Thirty-five years ago, a bunch of well-chiselled men in tulle performed to a sold-out crowd in a New York meat-packing district. Sounds like just another Saturday night at a gay club, right? Wrong.

This October, that same company of men known as Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a little older, wiser and a lot more renowned for their characteristically cheeky take on ballet classics, will be hitting Australian stages as part of a world tour to commemorate the company’s 35th birthday.

The Trocks, as they are affectionately dubbed by fans, are not just a bunch of hot men in tights -” though they are definitely that. They are consummate dancers and comedians who launch into classic dances such as those from Don Quixote and Swan Lake with technique, poise and a deliciously subversive take on casting.

In a Trock ballet, all roles are danced by men, including those usually given to prima ballerinas.  Having toured most of the globe, including taking their wares to such far-flung locations as Siberia and Johannesburg, the Trocks have carved out a space for themselves in the professional dance arena as respected and adored performers parodying and challenging conventional ideas of ballet.

With 15 boys in skirts on stage, this show sounds like another drag act, and could easily lapse into, at best, a sparkling showcase of contemporary faggotry. But although the all-male company relishes the opportunity to lampoon the prima ballerinas of ballet’s Golden Age, these dancers are universally adored by diverse audiences all around the world.

Producer Andrew Kay attributes the Trocks’ appeal to their ability to connect with a wide range of audiences.

The Trocks have a very broad demographic, he told Sydney Star Observer.

You have the ballet fans because they’re so technically brilliant, people who go and see them to witness the grace and the beauty and the technical excellence of what they’re doing; there’s a massive gay market and there’s a general public market because they’re so funny.  They really cover every base and it is part of the genius of what they do.

Attracting seasoned ballet lovers as well as those who have never witnessed this so-called high art before, the Trocks have forged a global following drawing on all levels of the community -” gay, straight, young and old.

These brawny men performing as petite ballerinas and prima donnas are able to lure in their audiences with skewed versions of ballet classics such as the Dying Swan, where the swan flaps around the stage in the throes of exaggerated death and misery, feathers moulting, all the while trying to be outshone by the other dancers on stage.

But why are young, classically trained dancers so eager to join this company? Kay believes it has something to do with the opportunity for dancers to tackle the entire canon of ballet roles, irrespective of gender.

It’s because they get to dance the female waltz, Kay said.

They get to wear the tutus and go on point and perform the best roles in ballet which are written for women. Now the guys are taking over.  We now need an all-female male ballet company.

While this comic gender bending underpins their performances and no doubt directly informs their global popularity (the Trocks consistently sell out shows worldwide, particularly in Japan and the UK), the company is also committed to dance as an art form, and seeks to push the boundaries of conventional interpretations of the classical repertoire.

We are not trying to emulate female dancers, artistic director Tory Dobrin said when last in Australia. The male dancer in ballet is really known for an aggressive attack and that’s how we try and approach these roles, so just because we’re in a tutu doesn’t mean we’re not male and doesn’t mean we’re not expressing different kinds of masculinity.

The Trocks actively lampoon these gender roles and encourage the audience to laugh alongside them. Kay continues that this is actually a very sophisticated approach to putting on these ballets and isn’t simply a case of hamming it up.

[The Trocks] are actually doing it incredibly affectionately and are technically efficient … it’s not just a sight gag, he said.

It’s not slapstick. It is beautifully, technically brilliant ballet that’s just done with a slight twist of humour.

An enduring institution, the Trocks were an inspired bunch of men who wanted to get together and dance both classical and modern ballet, while highlighting the innate comic nature underlying these classic choreographies -” these incidental accidents and manoeuvres occur when grown men take to women’s costume, dancing in traditional styles on point.

When Dobrin joined the Trocks in 1980 he was told, don’t join, you’re going to ruin your career. How wrong they were. Today, as the Trocks gear up to tour Australia again, the company boasts its own Aussie member, Christopher Lam, dancing as his alter ego, Nadezhda Bogdownova.

Last seen in Sydney in 2005, the Trocks will return, this time including visits to Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane.  Australian audiences will be treated to their wayward interpretation of the romantic ballet Giselle and George Ballanchine-inspired Go For Barocco, as well as  two brand new works, Cuban-flavoured Majisimas and a tribute to legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham, with Patterns In Space.

With the advent of reality TV shows focused on dance, such as Dancing With the Stars, Kay predicts that Australian audiences will respond very well to the upcoming Trocks tour, as they have in the past.

The Australian buyer is having a huge year in 2009. Dance has become part of everyday life through [reality TV] programs and we’re incredibly lucky to have good dance companies in Australia. We have an educated public, he said.

info: Tickets on sale 10 August. Visit www.trockadero.org.

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