Raffaele Morra does not shave his chest, even though his professional wardrobe includes pointe shoes, a golden tiara, and yards of fluffy white tulle. For someone used to the traditional staging of classical ballets, it may be jolting to see a hairy, um, décolletage nestled into a frilly white Swan Lake costume, or to watch the uniquely defined musculature of male quadriceps peeking out from under a tutu while whipping through 32 fouettés. But the all-male company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo makes it work.
"The Trocks," as they're commonly known, use gender and artistic stereotypes as raw material for technically mind-blowing and hilariously entertaining parody. They have a strong grasp of the art of ballet, classical training that has landed many of them leading roles in world-class companies, and a deep passion for the works they perform—and sometimes intentionally butcher—for audiences around the world.
If you're lucky enough to have a ticket for one of the three almost-sold-out performances this week at Meany Hall, expect to see freakishly entertaining first-class ballet. If it's not in the stars for you, get thee to YouTube, take in some clips, and pounce on these tickets next time the Trocks roll through town. Our fair city doesn't sell out dance performances very often—but when we do, we know it's for a damn good reason.
This isn't your average presentation of Swan Lake excerpts and Bach concertos—this is comedy, artistic commentary, damn good ballet, and expertly contrived and executed theatrics. Above all, it's a superb lesson in what dancers can do. From the perspective of someone who hasn't seen a lot of dance, or who remembers only the bigger moments of the most popular ballets—Sugar Plum Fairy and Swan Queen solos, etc.—it may seem that ballerinas get to do all the dramatic and complicated things while male dancers mostly lift ladies and carry them around the stage. But danseurs, especially those with classical ballet training, harbor a uniquely beautiful gift: the ability to combine masculine strength with the grace of balletic movement as they execute leaps and turns, string together minute dance steps, and lift those leggy chicks (or in this case, those leggy dudes) high in the air.
I asked Morra how the technical and artistic awesomeness of the all-male ensemble melds with the en travesti gimmick. Was this drag with a classical ballet bent? "Oh no!" he said. "We are not drag, because we do not try to be women. We keep the male technique and do girls' variations, but we jump as high as we can. It's a transformation."
That transformation involves more than donning a tutu and a silken hairpiece—these men must become adept at intricate footwork en pointe. Female dancers typically get their first pointe shoes around age 11 and spend the rest of their adolescence learning how to dance in them. Luckily for the Trocks, more and more men are encouraged to train in pointe shoes as a strengthening exercise—men dancing en pointe isn't as much of a leap for new members as it was when the company was founded in the early 1970s.
This week at Meany Hall, they'll perform excerpts from Swan Lake featuring a Swan Queen who sheds feathers as she flits and turns about the stage. The Trocks will also present Go for Barocco, which parodies the stark, enigmatic choreography of American ballet legend George Balanchine's Concerto Barocco, seen this past March at Pacific Northwest Ballet. Go for Barocco builds on the technically challenging footwork and partnering sequences of Balanchine's original piece but brilliantly turns it on its head by highlighting Balanchine's almost absurd levels of austerity.