Let’s Talk Trockadero

18 May

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!

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6 Responses to “Let’s Talk Trockadero”

  1. Jeff May 18, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    Good point about men on pointe. I’d love to see a piece of serious, unironic, male pointe work. By the way I could kick myself for missing the Trocks when they came through the Bay Area in recent years, but I vow here and now to catch them the next time!

    • youdancefunny May 19, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

      San Fran has to be like, home base right? Their tour schedule is nuts though…it’s basically all year!

  2. Johanna May 19, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    Great post! I will certainly try to see them live, if possible. About men in pointe.. I know of many male dancers who practice pointe as well, if only to strengthen their feet. My own teacher would even have lent her hubby´s old pointe shoes to a youngish dancer (also teacher at my school) – it´s a real shame he was resistant to try. Of course, just training is different than performing, but I see no reason why men should not.

    It could open up a whole new world of contemporary classical dancing! I´m thinking serious, dramatic, aggressive, tender, whatever.. It does not have to be “effeminate”, pointe requires plenty of power anyway. The only problem is that not all feet are suited for pointe (just like with the girls), and with men often having quite large ones it must be even more difficult to find the right pair (unless you can go custom).

    I would not mind seeing guys on pointe. In all seriousness :)

    • youdancefunny May 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

      I would really like to see classical male pointe roles too! That’s basically what my secret idea is…though the libretto is kind of a mess. I need to do more research!

  3. jolene May 21, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    I saw the Trocks about a year ago, for my first Valentine’s day with my now-fiancee. I loved telling people that for Valentine’s day, we were going to see a drag ballet show (although it’s so much more than that!). It made my baseball-loving truck-driving fiancee a little uncomfortable, but he was willing to go (more likely because I was going to be there and that wasn’t going to change even if it was Valentine’s day!).

    And hands down, we both loved it. He loved the Swan Lake parody they did, the Dying Swan, and a rustic peasant dance (with a pas de deux featuring a tiny, diminuitive man and a towering love interest in a pink tutu in pointe).

    The amazing thing was, they closed with Paquita, and unlike the Youtube videos online, they did it completely straight. And it was an amazing display of pointe work and virtuosity. Sure, lines weren’t always as elegant and the feet weren’t as tight as the principal dancers at SF Ballet, but the sheer virtuosity and exuberance was amazing and yes, entertaining, and everybody loved it.

    We were considering doing a Valentine’s day trek to see the Trocks every year, but I think they were somewhere outside of the US this year. I’d love to make this is a Valentine’s tradition someday (if time and money permits).

    Thanks for posting, it makes me want to check out their DVDs. Their Swan Lake live is much funnier live, and I highly recommend it!

    • youdancefunny May 23, 2011 at 6:16 pm #

      What an awesome experience…thank you for sharing! I’m intrigued that they’re doing an unaltered Paquita now (and impressed!). Really hope to see them live sooner rather than later…I so missed out this year.

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