By Bridgette M. Redman
EAST LANSING –
Five years after the Stonewall riots, a group of professional male dancers gathered in New York and decided to take drag performance to a new level. They formed Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, affectionately known as the Trocks, and launched a company that has grown in popularity in the nearly 40 years since its inception.
Who are they? They’re an all-male professional ballet troupe that parodies famous ballets with men performing en pointe, wearing tutus and showing that they can be ballerinas too.
As society has changed, so has their audiences. While they were once attended primarily by hardcore ballet fans and members of the gay community, they now see art lovers of all ages and stripes, according to its artistic director Tory Dobrin, who has been with the company since 1980.
“The audience has changed (since) the early ’80s when we got more of the crowd that was veering toward the fringe,” Dobrin said. “Now we get just about everybody, including children. We never had children in the ’80s. It’s not a kids’ show. It is a comedy dance show that really does appeal to everyone.”
They started off performing far off-Broadway in New York at late-night shows. Then came the critical acclaim and a company that grew to today’s size where they put on more than 150 shows all around the world every year. They’ve performed in 30 different countries and been featured in numerous television appearances as diverse as BBC specials and “Muppet Babies.”
They’ll be bringing their show to East Lansing’s Wharton Center Feb. 18, performing their signature work, “Swan Lake, Act II,” a modern ballet and a parody of the Cuban National Ballet.
“What’s important is that the audience sees a variety of different personalities,” Dobrin said. “‘Swan Lake’ is visual – everyone knows the music and story – so we have fun with all of it. The Cuban National Ballet has a lot of flair. Certain parts (of the program) are campy and fun and colorful, while the last is a more hardcore parody of a dance style.”
Dobrin resists calling the performance a gay show, as it does not address gay issues, though they do address gender issues in dance.
“It really came out of the Stonewall movement and gay liberation,” Dobrin explained. “In New York there was a lot of experimentation with drag, and the company really came out of that movement. The drag element has been associated with gay sensibility. In our own way, we have brought a piece of gay culture all around the world.”
He points out they are welcomed all around the world and in even the most conservative areas of the United States. They’ve never once been booed or even had people protest their appearance.
“We’re all connected by television and the Internet. Everyone is very familiar with all kinds of entertainment possibilities,” Dobrin said. “The people who might not enjoy what we do don’t come. We get the audience that will enjoy themselves, and they do.”
As a comedy ballet company that uses drag as one of its vehicles for comedy, the troupe is filled with dancers who have excellent technical skills and are good comedians. The combination makes for a show that can appeal to people regardless of their background or artistic knowledge.
“We use ballet and comedy,” he said. “If a woman likes ballet and she has children that are studying ballet and a husband who hates ballet and a mother who doesn’t go to the theater much and a gay brother or sister – all of them can really enjoy the show a lot,” Dobrin said. “It’s a comedy – a fun, professional show.”
‘Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo’
8 p.m. Feb. 18 ($25-38)
Wharton Center, East Lansing