune, you have to know how to play to get it wrong.
“I do have a very good understanding of classicism,” he says. “I also have a very clear picture of what I look like – so I knew I could deliver the buffoonery, but I also knew what it meant to get it looking right.
“Both elements had to be in there. So you put on the pointe shoes and you rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. And you go on-stage, and you just go for it.”
As Ida, this willowy fellow immediately adopts the air of a prima diva. “I came out of the womb dancing,” says the inspirational leader of ballet’s butchest troupe.
“In my youth I was a heroine of the Revolution. Once, after effortlessly bourréeing across a minefield, I lobbed a loaded toe-shoe through the window of a capitalist bank.
“I was a grande etoile by my mid teens. It was my unusual character and exceptional footwork and I brought such intensity to my dramatic roles.”
Legend has it, Ida defected to the West by leaping into the arms of a US businessman after doing 14 fouettés and then a grand jeté over a turnstile at New York’s JFK airport.
“It was 17, actually and he never knew what hit him,” she recalls. “America gave me a royal welcome. I have never regretted my spur of the moment decision, but I still weep sometimes for Russia, the Motherland.”
Now a dame of the ballet world, Ida can recall a career that includes many of the great roles. She is hard-pressed to choose her greatest moment – “Oh, gosh there have been so many” – but opts for a grand gala given at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre.
“It was nerve-racking – all the big stars were there. They saved me for the end of the second act to ensure the audience left with fond memories. When I came out, the audience started stomping their feet and yelling. It was quite emotional for me, I do believe I shed a tear.”
With many Russian companies regularly touring the world, Ida continues to be something of a role model whose youth and slender figure has been preserved by dance.
“I’ve never had an issue with weight. If anything I had a problem keeping it on; I could eat and eat and eat whatever I wanted. Ballet kept me thin and youthful beyond my years. I was dancing well into my 40s. But being six feet tall, I didn’t get lifted too much.”
Being such a force within ballet and a striking physical presence has, of course, brought Ida many lovers, both among among ballet dancers and patrons.
But she won’t name names. “One day I’ll write my memoirs and tell all.”
And, when it comes to penning that book, who would Ida compare herself to among the ballerina greats of our time?
“I’m beyond compare,” she states firmly. “I’m very traditional. I have been studying ballet for a long, long time and ballet is my life. I wake up in the morning thinking about tendus. You can often see me waiting for the subway doing an arabesque.
“It’s been said I’m neurotic, that I’m highly-strung and high maintenance, but that is what keeps me so vital and gives my performances that special je-ne-sais-quoi.”
Among artistic director Tory Dobrin’s jobs is to keep such egos in line as well as maintain the balance between dance quality and Vaudeville slapstick elements.
“We don’t think about things in terms of girl and boy roles,” he explains. “They’re just guys dancing roles that women would normally dance – and when I’m asked if it’s a drag act, I always have to remember not to take offence.
“Some of the dancers are not as masculine as others but they don’t approach their roles as women but as who they are, as guys.
“The issue for us is always to try to do the best possible programme so the audience has a really enjoyable time.”