By CB Adams
Let’s dispatch with the most obvious misconception one might have upon first encountering the name Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, which bills itself as the “World’s Foremost All-male Comic Ballet Company.” At first glance, this might seem like a novelty act, like the Harlem Globetrotters in tutus, RuPaul’s Drag Race On Pointe or Dame Edna Everage Does A Derriére. Or, in Chuckles the Clown parlance, “A Little Song. A Lot of Dance. Just a Spritz of Seltzer Down Your…Tutu.”
But what the audience at the nearly full Touhill Performing Arts Center on Saturday, April 16 discovered – if they didn’t already know – is that a “Trocks” performance is much more than a drag ballet. So, let’s just call it what it truly was: a night of innovative, beguiling, impressive ballet sprinkled liberally with spot-on comic moments that were way more Keaton and Chaplin than Divine and Coccinelle.
And that may be one of the best things about the Trocks – the amount of sheer athleticism and poise required of the male dancers to balance on toes as swans, sylphs, water sprites, romantic princesses and angst-ridden Victorian ladies. It reminds one of that old quote about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, except “backwards and in high heels.”
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo was founded in 1974 and, after appearances in more than 35 countries and 600 cities worldwide, continues its mission of performing polished parodies of classical ballets en pointe and en travesty. As the company approaches its 50th anniversary in two years, its reputation received a boost after the release of Ballerina Boys, a film by Chana Gazit and Martie Barylick, that aired on PBS’ American Masters. It is noteworthy that Saturday’s performance marked a first for the Trocks’ as they made their St. Louis debut as part of Dance St. Louis’ 2021-22 season.
Also noteworthy is “…the Trocks’ commitment to providing a stage for dancers often underrepresented in classical ballet due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, size, social class, race and ethnicity,” according to their mission statement “…As ambassadors of LGBTQ culture and acceptance, the Trocks remain committed to supporting, mentoring, and inspiring the next generation of LGBTQ performers and arts appreciators; supporting LGBTQ elderly and mentoring LGBTQ youth; and serving as an integral link to the history and traditions of LGBTQ performance.
The company’s education and engagement programs allow the company to extend the work it does on stage and engage communities in reimagining their expectations of ballet performance and its intersection with gender roles and identities.”
Saturday’s program consisted of three parts. The first was “Le Lac des Cygnes” (Swan Lake, Act II), the Trocks’ signature work, with music by Tchaikovsky, choreography after Lev Ivanovich Ivanov, costumes by Mike Gonzales and décor by Clio Young.
This was followed by a pas de deux in “ Vivaldi Suite” with music by Vivaldi, choreography after George Balanchine, costumes by Gonzalez and lighting by Kip Marsh. The evening concluded with the Spanish-influenced Majismas, from the 1885 opera Le Cid by Jules Massenet with staged and additional choreography by Raffaele Morra, costumes by Christopher Anthony Vergara and lighting by Jax Messenger.
It would almost be unfair to highlight any one of the Trocks because, to mix metaphors, the company has such a “deep bench” of fabulously talented ballet dancers. Their Trocks names include Maya Thickenthighya, Minnie Van Driver and Sascha Altschmerz. The program notes were as much fun to read as listening to the pun-filled names at the end of the old Car Talk radio show, such as the Russian chauffeur, Picov Andropov, and vacation specialist, Ivana Veekoff.
But who said reviews were fair? In addition to the deep bench, of special note was Takaomi Yoshino by way of Varvara Laptopova as the Queen of the Swans in Swan Lake. The Vivaldi Suite was performed seamlessly by Maxfield Haynes by way of Marina Plezegetovstageskaya and Ugo Cirri by way of William Vanilla. The entire Corps de Ballets in Majisimas was so effortlessly enthralling and entertaining that it was easy to focus on the performance itself with no concern that it was also a performance by only men. That takes some doing.
After a long standing ovation, the company treated the audience with a Rockettes-styled dance to “New York, New York.” At the Trocks St. Louis debut, it’s not hyperbole to assert that they came, they saw and they knocked it out of the park.
Here’s to hoping it won’t be another 48 years before they return. Start spreadin’ the news.