There’s nothing I endorse more than a good laugh and if you’re in need of one, what you really need is Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male ballet troupe that perform a variety of classical and contemporary ballets, doing the admirable (but not always enviable) task of dancing en pointe. They have two DVDs in print, now over a decade old and many of the dancers in the filmed performances are no longer with the company, but the repertory remains largely the same. I’m sure they’ve expanded since, as they continue to create more dances and push the envelope in terms of virtuosity and bravura technique. As usual, I have yet to see them live…the one chance I almost had was when they toured to my hometown after I moved, but I shall continue to wait for the opportunity because as people like to say, the best things really are worth waiting for (although if you’re impatient like me, you hate it when people say that).
What I find extraordinary about the “Trocks” as they are so often called, is not the fact that they have all these men dancing en pointe (which is by definition extraordinary anyway!), but that they are perhaps the most liberated ballet company in the world. Nothing is considered over the top by their standards and the result is pure, artistic freedom. Most classical ballet companies value the art of subtlety, but this is like “Piqué 101”—every ballet dancer knows in order to execute a piqué into arabesque for example, you must push to step onto your leg on relevé and have enough chutzpah to find your balance. However, the reality is that when learning to piqué en arabesque, many fall victim to erring on the side of caution, never to arrive on top of their leg. It is my personal belief that in this step, falling backwards is the worst thing you can do because it means you never got there and it looks meek. On the other hand, fall forwards, and at the very least you passed through and then you have options…a chassé, a whirl of the arms to cover up, etc. There’s a chance that major ballet companies today are so concerned with proper technique and subtlety they’re not “arriving” and thus we find a number of reviews of tepid performances. Meanwhile, the Trocks have an abundance of verve and of course they work on technique, but it seems to me that they’re more concerned with their mission.
Obviously, the Trocks aim to entertain with their comical ballets and really, how many ballet companies can say that they’re able to communicate with their audience so successfully and openly? The painful truth is that artistic directors (particularly in the US) typically have to deal with pleasing an audience, satisfying donors with money, and sometimes stroking the egos of star dancers. However, the Trocks are so loved for what they do, I wouldn’t be surprised if their audiences are happy to see them in anything. Sure, those who are more familiar with the Trocks must have their perennial favorites, but when I read on Twitter or Facebook how excited people are to see them (you UK residents in particular were quite the chatty cats a few months ago), it really is about experiencing the whole performance. I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere that THAT is what ballet is all about. Just maybe, the major ballet companies could learn a thing or two about throwing caution to the wind and putting in just an ounce of reckless abandon…or go nuts, have two.
What’s also nice to see with the Trocks is the variety of dancers they have, all different shapes and sizes, which is something people want to see. Obviously, it can look great when you have a uniform corps de ballet like the Paris Opera or the Bolshoi, but accepting dancers based on ability and not body type is what makes the Trocks relatable and inspiring. Given, the number of accomplished male dancers en pointe make for slim pickings but at least a male dancer who does have the abilities can know that their physicality probably isn’t a deciding factor for a Trockadero audition. At least in the DVDs some of the dancers didn’t have the highest extensions or the prettiest feet, but that never hindered the performance quality. It’s definitely a small niche of the dance world, but thank Billy Elliot the opportunity exists for the aspiring male pointe dancer.
I do wish that male pointe work could be taken…(for lack of a better term) more “seriously” too though. What the Trocks do is amazing, totally legitimate, and sometimes unappreciated in the same way comedy movies never win Academy Awards because apparently laughter is an inferior expression of human emotion than crying. What I mean is the extent of male dancing on pointe is largely farcical—often relegated to performances in women’s costumes (like the Trocks, drag performances in galas, and I believe Ratmansky’s The Bright Stream) or animal costumes (Bottom in Ashton’s The Dream and Pigling Bland in The Tales of Beatrix Potter, also choreographed by Ashton). There may be more…though I am not expert enough to know them, and while these are all amazing ballets and wonderful roles, the next step would be to create some chances for men to dance en pointe as they are, no costumes beyond what is normally worn for ballet, so that all opportunities are provided to express a broader range of emotions and ideas. I actually have a fantastic idea in mind, something I’ve been researching for over a year, but that’s a long story for another day.
Anyway, I guess this didn’t turn out to be much of a DVD review (maybe I planned it that way, even though in all likelihood I did not). It’s kind of hard to describe the unique touches the Trocks will put on their classical repertoire like Paquita or Raymonda, which is barely further from Petipa’s choreography than changes any other company would make, or the parodies like Go for Barocco (something of an homage to Balanchine) and poking some fun at Robbins in Yes Virginia, Another Piano Ballet (which I really enjoyed). All I can say is that the humor is done in the most thoughtful ways, with little jokes that may make sense only to the seasoned balletomane, but also an entertainment value that easily appeals to someone who may not be so familiar with the ballets or styles that are being made fun of. Good times!
Rather than post clips of their performances (a number of which are on YouTube) I would like to draw attention to their contribution to the “It Gets Better Project” in support of LGBT youth who are struggling with bullying and finding acceptance in society. I’m sure there are young boys out there who maybe want to dance on pointe and could use some encouragement from the dancers themselves!