Trocks away for male ballet divas

Trocks Swan Lake
Trocks Swan Lake

AT first glance it seems to be just like any other professional ballet company pre-show warm up class…except all the dancers at the barre are men.

You can’t help notice either that several of them are wearing pink satin pointe shoes, not the normal footwear for any company’s male dancers.

Then one of the ensemble – Chase Johnsey, all relaxed Florida charm – walks across the stage in a tutu and the clearer picture begins to emerge.

For this is a dance company like no other, the world famous Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where behind every outrageous diva there’s the man who made her.

It’s a joke that works on several levels, the simplest being that the Trocks – as they are known by their fans – are an OTT pastiche of every ageing touring Russian classical ballet company you ever saw.

Then there’s the odd mix of high camp and masculinity – and if that means hairy chests emerging from glittering bodices then so be it.

On another level, it’s pure Vaudeville, complete with slapstick, prat falls, and over-the-top gags at the expense of the strict conventions of ballet.

But then, rather oddly perhaps, there are moments when the dance is taken extremely seriously and there’s no doubting at all that even when they’re playing for laughs, the Trocks genuinely do know an Arabesque from a Pas de Chat. The total commitment to making it look right its something that is clearly very important to Trocks artistic director Tory Dobrin, who first joined the company as a dancer in 1980, just six years after the Trocks’ first off-Broadway appearance in New York.

“The 1970s were a completely different time,” Tory recalls. “The dancers for the most part were not really dancers at all, they were actors and comedians who had movement skills.”

“And there wasn’t a lot of drag going on back then so it was completely new and the guys were funny and outrageous – but I think the audience would have cheered if one of the dancers got up on pointe back then!”

As the company began to leave New York and go on the road to great acclaim, though, it became increasingly clear that the concept would have to develop – which is about the time that Tory himself joined the team as a keen young dancer.

“I didn’t have a plan – I was having fun every day so I just stayed with it and here I am 30 years later.”

It’s obvious that Tory’s passion for the Trocks remains as great as ever, particularly as he works constantly to maintain the fine but extremely important balance between great dance and big laughs.

“It’s always the dilemma, too much slapstick or too much serious dance,” he concedes.

“My motto is always a little bit of everything for everybody – that’s the balance I’m always trying to achieve.”

It’s clear just from looking around the audience that the Trocks have a wide appeal, reaching out to both gay and straight, lovers of dance and lovers of comedy.

“We don’t think about things in terms of girl and boy roles,” Tory explains.

“They’re just guys dancing roles that women would normally dance – and when I’m asked if it’s a drag act, I always have to remember not to take offence.

“Some of the dancers are not as masculine as others but they don’t approach their roles as women but as who they are, as guys.

“And the issue for us is always, everywhere we go, to try to do the best possible programme so the audience has a really enjoyable time.”

What started as a small American company is now a truly international concern, with dancers from Argentina, South Africa, Spain, France, Canada, Israel, Australia, Mexico and Italy added to the American mix

The intimacy of the company remains unchanged, though, just a team of dancers living out of touring trunks, with Tory insisting that his company office is wherever he happens to be able to switch on his laptop.

“Really I just want the audience to continue to enjoy what we are doing and for the company to enjoy what we are doing.

“Of course we have to change things so we don’t become stale but I know how to stop that happening.

“If we had tons of money I have a whole list of ballets I would love to be coming in but part of our charm and appeal is that we’re supposed to be this dusty Russian touring company and if we try to upgrade too much I do believe a part of our charm will be dissipated.

“So as long as the show is good and the dance is good and the comedy is real that’s the direction I want to go in.”

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo comes to the Lyceum on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the Danceworks UK spring season.