Ballet with a humor twist

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Ballet with a humor twist

“Swan Lake” isn’t something you want to see for a good laugh. Or is it? A men’s ballet troupe performing at the Seoul Arts Center from tomorrow until Sunday aims to make you smile through the grace and beauty of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet, with a comic twist.
Les Ballets Grandiva ― or 19 men in tutus ― may shock lovers of classical ballet. The performance, however, is not the same as some transvestite show in Bangkok. Members have performed with major dance companies worldwide and studied at renowned institutions such as the Julliard School and the School of American Ballet. They may be wearing women’s costumes and the story lines may be funny, but when it comes down to technique, their dancing is no joke.
Les Ballets Grandiva is a performance that can be enjoyed more by those who are interested in dance but find classical ballet too difficult or too boring to watch.
This troupe’s core concept is to perform many different styles of dance, including 19th- and 20th-century ballet and satirical contemporary works. Based in New York City, the group was founded in 1996 by Victor Trevino, who remains its director to this day. The founding company consisting of 13 dancers eventually grew to 19; their repertoire has also increased from seven to 32 pieces.
Their legs may be hairy and their bosoms flat, but the Grandiva dancers make sure they do not mar the elegant beauty of ballet. Their coach is Paul Boos of Russia’s Kirov Ballet, who makes sure that classical ballet remains at the heart of any piece that is selected. The all-male cast offers not a hint of homosexuality, either.
Although the “divas” are at present the largest fine arts company to have an all-male lineup, they are definitely not the first. In fact, if one goes back a bit in both Eastern and Western theater history, there was once a time when all artistic performers were male, like in Shakespearean theater, the Beijing Opera and more recently, the British all-male troupe Trock.
The men in Grandiva currently perform all over the world. In Japan, Grandiva has drawn fans for more than 500 performances during the past eight years.
Grandiva’s Seoul performance includes familiar pieces such as the balcony scene from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Act Two from “Swan Lake.” The barefooted male swans in Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” had very masculine characteristics, with powerful leaps and large, sweeping arm motions. By comparison, Grandiva’s swans wear pointe shoes and through tiny movements, attempt to be cute.
Other elements of their repertoire, such as “Go for Barocco,” put modern dance to the music of Bach. Dance lovers will laugh at a parody of George Balanchine in the comic performance of a very fat dancer.
“The Dying Swan,” featuring a swan that gets shot, is among the troupe’s trademark pieces, as audiences watch the last two minutes of the poor, writhing swan ― movements that are both funny and tragic.
If the dancing and familiar classical music pieces don’t make you laugh, at least the appearance of the men will. Costumes include flamboyantly frilled garters, skin-hugging black tops and miniskirts. They also sport pancake makeup that is almost clownish, tights and hirsute bodies.
For ballet traditionalists, an open mind is absolutely necessary, due to situations like deliberately late entrances, stage clomping and wiggling behinds. Just think of it as a good stand-up comedy show or a good movie, only without popcorn.


by Wohn Dong-hee

Tickets range from 30,000 won to 70,000 won and can be bought online at Interpark (www.ticketpark.com) or Ticketlink (www.ticketlink.co.kr). The show is at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and 5 p.m. on the weekends. Visit Seoul Arts Center’s Web site at www.sac.or.kr/eng.

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