OK, guys in tutus ... but they REALLY can dance
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
The Trocks are men in tutus who dance, prance and have a blast with classic ballet; they bring a comedic presence to a serious craft and deliver faithful renderings of "Swan Lake" as poetically as their female counterparts.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, as the 15-member company is called, will give two performances at Hawai'i Theatre this weekend. The guys maintain the esprit of Russian ballerinas with all the frou-frou of classic and romantic ballet, occasionally skewered with deliberate and exaggerated moves and faux pas (a ballerina taking a spill, for example) that result in a delicious bonbon of bungled beauty audiences adore.
"I think the reason it's fun is that we never have lost sight of what the company is all about," said Tory Dobrin, a one-time danseur who has been the company's artistic director since the early '90s.
"We take ballet, make it entertaining, and it's a very good show — and part of the appeal is if we have fun, the audience has fun," Dobrin said in phone interview from Arizona, where the dancers were preparing a performance. The company arrived earlier this week for shows on Maui and the Big Island.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, said Dobrin, is "a mom-and-pop store that three of us manage." It's a smallish organization now, as it was then, when launched in 1974 — to hurrahs from an in-the-know crowd — in an obscure loft theater in New York's meatpacking district.
It took a quarter of a century — until 1999 — for The Trocks to trek uptown to Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park, where the company performed as part of an "Out of Doors Festival" that attracted the largest crowd ever for a Lincoln Center endeavor and established the company as a bona-fide "find."
The show appeals to everyone of every persuasion. "We have a very diverse audience; dancers, gays, straights, theater people, comedy people — ours is a mixed crowd," said Dobrin.
To create the illusion of the classic ballerina, the dancers are bedecked in the customary ballerina regalia: wigs, eyelashes, tiara and makeup. With the tutus, the dancers don pointe shoes and move with expected grace. Sometimes. Sometimes not.
It's easy to forget that these are men in drag because some could pass for the real thing. But The Trocks don't do drag.
"I guess drag depends on the venues, and there are many clubs where there's drag shows," said Dobrin. "We're in theaters. We satirize ballerinas. We're men being characters. Big characters."
Dobrin likens the Trocks to kabuki and kyogen, Japanese classic theater, where men often play both male and female roles. "There are parallels," he said.
With The Trocks, there's really no pretense; these are guys with extensive ballet discipline, they tackle faithful renditions from familiar ballet repertoire and they also explore conceits of the genre.
So it's part mystery, part tradition, part exploration.
"You can tell some are men; we have a couple of very tall people, and you'll notice," said Dobrin. "But when I was dancing, my own mother didn't recognize me. If your mom doesn't recognize you, you're doing good."
Most characters are female; a few are male. The audience, like the cast, includes straights and gays. "But we're not a gay show, though there is a gay sensitivity," Dobrin said.
But men acting like women pose some obvious visual problems; they have stubble, hairy legs and chests, and other physical attributes that women don't.
So, do the men shave?
Yes and no, said Dobrin.
"In 1980, when I joined the company as a dancer, no one shaved," said Dobrin. "Now, the young guys shave, gays and straights. They shave more to be part of the contemporary world. But generally, we ask them not to shave. But really, we only have one company rule: Show up on time."
Shave legs, face and chest?
What about underarms?
"I prefer that they don't; everybody (in the audience) knows we're not trying to fool the audience. But one guy, Chase Johnsey, who's young, looks like a woman or a young girl; I have asked him to shave (his armpits). He was named by Dance Magazine as one of 25 to watch."
Johnsey, 20, typifies the new breed of Trocks, starting his dance career with the company instead of joining during the twilight years, when a career is ending. In The Trocks, his 32 fouettes en tournant (rapid spins, on one foot with bended knees, the other leg whirling with repetitive spins) is legendary.
Each company member plays several characters with inventive names, alluding to classic dance divas: Nadezhda Bogdownova, Katarina Bychkova, Lariska Dumb-chenko, Ida Nevasayneva, Olga Supphozova, Boris Nowitsky and Tatiana Youbetyabootskaya. There are other playful monickers, too, like Minnie Van Driver.
Would Dobrin resume donning tutu and dancing again — or as a fill-in?
"Hell would have to freeze over," he opined. "I have a goatee and I like it; I wouldn't shave it now. But it's fun, yes, to dance, so it's hard to leave that; so people tend to stick around. A 10-year run is not unusual.
"We do 125 shows a year, over 35 to 40 weeks, and we go to fun places, some of the time. Like Hawai'i. After Honolulu, we go home and then two weeks later, we're off to Russia," said Dobrin. Moscow and St. Petersberg, and Kiev, Ukraine — where ballet is king — are among the stops in March.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.