Keep on Trockin’

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos -

The en­sem­ble of dancers com­ing to Santa Fe to per­form at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter in­clude a woman who won a medal for bad taste, an­other who took a cor­re­spon­dence course in bal­let (and grad­u­ated!), and a grande dame of the stage whose most fa­mous work was Godzilla in Tights.

Th­ese dancers are not re­ally women. They’re men. In drag. And they dance on pointe and do splits and pay homage in equal mea­sure to Ru­dolf Nureyev and Red Skel­ton. Once again, Les Bal­lets Trock­adero de Monte Carlo is com­ing to Santa Fe, bring­ing its ver­sion of Swan Lake, its fa­mous take on La Vi­vandière, the Span­ish-fla­vored Ma­jisi­mas, and the satir­i­cal Pat­terns in Space. Ex­pect a prat­fall for ev­ery pas de deux.

The Trocks— as the group is af­fec­tion­ately known — formed in 1974 amid New York City’s vi­brant drag the­ater move­ment. The all-male cast, un­der the com­mand of artis­tic di­rec­tor Tory Do­brin, nicely bal­ances re­spect and rev­er­ence for the dance form with a sense of the ridicu­lous.

“Peo­ple usu­ally com­pare us to P.D.Q. Bach or that clas­si­cal pi­anist who did com­edy, Vic­tor Borge, or the Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ters,” Do­brin said by phone from New York City as the troupe pre­pared for a roughly 20-city tour of Amer­ica (af­ter which it plays Italy and Spain). “I don’t know what they’re ex­pect­ing — too much clown­ing. But we blend the com­edy with strong danc­ing, and I think peo­ple are as­tounded that the danc­ing is as good as it is.”

The dancers are well trained, as you can sur­mise by view­ing their ré­sumés on the com­pany’sWeb site, trock­adero.org. But separat­ing fact from fic­tion is a lit­tle trick­ier, for each mem­ber of the com­pany has mul­ti­ple stage per­sonas. Ida Nevasayneva (dancer Paul Ghis­elin in real life) is the one who got the bad-taste medal, Vera Tchumpakova (Roberto Lara) went the cor­re­spon­dence-course route, while Ka­te­rina By­chkova (Joshua Grant) did the Godzilla show.

Those lovely ladies, er, uh, lads, weren’t avail­able when Pasatiempo called, but Svelt­lana Lo­fatk­ina (dancer Fer­nando Me­d­ina Gal­lego)—“renowned for her por­trayal of sen­si­tive, tor­tured, neu­rotic ladies and other kvetches,” did take a mo­ment to speak with us. Gal­lego stud­ied in Barcelona and Madrid be­fore work­ing with the Bal­let de L’Opéra de Nice and the Bal­let Vic­tor Ul­late, among other com­pa­nies. He au­di­tioned for the Trocks about 12 years ago.

“I was in be­tween jobs wait­ing for my next con­tract to start in Hol­land when I saw an ad­ver­tise­ment for their show,” he re­called. “I went to see it and said, ‘ Wait a minute, this is it! I’ve been wast­ing my time— this is what I want to do!’ The Trocks mir­rored my love of bal­let and my nat­u­ral abil­ity as a clown. It was just a mat­ter of get­ting the pointe shoes on and prov­ing to the di­rec­tor that I was not scared.” He loves the fact that, if the per­form­ers mess up on­stage, no­body knows the dif­fer­ence. Many of those goofs end up stay­ing in the show as rou­tine bits of busi­ness.

Trocks mem­ber Da­vide Marongiu, or “Giusep­pina Zam­bellini,” also wanted to talk. Zam­bellini was up­staged by a cho­rus of danc­ing ele­phants in her na­tive Mi­lan. Full of um­brage, she left that com­pany and joined the Trocks. That’s the fic­tional story be­hind the char­ac­ter, but per­haps there’s more of her in Marongiu than the av­er­age au­di­ence

mem­ber might think. “I came to the com­pany think­ing that I would pretty much de­velop my on­stage per­son­al­ity,” said Marongiu, who stud­ied at the English Na­tional Bal­let School and the Amer­i­can Bal­let The­atre School. “But you ac­tu­ally end up just be­ing who you re­ally are. It’s not about mak­ing up a char­ac­ter; it’s about be­ing your­self.

“We re­ally are not mak­ing fun [of bal­let]; it’s a trib­ute to the grandeur of bal­let. We are try­ing to por­tray th­ese old Rus­sian bal­leri­nas and their life­long ded­i­ca­tion to a su­per-old art form, and it just looks funny. Reg­u­lar bal­let com­pa­nies, some­times they take them­selves too se­ri­ously. Clas­si­cal bal­let can get bor­ing. That’s why peo­ple come to see us— we’re more en­ter­tain­ing.”

Di­rec­tor Do­brin took the phone again. He echoed Marongui’s com­ments, say­ing that most dance com­pa­nies to­day just aren’t en­ter­tain­ing. “But if some­one from an­other com­pany ap­proached me about that [quote], I would say, ‘I never said that.’ ” Ap­par­ently Do­brin has an al­ter ego too.

Do­brin has been with the troupe since 1980. “When I joined, 100 years ago, it was a dif­fer­ent era,” he re­called. “To­day so­ci­ety is more ac­cept­ing and gay men are very comfortable with them­selves. Trock­adero is con­sid­ered a ca­reer choice, not some­thing that’s con­sid­ered a ca­reer wrecker— as it was when I joined.”

Do women ever try to join the troupe? They do! “But I say to them, ‘ You have to be able to lift the guys, be­cause we do re­verse gen­der roles.’ Most of our guys are 5’10” to 6’2”, and there’s not too many girls who want to try to lift a guy like that.”

The troupe wants well-trained dancers. It also wants peo­ple who like to do zany things, like kick a swan in the rear. Age doesn’t al­ways prove to be a bar­rier to job se­cu­rity with the Trocks. Do­brin paused to look over his dancers in re­hearsal and said, “There’s Robert Carter, who’s 35— he’s been with us 15 years. Fer­nando is 37; he’s been here 12 years.” Gal­lego said he hopes to stay with the Trocks as long as his body— and his visa— holds out.

Keep­ing the show fresh is not a con­cern for Do­brin. “I’m the type of per­son who eats the same break­fast ev­ery morn­ing for 20 years. I like to do the same thing over and over again, but we do new pieces, and I do change the cast­ing around.” He’ll try a comic rou­tine in front of an au­di­ence once, and if it doesn’t work, he gives it the ax.

Of course, guys dress­ing up like girls has been good for a laugh since the days of Shake­speare, as long as the cross­dressers don’t wind up in the women’s locker room (though that hap­pened with Rob­bie Coltrane and Eric Idle in Nuns on the Run). Bri­tish mu­sic-hall per­form­ers of the early 1900s — in­clud­ing Stan Lau­rel and Char­lie Chap­lin— re­lied on drag for a laugh. Oliver Hardy, Lou Costello, and Curly Howard all donned dresses to play women at one point in their film ca­reer, as did Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Skel­ton, and Cary Grant (re­mem­ber I Was a Male War Bride?).

And so, the comic tra­di­tion of toughs wear­ing tu­tus con­tin­ues with the Trocks. “We aim to please!” Do­brin said. “The au­di­ence is com­ing in, ticket prices are ex­pen­sive, so you can’t present some­thing to them that they don’t want to see or won’t en­joy.” He paused, then stressed that in the case of the Trocks, it’s re­ally im­por­tant to make sure the comic ma­te­rial is strong: “Have you ever been on stage in drag with eye­lashes and pointe shoes and no one is laugh­ing? You feel re­ally stupid.”

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