One performance only—Wednesday, April 17
by Rich Arenschieldt
For more than thirty years Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has been giving serious balletomanes heartburn, bringing dance masterworks to the brink of travesty, performing en travesti and on pointe. This all-male troupe, having toured five hundred cities, claims Houston as a favorite destination.
Tory Dobrin, artistic director who has thirty-three-year tenure with the Trocks (as they are known to many) says, “I’ve been dancing in a dress since 1980 and became artistic director for the company in the early nineties.”
Dobrin grew up in California, receiving his early training in Los Angeles. “In the seventies I moved to Houston, lived in Montrose, trained and, for a time, attended the Houston Ballet Academy. The city was very welcoming—everyone had such a positive attitude about living here.” Then, in 1980, Dobrin moved to New York just as The Trocks were auditioning dancers for a nine-week South American tour. “That sounded like it would be lots of fun, so off I went.”
Finding dancers to fit into plus-size toe shoes is easier than most people realize. “I never have to recruit dancers—they always find us,” Dobrin says. “Our audition process is similar to that of many companies. Since we only have about sixteen people in the group, we only look for people when we have a vacancy for some reason. For many dancers, timing is everything. Dancers who are interested take class with the company wherever we are rehearsing at the time—be it New York or on the road. I don’t like to see lots of dancers at once, but prefer to see individuals. I look for a dancer with excellent technique, which is discernible fairly fast. Also, I see how their personality meshes with the rest of the dancers. This is also pretty easy, as the dancers in the company are a very friendly group of guys. I want a team player, someone that respects those experienced professionals who have been in the company for several years. Obviously, a sense of humor is crucial, much of which is determined simply by how performers react to each other onstage.”
From its off-off Broadway beginnings, The Trocks have appeared on the world’s main stages and, to mainstream audiences as well, enduring organizationally when numerous other ballet companies have folded.
“What we have is so unique,” Dobrin says. “There are so many wonderful components that comprise us. As an all-male comedy ballet company, we draw the popularity of dance and comedy.” This unique fusion of highbrow aesthetic and lowbrow hilarity helps the Trocks to maintain worldwide popularity. “Though we have a corporate identity, we are at heart a group of stand-up comedians who happen to be ballet dancers. Stand-up comics want the audience to enjoy themselves. They thrive on audience response to what is happening onstage. At the same time, the dancers themselves are having a really great time. How we interpret these works combined with the skillful presentation we offer really speaks to audience in a truly unique and spirited way. We have never lost sight of what we are about—that’s one of the reasons we have maintained popularity for such a long time.”
When asked the proverbial question, “How many of your dancers are gay?” Dobrin reacts with a chuckle. “Perhaps the question should be how many aren’t? None,” he says. “The Trocks do two things male ballet dancers don’t: we dance on point…in a dress. I don’t think many straight guys grow up dreaming of being on their tiptoes in a tutu in front of thousands of people. When we were founded in New York in 1974, many of those members had been through Stonewall just five years earlier. Obviously, there are a lot of gay sensibilities in the show, given that we are a group of gay men. That said, the Trocks are the only gay professional theater company that has endured, flourished, and performed around the world.
“The breadth of audiences that have come to see us have expanded through the years as well,” Dobrin says. “When I joined the company in 1980, it was a radically different time. There were large parts of society who wouldn’t accept what we did, artistically or comedically. We just kept plugging away, and eventually people’s views and perspectives shifted. Things are so different now. We are examining equal rights with gay marriage, military service, and on many other fronts—living during a truly significant period in LGBT history.
“If you look at our audiences now, you will see a diverse cross-section of individuals—retired people, parents with young children—something we never saw—people who love theater, comedy, and dance. One of the most striking changes is that many people tell us that the show is a great entre into ballet for their kids who appreciate the highjinks and the skill required to accomplish them.”
The repertoire and style that the Trocks offer has remained essentially the same since the company’s inception. “The show has remained true to its roots,” Dorbin says. “Our audience and, in fact, society in general has changed tremendously.”
Amidst a worldwide whirlwind of change—fairies frolicking in frocks…a constant?
Society for the Performing Arts brings Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Wednesday, April 17, at 8 p.m. in Jones Hall
Tickets range from $35–$65 and can be purchased online at www.spahouston.org or by phone at 713/227-4772.
Rich Arenschieldt is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.