The Trocks, Dance Consortium, autumn 2022 tour Swan Lake

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo: Swan Lake

Special £15 ticket offer when you use code BN1TROCKS for any seat allocation. Link here

Not all rebels wear leather jackets or break the law. Some can be found in tutus, adding a slyly comedic twist to some of the most recognisable theatrical dance classics. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are unconventional, powerful and thoroughly captivating; staging standards like Swan Lake, The Nutcracker or Vivaldi Suite as you’ve never seen them before. “It’s an all-male comedy ballet company,” says Creative Director, Tory Dobrin. “Each of those words carry the same amount of weight. The nice thing about it is that it can appeal to just about anyone.”

“Apart from maybe the conservative, religious far-right,” he adds with a big laugh. “But, theatre-goers love it, dance people love it, comedy fans love it, kids love it and LGBTQ people love it. The appeal is quite wide.” Founded in 70s New York, just after the Stonewall Riots, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo offered a platform for dancers underrepresented in classical ballet due to gender identity, sexual orientation or ethnicity. Over the last four decades the company has taken its polished parodies of classical ballets onto stages around the world. Boldly defying classical ballet’s conventional gender classification with powerful en pointe and enchanting en travesti, their gentle subversion has gone from a drag insurgency to mainstream sensation.

Dobrin says it can offer a terrific introduction to ballet. “Not to participate in stereotyping, but a woman who loves ballet can bring their husband who hates it, because he would be interested in the comedy and the colour of it all. It’s a fun show.” Most dance companies have to fulfil a limiting obligation to the public, meeting expectations of what the company is about and what it should present. Whether it’s a single choreographer or a full company, they usually need to offer something which will be traditional, interesting or worthy. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (or The Trocks, as they’ve been dubbed by their fans) don’t suffer such constraints. “What we’re trying to do is entertain the public, so we devise programmes with lots of different elements, like costuming, personalities, music, styles… the most important thing is – will the performance work for the public?” It’s an almost unique way of thinking for a company of their stature. Offstage, the company’s education and engagement programs allow them to engage communities and redefine expectations of ballet and its intersection with gender roles and identity.

This diversity means there isn’t really such a thing as an ‘average The Trocks dancer’. The company does seem to attract performers from the fringes of the form. “There are not that many guys, at the moment, who want to dance en pointe. And there aren’t that many guys in classical ballet who are comedians. It tends to attract a ‘serious’ type of person. We garner in the class clowns of the ballet. Dancing on point has its challenges.” Within ballet, the largest difference between the genders (body types excepted) is that the women start training earlier. They develop a sense of delicacy about their craft, in a constant search to give the impression of defying gravity. “Just as if you’re a writer, and you just start writing when you’re older, it takes you time to hone your craft. But if you’ve been writing since you were a teenager, by the time you get to middle age, you have your craft honed. It’s the same thing with point work in ballet. Girls are expected to have a sense of finesse, and although we’re going for that we don’t often achieve it.” Part of what is attractive to their audiences is the ‘blunt instrument’ point work and the strong and aggressive aesthetic which is brought to the stage. Only tradition dictates that girls don’t do double pirouettes and the boys don’t perform fouetté turns. But everyone learns the same set of steps.

The Trocks, Dance Consortium, autumn 2022 tour Swan Lake

Dobrin has gone from being a dancer with The Trocks, to nurturing their artistic vision. He says the whole company has seen a lot of changes through the years, and there is a responsibility to honour the original concept. From a performer’s point of view, it would be nice to experiment with a lot of different choreographies and styles. “I know our audience isn’t looking for those. They want the classical ballets, catchy tune music, the colourful characters, so we try to remain faithful to that.” Obviously, some evolution comes with each new artist passing through their community. The Trocks don’t hold big auditions as it’s considered cruel. “Nowadays, I’ll get an email form a dancer who wants to audition, so I’ll have them come and take a class. If I’m interested, I’ll ask them to come back a few times. You can tell within the first five minutes of the barre if they have good enough training to handle the material. When you go into the centre-work, you can tell within two minutes.” The Trockadero guys are all very friendly, and like it when people come in to audition. Even if it just temporarily breaks the insular nature of training, performing and touring as a close-knit unit.

“They’re welcoming and fun with a new person. So, I look to see how new people function with the other dancers during class. I’m looking for an easy smile, but a serious approach to work. I also look to see if they’re muscling their way to the front.” Not all traditions are being trampled on. There’s still protocol which dictates newer dancers stand at the back. Occasionally the company see auditions from extremely shy people, who’ll often be the most outrageous when performing. “We want a variety of everything. Right now, the thing that is popular is diversity – in dance companies and everything else. We’ve always been diverse. We’ve always had every kind of shape, colour and attitude, and even a few straight guys. I don’t take into consideration anything apart from if they’re a decent dancer and can integrate into the group.”

Now The Trocks are heading out on tour again, bringing a dynamic splash of colour to venues across the UK – including Brighton Dome on Fri 23 – Sat 24 Sept. Dobrin is dismissive of my concerns about keeping a ballet company fit and engaged while on a gruelling schedule on the road. Simply, dancers like to dance. They love to take classes and work on new material. “When we’re on the road, we’ll go in about 3pm. We don’t go in earlier, because the theatre and our technical crew is setting up. Then we take class for about 1 ½ hours. Then we do spacing, where we put the ballets and the people onstage, so everyone is comfortable with the new spaces. If all of this is taken care of, we rehearse a ballet which we’re doing later on down the road, so we can get it onstage. Then we do the show at 7.30. Basically… they’re working from 3.30pm until 10pm.” Each dancer oversees their own fitness, but none of them want to go onstage unprepared. There’s no room for a substandard performance.

Like many forms of dance, ballet offers a universal language. Movement can portray anger, joy, fear and excitement. It transcends cultures, gestures and dynamics allowing audiences to instantly interpret what’s happening within each piece’s narrative. With their comedy, The Trocks manage to add another layer on top of this understanding. “The music helps. These catchy tunes from the 1800s, like Swan Lake and Don Quixote… it’s upbeat. So, it helps the lightness. Once you have that, ballet has a lot of characters. And a lot of comedy is character based. So, I think they blend perfectly well together.” People who love traditional ballet tend to embrace its serious elements and whilst there are comedic inflections, it tends to attract a more staid audience. “It’s like if you go into a museum and look at a bunch of Renaissance paintings and you have a favourite, then you go to a modern art museum, and you see all the hyper-modern. It takes a special kind of person who really loves both. That’s why we do well because we manage to marry the two forms.”

The company has become something of a dance phenomenon, participating in dance festivals and tours across the world. Performing a full repertoire of ballet and modern dance, with faithful renditions of classical and original works. The comedy comes from exaggeration, portraying swans, princesses and exotic creatures with honesty and power. It’s a playful enhancement of the form, rather than a blunt parody. “Our programmes are made of several small pieces. We generally open with a white ballet like Sawn Lake Act II, and close with a big classical ballet. In-between we do these smaller works.” He likens it to preparing a meal. You don’t want to have nothing but protein or too many carbohydrates. They try to make a balanced performance with different kinds of colours, music and personalities.

“We’re not a museum. Things are never set in stone. We have at least two or three casts, and these dancers are encouraged to develop their own kind of comedy.” You could see two nights in a row, and if different people were doing the roles, find a different take on the same material. “The steps don’t change, but the comedy does. If you had Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen, they’d do the material completely different. Just like if you Hermione Gingold and Jennifer Saunders. That’s sort of like us.”

Dobrin admits to occasionally standing on the stairways in venues, just as everyone is walking out, so he can listen to the comments. “They’re often in really good moods, it’s not like a five-hour opera when everyone runs out. They usually say: ‘I never expected the dancers to be so good.’ That’s the important thing. It’s like at a party, when someone’s telling a lot of jokes and everyone is laughing, it develops an element of good cheer. The audience is enjoying that, and so do the dancers. It’s collective good cheer, so that’s what we’re going for.”

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo perform Swan Lake Act II and selected works at Brighton Dome on Fri 23 – Sat 24 Sept

The Trocks, Dance Consortium, Les Sylphides, photo © Zoran Jelenic

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