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To the Pointe: The Trocks performa lot fo difficult but graceful pointe work.

Men in Tights

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are more than fluffy skirts

By Marina Wolf

WHEN LES BALLETS TROCKADERO DE MONTE CARLO first tottered out on stage in 1974, funny men in dresses were still novel enough to bring in the crowds. But a dance company needs something else to keep them coming for 26 years. And for the dance-savvy audiences who come to the all-male classical ballet, the technical prowess and pointe work are what usually draws the applause.

Collectively, the 15 dancers of Les Ballets Trockadero--all men, all professionally trained--have the feet needed to support the weight of the classical ballet repertory, and to lift it into the realm of physical comedy and brilliant artistic parody.

At the start, says artistic director Tory Dobrin, their campy on-stage antics did not endear them to the critics, who took umbrage at the idea of spoofing their pure art. But audiences and even other dancers have always loved "the Trocks": recently, Darcey Bissell, the prima ballerina of the London Ballet, presented the whole company with flowers at the end of a performance.

And the critics have come to realize that Trockadero humor can only come from true fans of ballet. Who else would know the exact moments of comic potential in the choreography and iconography of the art form--the endless curtain calls, the tense on-stage dynamics, and the over-the-top tragedies? For example, The Dying Swan, a perennial favorite, ends up molting feathers all over the stage in a death scene that convulses both the swan and the viewers.

Dobrin insists that the comedy's real genius is more about character development than gender.

"I never think about it in terms of male bodies in female ballet roles," says Dobrin. "The steps you learn, whether you're in Les Ballets Trockadero or in the San Francisco Ballet, are simply steps. The characterizations are all based on emotions that a man or a woman would have. Yes, the costume is different. But once you get used to the costume and pointe shoes, you're developing a character. That isn't male or female, it's just a character."

For most of their audiences, though, the Trocks do bring up issues--of gender, art, illusion, and comedy. Substituting men for women in ballet is an amazingly effective, shorthand way of tweaking some of the supposedly fundamental truths about the dance. But Dobrin brushes away any attempt to analyze his company's impact on ballet.

"You just do what you do, and people hopefully come," he says. "It's not really that important. A cure for AIDS would be important. This is just a lot of fun."

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo perform Sat, Mar 4, at 8pm and Sun, Mar 5, at 2:30pm at Memorial Auditorium, Stanford. Tickets are $20-$32. For more information, call 650.725.ARTS.

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From the March 2-8, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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