Strong in their centers, long clean lines, leaps that soar, and turns that would make anyone envious. Obviously, I went to the ballet over the weekend. You might think that I’m describing the prima ballerina of a company and her soloists, but I’m not. I’m talking about men here. Strong and sturdy men. Some of the best male dancers I have ever seen. And, some of the best female performers I have ever seen.
I’m talking about Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the 34-year-old institution of professional male dancers who perform a full range of ballet and modern dance repertoire, including renditions of classical and original works with beautiful comedic twists. They are more than just dancers, they are superb actors and comedians, who bring a new life to some old favorites. They performed this past weekend at the City Performance Hall to a theatre full of laughter and much-loved and welcomed encore.
Forgive this history lesson, but a quick look back at the beginnings of ballet provides a point of entrance for the Les Ballets Trockadero (or the Trocks as they are fondly known). In 1661, Louis XIV established the Academie Royale de Danse, which was a professional organization for dancing masters (or, as we’d say today, professional dancers). Here, all the dancers were men, and men in masks dancing women’s roles. For nearly 20 years, the Academie only employed men; it wasn’t until 1681 that women began to dance professionally. What Louix XIV was exploring was the old clowning and pantomime ways of Greek theatre and commedia dell’arte. He was testing the boundaries of comedy, and what the audience would allow and expect to happen. The work was physical, demanding, and fun. But it was a form of theatre that we watched disappear and become more of a underground art form—particularly the drag element, as it quickly became a parody of itself.
Yet, what the Trocks do so brilliantly is flip a classical art form thought to be traditionally for women, take it to its roots, and put a drag show on the main stage. Make it large scale and take it on tour, showing the talent and technique of the male body and the comedy that underlies every single ballet.
But they always start from the original intent of the ballets they restage. When they learn a ballet, they learn it step by step, variation by variation, and in its original format. They work with an experienced ballet mistress who rehearses all of the technical skills, so as to maintain the integrity of the pieces. And that is extremely important to the company. The dancers are interested in presenting a repertoire that stays true to the tradition that has influenced them and has been the reason they have careers. But they also want to entertain.
They perform with great sense of grace, and yet, there is a casualness to the performance. Room for improvisation and simply, room for fun. They make every cliché about male dancers, and female dancers, a joy to laugh at. As a dancer myself, it was a great catharsis, being able to laugh at myself, because I saw all my habits up there on stage, mirrored back to me.
Further, they don’t try to hide their statuesque builds as other drag artists do. They actually play up their “manliness.” As you watch them whip through a combination of fouettés and pirouettes with such ease, you can’t help but be in awe of both their technique and rippling muscles. It’s almost a ridiculous sight to see what looks like a prima ballerina with legs the size of a tree trunk. Legs that contain such power and skill that gently perform traditionally “female steps.”
And, once you become enveloped by the spectacle and suspend belief, you forget you are watching “men in pointe shoes.” Men in size 15 pointe shoes! Because, all you are really watching is incredible dancing. You came to the ballet, and you better believe, the Trocks deliver.
I spent the whole show in awe of their technique and comedic timing, and of their feet. Seriously, I would trade mine for any pair of theirs any day!