Chicago Sun-Times


Trocks serious about putting humorous spin on classical dance


While convention­al classical ballet extols beauty, grace and etherealit­y, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo delights in pratfalls, missteps and general ungainline­ss — all in the pursuit of laughs. It’s a formula that has proven wildly successful for nearly 50 years.

The Trocks, as they are known, are an all-male company. The highly skilled and extensivel­y trained dancers take turns in the traditiona­lly female roles, wedging themselves into frilly tutus and oversized pointe shoes — an inherently funny sight in the world of traditiona­l ballet.

“It’s a fun show,” said artistic director Tory Dobrin.

“It’s as simple as that. You leave the theater feeling good, and, so, we tend to sell a lot of tickets, and when you sell a lot of tickets, the theaters want to have you back.”

The 15-member company, which is based in New York and not Monte Carlo, as its grandiose name suggests, will perform Saturday at the Auditorium Theatre. Although it has been seen in recent years in such surroundin­g towns as Glen Ellyn, Joliet and Skokie, this visit will be the Trocks’ first appearance in Chicago since 2010.

The company was founded in 1974 and got a boost right away when noted dance critic Arlene Croce extolled it in a New Yorker feature. Two years later, an appearance at the University of California at Berkeley led to bookings at other major college performing arts series across the country. It now presents 80-120 performanc­es a year.

With the Trocks, virtually anything is fodder for a joke. That’s obvious even with the longtime fictional personas that the dancers step into when they join the troupe — names like Nadia Doumiafeyv­a, William Vanilla and Eugenia Repelskii.

While the Trocks honor the technique and essence of ballet, the company loves to spoof everything about it, from its European origins to its formality and prissiness. One of the works on its Chicago program, for example, is “Go for Barocco,” a take-off on famed choreograp­her George Balanchine and his revered 1941 neoclassic­al ballet, “Concerto Barocco.”

“Ballet is very silly,” said Duane Gosa, a dancer with the company since 2013, “and a lot of these stories are silly. So, it’s really fun to over-exaggerate it a little bit and bring some comedy to it.”

And, of course, there is no shortage of slapstick and vaudeville-style humor. Both of which are richly in evidence in the company’s now-famous or, perhaps more accurately, infamous take on the Act 2 of “Swan Lake,” probably the most beloved of all the great classical ballets.

In this version, which will be presented in Chicago, almost everything that can go wrong does. The Prince drops Odette during their duet. A dancer in the ensemble finds herself in the wrong line and has to dash back into place. Von Rothbart, an evil wizard, grows tired and has to stop and catch his breath.

There are occasional mishaps that occur during rehearsals and even in performanc­es, and the Trocks just go with it.

“We get a lot of the comedy that way,” Drolin said. One time during a rehearsal for “Paquita,” another work on the Chicago program, one of the “ballerinas” was dropped during a lift without injury, and “she” ordered the offender to drop and do push-ups as a jokey punishment. “So, the guy started doing push-ups, and we were all laughing, and we left it in, and now it’s in the ballet,” he said.

It was exactly the opportunit­y to take part in such antics that drew Gosa, a native of Chicago’s South Side, to ballet. “I don’t think there is any other way I would ever want to do ballet,” he said. “It’s more fun this way.”

He and the other Trockadero dancers have received the same intensive training that any other ballet dancer goes through, but in some ways what they do is more challengin­g.

“They are in pointe shoes,” Drolin said. “They’re in tutus and a wig. They have to dance these hard steps, and they really have to pay attention to what the audience is doing, and then you have to be sure that the jokes are coming off.”

Performers are encouraged to bring their own personalit­ies to the characters they embody, and Gosa has reveled in this freedom. He appears under the monikers of Vladimir Legupski and Helen Highwaters, and the Black dancer describes his take on the latter as a mix of Lucille Ball and Regina King.

“I try to stay Black with my humor but also [add] some old comedy with big facial expression­s and things like that,” he said. “That’s the fun part, getting to play around with that.”

 ?? MARCELLO ORSELLI ?? The company of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo Tockadero in “Paquita.”
MARCELLO ORSELLI The company of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo Tockadero in “Paquita.”

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