It’s been 40 years since they performed their first off-off-Broadway shows to delighted audiences. Today, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is known around the world for its comic approach to classical ballet. Next Tuesday, April 8, the all-male company makes its long-awaited return to Santa Barbara.
Those familiar with “the Trocks,” as they’re affectionately known, will have mental images of men in tutus, toe shoes, and elaborate stage makeup. Yet the soul of this company isn’t in the campy costumes or gender reversals, says artistic director Tory Dobrin.
“It’s really about using dance to bring out the comedy in these classical ballets,” Dobrin explained via phone from New York last week. “We may be inadvertently taking issue with gender roles, but that’s not really the point of the company.”
Instead, Dobrin explained, the Trocks exploit traditions of comic stage performance: vaudeville, pantomime, and slapstick, exaggerating the already stylized conventions of classic ballet to the point of parody without ever losing the high level of technical artistry for which they’re known. Toeing the line between high art and parody isn’t easy, and the 14 members of the Trocks are all highly skilled performers with backgrounds in classical ballet and a flair for the funny.
“It’s a great job to have,” Dobrin noted. “We work a lot, we tour all around the world, and it’s fun. Male dancers who have a sense of humor want to join the company.”
It’s no surprise that the Trocks enjoy cult status on the East Coast and West Coast of the United States, but Dobrin says they’re equally well loved in the South, as well as in East Asia.
“People are people,” he said. “They respond to things that are exciting.” He acknowledged, though, that culture determines how an audience expresses their enthusiasm.
“I would say that the English-language cultures with our tradition of the music hall and comedy shows like Saturday Night Live tend to have more of a boisterous audience,” he said. “In Asian countries, the audiences tend to be very polite through the show and then give a big applause at the end.”
One of the many qualities that sets the Trocks apart from most traditional ballet companies is the fact that men dance en pointe, a skill typically reserved for women. And Santa Barbara audiences will certainly get to see the Trocks en pointe in this program, which includes their signature send-up of Swan Lake’s second act, as well as versions of dances by American ballet great Balanchine, modern dance master Cunningham, and French and Russian ballet traditions.
“We really try to mix it up with different dance styles, costuming, and music,” Dobrin explained. “Our Swan Lake is our campiest, most accessible work, but it’s also very historically accurate. It’s actually a great one for introducing kids to ballet.”
Whether you’re a complete dance novice or a balletomane, the Trocks’ wide-ranging humor is designed to appeal to pretty much everyone. Judging from their four decades in the business, their universal appeal hasn’t faded.
What makes for such longevity in a comic troupe is a matter of opinion, but Dobrin doesn’t think it’s really the novelty of guys in tutus, dudes in toe shoes, or muscular men mincing about like wood sprites; it’s really about the quality of the productions.
“The dancing is all really sensational,” he said. And when the dancing’s this good, a little gender bending is almost beside the point.
UCSB Arts & Lectures brings Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo to the Granada on Tuesday, April 8, at 8pm. For tickets, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu. For more about the Trocks, visit trockadero.org or find them on Facebook.