Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, founded by aficionados in 1974, has become a veritable institution. Established in New York, the company is only Monegasque by name; the offbeat, comical version of the classical ballet it offers, in parody and in drag, quickly found an echo in the media and among the public. Imagine a troupe of young men dressed in tutus and moving en pointe, with an irreproachable technique. Marginal at their beginnings, the “Trocks,” as they call themselves, are today undoubtedly on the cutting edge.
Why choose ballet when soccer and karate exist? In Italy, as in many places, becoming a ballet dancer is still taboo for men. Raffaele Morra, now a teacher and ballet master, trained in classical dance there and then worked there for about 10 years: “It wasn’t always easy, but my family and friends supported me,” says the former dancer, who won the Chase Johnsey Award, which is given to a queer dancer who has made an impact on the dance world.
The Italian was never destined for the Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. While thinking of turning to contemporary dance, the dancer was curious to attend a performance of the Trocks then on tour in Italy. The fantasy and freedom of the subject matter seduced him; the technical precision with which the dancers performed delighted him. What he sees opens his mind – he realizes that a part of him thirsts to entertain others. The joy and enthusiasm of the audience convinced him: “I decided to leave Italy and move to Brooklyn to join the company – that was in 2001. Engaged as a dancer, Morra took on leading roles including Odette and Paquita and choreographed Majisimas, a parody of the ballet Majísimo by Cuban choreographer Jorge García Pérez. The Italian quickly became the company’s resident rehearsal director and held both positions until 2017, when he hung up his slippers.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is like one big family. The dancers come from all over the world and it is sometimes difficult to generate a consensus to which everyone adheres with the same understanding, but Morra wants to support his dancers as much as possible, so that they can flourish and avoid injury. Typical male roles are synonymous with many jumps and no less innumerable partner lifts, requiring a lot of strength, power and muscular resistance. Ballerinas are expected to point and fly away gracefully. Trocks must speak both languages. Pointe work is accessible to performers who have had rigorous ballet training. As there is no principal dancer in the company, all the dancers work towards the success of the internationally recognized company. The rehearsal coach is strict: “I encourage everyone to work as hard as he can; everyone in time will have the opportunity to surpass himself. The performers cannot take any rehearsal lightly. They must be fully prepared for performances and able to withstand the company’s demanding schedule. “We regularly tour for more than two months at a time, and you have to be in good shape to be able to jump on your toes and do some entrechats after a 12-hour bus ride.”
A ballerina is a ballerina
Take note: Ballet is one of the noblest art forms and there are no sexual innuendoes in Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo shows, which are aimed at all kinds of audiences and even at families or children. Morra reminds us: “We don’t ridicule the way women are and we don’t want people to think that’s what we’re doing – evoking early 20th-century ballerinas, with the old-fashioned attitudes attached to them, is an art form in itself.” He is adamant: “A swan is a swan and a ballerina is a ballerina, whether a man or a woman moves under the tutu of tulle. The fact remains that, even in the age of gender fluidity, seeing knotty joints force themselves to grace and seeing hairy torsos emerge from sequined bustiers is still fun.
“The visual contrast makes you smile, and that’s the effect we’re looking for; look no further for our motivation,” says the native Italian. While Les Trocks offer crisp parodies, the company is above all a vibrant homage to Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, which was based in the small principality of Monaco until the choreographer’s death in 1929. The most emblematic solo in classical ballet is undoubtedly The Death of the Swan, choreographed by Michel Fokine for Anna Pavlova in St. Petersburg (1907). Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo made an easy and droll version of it, which became the emblematic work of the Trocks, who advocated the popularization of classical dance. The ballet master explains: “Odette, the delicate princess turned into a swan by the terrible sorcerer, is in constant agony – she looks like an ostrich that has swallowed crookedly and is shedding her feathers like an old pillow; it’s irresistible. Swan Lake Act II: Le Lac Des Cygnes will be presented in Montreal and, as complement to the program, the Canadian premiere of the Trocks version of Walpurgis’ Night, along with music by Charles Gounod.
“It’s obviously very important to fight homophobia, but that’s not the company’s primary mission,” says Morra. “Our idea is to affirm the freedom of everyone to speak and dance.” Trocks dancers put on shows to entertain and assert their creative freedom, because size 14-shoe guys are allowed to wear tutus and do pointe if they feel like it, and that’s what they preach. Over time, has Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo seen a change in the reception given to the company and its productions?
“Without a revolution, more and more people from a variety of audiences are certainly coming to see the show,” answers Morra, without hesitation. The Trocks phenomenon has also become part of popular culture: Canadian Bobbi Jo Hart’s film Rebels on Pointe was shown at several festivals before being broadcast by the documentary channel of the CBC (2018), where the former dancer is featured. Although the drag label doesn’t totally suit it, the troupe also participated last fall in the picturesque Drag Queen race organized by the famous RuPaul in New York City. “Freedom is about being who you are and that’s what counts – with fun and audience enjoyment!”