By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
From operas and Shakespearian plays to Broadway musicals (La Cage aux Folles, Kinky Boots) and Television shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, men in drag have been a popular form of entertainment since there has been entertainment.
Ballet too has had a long history of gender-bending with such roles as the stepsisters in the ballet Cinderella and Mother Ginger in The Nutcracker. Following in that tradition, New York’s all-male comic ballet company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has taken drag ballet to a whole other level. For the past 45-years the globetrotting company that has delighted audiences in 600 cities in 34 countries with its brand of classical ballet and dance parodies. The company returns to Pittsburgh and Downtown’s Byham Theater on Saturday, April 13 after a 6-year absence with a fresh batch of them.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo performs 8 p.m., Saturday, April 13, Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Downtown, $10-65, (412) 456-6666 or trustarts.org.
The Trocks’ mixed repertory program of mostly spoofs on Russian ballet classics will close out the Dance Council’s 2018-19 season.
“People really want to see old world tutu, tiara and pointe shoe ballets from us,” says artistic director Tory Dobrin. “That really lends itself more to the humor of what we do.”
While the company has a few parodies of classic modern dance choreographers’ works such as in the style of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch, they don’t do them as often because their wide-ranging audiences aren’t as familiar with those choreographers and works. For the Trocks, the stereotypical classical ballet image is more universal and accessible to non-dance audiences.
And while the Trocks male dancers who hail from all over the globe including Cuba, Italy, Columbia, China and the U.S., dress as females (and males) in the ballets, they bring to all their dancing a decidedly male athleticism and attack; even dancing on pointe.
Dobrin says when he joined the Trocks in 1980 as a dancer, he and his fellow company members had little to no previous training dancing in pointe shoes and it would take them a year or more to be comfortable in them. Now days he says the company’s reputation has gone from being a “career destroyer” to being a career choice and dancers are coming to the company already comfortable with dancing on pointe. That has the company stronger and raised the level of dancing says Dobrin.
Saturday night’s program opens with the Pittsburgh premiere of a parody of choreographer Mikhail Fokine`s Les Sylphides (1909) entitled ChopEniana and set to music by Frederic Chopin. “It is a very funny, campy ballet,” says Dobrin.
Staged for the Trocks by Alexandre Minz, the ballet is a prime example of the company’s creative modus operandi.
“First we start with learning a ballet’s traditional choreography and spending a lot of time working on the technique and style of the movement,” says Dobrin. “Then the comedy comes in a multitude of ways. Comedy is not something you can intellectually add because then it doesn’t ring true. Of course we have our stock jokes that we use but mostly we allow the comedy to happen naturally.”
Next, the company will do an as-yet-named pas de deux or a modern work followed by La Trovatiara Pas De Cinq choreographed by the Trocks’ founding director/choreographer Peter Anastos that spoofs the operas of Italian composer, Giuseppe Verdi with a bit of the ballet Le Corsaire thrown in for good measure.
In addition to the comedic dancing, a hallmark of the Trocks, and a joy for audiences to read, are the outlandish program notes. In the case of La Trovatiara Pas De Cinq, the totally made up description of the ballet eludes to an all-girl North African Ballet troupe, a sub-Saharan Apache Dance and pirate girls being set free and sent forth to open coin-operated laundries all over Europe. Even more fun are the laugh-out-loud, Russianized fake names of the female and male dancers like Maya Thickenthighya, Varvara Laptopova, Sergey Legupski and Mikhail Mypansarov.
Next, like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s inescapability in performing their signature work Revelations at every performance, the Trocks signature piece, a molting version of Fokine’s The Dying Swan (originally The Swan – 1905) will be presented.
Rounding out the program will be a parody of the wedding scene from Marius Petipa’s 1898 ballet Raymonda danced to music by Alexander Glazunov that Dobrin calls “energetic and colorful in a high Russian style.”
Ultimately with this program, fans of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo should find occasion to rejoice. And for those who are of the opinion that ballet is a drag, let the Trocks prove that ballet in drag is a must see.