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    World’s Premiere All-Male Drag Ballet Company Mixes High Art with Delicious Satire

    Jacques D’Aniels. Nadia Doumiafeyva. Nina Enimenimynimova. These legendary (faux!) stars of the ballet, along with their full company of danseurs extraordinaires in Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, will return to Cal Performances in Berkeley on March 14–15 for savagely funny satire married with seriously stunning ballet.

    From Off-Off Broadway to Berkeley

    The Trocks, as they are often affectionately called, consist of statuesque, glamorous male dancers in the iconic, if fictional, roles of prima ballerinas. The company made their Berkeley debut in the 1970s, just a few years after their launch and initial performances in late-late shows at Off-Off Broadway lofts.

    “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and Cal Performances have a long and happy history together, the company having made its Berkeley debut in 1976, only two years after its founding,” Cal Performances Executive and Artistic Director Jeremy Geffen recently told the San Francisco Bay Times.

    He added, “During the intervening decades, the Trocks have been instrumental in helping bring gay culture and drag arts to the American mainstream. Simply put, they are brilliant dancers. What’s more, they are terrific fun.”

    Hard Work Pays Off

    Many New Yorkers think so, too. The Trocks’ early shows quickly garnered critical acclaim in the Big Apple, leading the grassroots company to think beyond their humble, yet memorable, beginnings.

    The company found management, qualified for the National Endowment for the Arts Touring Program, and hired a full-time teacher and ballet mistress to oversee daily classes and rehearsals. Also, for the 1975–1976 season, they made their first extended tours of Canada and the U.S., leading to those first magical Berkeley performances. Packing, unpacking, and repacking tutus and drops, stocking giant sized toe shoes by the case, and running for planes and chartered buses all became routine parts of life.

    The hard work paid off, though. By mid 1975, the Trocks’ inspired blend of their loving knowledge of dance, their comic approach, and the astounding fact that men can, indeed, dance en pointe without falling flat on their faces, was being noted both nationally and internationally.

    Fans in the British Royal Family

    Since those beginnings, the Trocks have established themselves as a major dance phenomenon throughout the world. They have participated in dance festivals in Bodrum (Turkey), Bogota, Holland, Finland, San Luis Potosi, Madrid, Montreal, New York City, Paris, Lyon, Rome, Spoleto, Turin, and Vienna.

    Awards that the Trocks have won over the years include for best classical repertoire from the prestigious Critic’s Circle National Dance Awards (2007, U.K.), the Theatrical Managers Award (2006, U.K.), and the 2007 Positano Award (Italy) for excellence in dance. In December 2008, the Trocks appeared in London at the 80th anniversary Royal Variety Performance to aid the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund. It was attended by members of the British royal family who cheered them on.

    Benefits for LGBTQ Organizations and More

    The company appears in benefits for international AIDS organizations such as DRA (Dancers Responding to AIDS); Classical Action in New York City; the Life Ball in Vienna, Austria; Dancers for Life in Toronto, Canada; London’s Stonewall Gala; and Germany’s AIDS Tanz Gala.

    In addition, the Trocks have given, or participated in, special benefit performances for Connecticut Ballet Theater, Ballet Hawaii, Indianapolis Ballet Theater, Rochester City Ballet, Dancers in Transition (NYC), Sadler’s Wells Theater in London, and the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and Young Audiences/Arts for Learning Organization, and the Ali Forney Center, benefiting homeless gay youths in New York City. In 2009, the Trocks gave a benefit performance for Thailand’s Queen Sirikit’s Scholarship Fund in Bangkok, which helps finance schooling for children of impoverished Thai families. The benefit helped to raise over four hundred thousand dollars!

    Still ‘On Point’

    The original concept of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has not changed. It is a company of professional male dancers performing the full range of the ballet and modern dance repertoire, including classical and original works in faithful renditions of the manners and conceits of those dance styles.

    The comedy is achieved by incorporating and exaggerating the foibles, accidents, and underlying incongruities of serious dance. The fact that men dance all the parts—robust bodies delicately balancing on toes as swans, sylphs, water sprites, romantic princesses, angst-ridden Victorian ladies—enhances, rather than mocks, the spirit of dance as an art form, delighting and amusing the most knowledgeable, as well as novices, in the audiences.

    For the future, there are plans for new works in the repertoire: new cities, states, and countries to perform in; and for the continuation of the Trocks’ original purpose: to bring the pleasure of dance to the widest possible audience. They will, as they have done for over four decades, “Keep on Trockin’.”

    Berkeley Program

    Swan Lake, Act II (Tchaikovsky)
    Pas de Deux or Modern Work to be announced
    Le Grand Pas de Quatre (Pugni)
    Walpurgisnacht (Gounod)

    For tickets and more information about the Trocks’ Cal Performances shows at Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, go to: https://bit.ly/2Vlh2gy

    Published on February 27, 2020

     


    Tory Dobrin of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo Looks Back at 40 Years of Ballet Gone Drag

    Tory Dobrin is a legend among the Trocks, aka the all-male drag Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. The Los Angeles native first joined the troupe of talented boy ballerinas in 1980 as a dancer. His introduction to the art form goes back to the 1960s when, as a high school student, his physical education prospects were limited, with only the dance class having an opening.

    As it turns out, his teacher was a modern dance pro from New York who was influenced by dance phenom Martha Graham. Dobrin was an ace, who eventually went to the Étienne Decroux school in Paris, named after the famous French actor and mime.

    Once with the Trocks, Dobrin worked his way up through the ranks and is now the company’s Artistic Director.

    We caught up with him ahead of the Trocks’ March 14–15 shows for Cal Performances in Berkeley.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Was Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo the first ever all-male ballet company? Or perhaps the first male drag ballet company?

    Tory Dobrin: Drag was prevalent in clubs and bars and Off-Off Broadway venues for decades in New York, San Francisco, and other cities. Larry Ree, a member of Charles Ludlam’s The Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York City, was a sometime dancer who danced in drag, on pointe, in some of the productions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He formed an all-male group called The Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet Company, which performed at La Mama in the East Village of New York City. 

    Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo was formed by members of this company who broke away to explore the outlook by addressing actual dance/comedy issues as well as drag. It was a type of expansion of the art form.

    The name was in homage to ballet history when there were several Ballet Russe companies fighting over the legacy of Sergei Diaghilev (who died in 1929) and his Ballet Russe company. 

    The first performances of the Trocks were held in a loft in the meat-packing district in New York City of a group associated with The Mattachine Society, one of the first gay political organizations in the U.S.

    San Francisco Bay Times: The company made its Berkeley debut in 1976. Wasn’t that during the company’s first or second national tour?

    Tory Dobrin: Betty Connors, the Director of Cal Performances from 1945 to 1979, put Trockadero on the map. Because she booked the company to dance at Zellerbach, the company suddenly had the status and approval to garner other performances. If it had not been for her, it is possible the Trockadero would not have been able to establish itself in the touring dance arena. We are very, very grateful to her. She took a chance. Drag was certainly not in the mainstream at that time. Her legacy in the performing arts as someone who supported all sorts of artistic expressions is well established. She had great vision, integrity, and passion.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What is new about this year’s performances?

    Tory Dobrin: The company adds new repertory and, of course, has new dancers all the time. We program new ballets into theaters where we have a history. 

    The dancers are also comedians. One dancer/comedian has a completely different take on another colleague in the same role, for instance. Just as Lucille Ball and Gracie Allen would tackle material in a very different way, we have the same dynamic within the group. 

    This gives the performance a fresh approach. No one is required to do a role exactly as someone else has done it (speaking of the comedy, in this case; the ballet steps are essentially the same).

    San Francisco Bay Times: Many ballet norms seem so heavily gendered—from the tutus on one side to the figure-forming tights on the other. Do you think that ballet in general is becoming more gender fluid in terms of costuming and other aspects of performances, perhaps as a result of your influential company?

    Tory Dobrin: Just as societal views about the LGBT community have evolved over the years, so too has our queer community.

    Society (and consequently dance/ballet as well) has changed so much since the founding of the Trockadero in 1974. It is hard to answer this question fully here.

    The Trockadero received a lot of push back from the dance community for the first 25 years of its existence as something that was not acceptable to dance, to the image of the male dancer, and how we approached performances. This changed over time. Perseverance is the key to our success.

    Gay and lesbian issues have been in the forefront of society these past decades with issues like gays in the military, gay marriage, gay adoption, and now a gay person having success in a bid of the presidency, etc.; society has changed a lot.

    The company has changed with the times. The technique of the dancers has expanded, and the energy in the performances has expanded. We have changed along with society … but we remain close to what we are: an all-male comedy ballet company that dances in drag.

    San Francisco Bay Times: We’ve read that the Trocks have performed at many benefits over the years, supporting the fight against HIV/AIDS and more. What are some of the nonprofits and other organizations/groups that you’ve supported over the years?

    Tory Dobrin: Many organizations have asked us to participate in benefits to help raise money, such as the LGBT Community Center in New York City, the Ali Forney Center, SAGE USA (for gay and lesbian seniors), as well as organizations in the U.K. 

    Local organizations often buy block tickets to see the performance as a way to raise money, with the dancers often attending receptions after the performance, among other things. 

    Lately we have expanded our reach to offer educational workshops for homeless gay and lesbian youths as well as gay and lesbian seniors. The participants discover that comedy and drag are secret weapons for enlightenment, and that dance/drag have no boundaries for race, gender, sexual preference, and age.

    When I joined in 1980, there were never any children in the audience. Never. Now the performances have lots of kids who come to see the show. They love the comedy, love the dance aspect, and accept the drag aspect without question. The performances inspire them to look at things very differently than in the past. To me, this is the most inspiring and telling of how society has changed for the better.

    Tory Dobrin will give a Pre-Performance Talk ahead of the March 14 LGBTQ Night OUT: https://calperformances.org/nightout/

    Published on February 27, 2020


    LGBTQ Night OUT with the Trocks!

    The San Francisco Bay Times is proud to be sponsoring Cal Performances’ first ever LGBTQ Night OUT! It will take place on Saturday, March 14, officially starting at 8 pm in Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. Those who arrive early, however, will be treated to a Pre-Performance Talk given by Tory Dobrin, the Artistic Director of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

    Then comes the show featuring the world-famous “Trocks,” the dazzling all-male drag ballet company. That alone will be spectacular, but the evening won’t end there.

    Post-Performance Reception

    After the Trocks make their last curtain call, there will be an exclusive after-party reception on the elegant Mezzanine Level (second floor) of Zellerbach. It will include “Instagrammable” moments, wine, and light snacks. Guests can meet members of the Trocks. The emcee will be Michelle Meow of the Michelle Meow Show, and the special guests for this portion of the event will be the Rebel Kings. (This drag king band is the legendary Oakland-based White Horse Bar’s “Resident Kings.” To learn more: https://therebelkingsofoak.wixsite.com/rkoakland )

    Members of the Cal Performances team will also be on hand to share information about the organization’s rich history and upcoming performances with LGBTQ artists.

    • Come as you are—glamour is encouraged!
    • Connect with other LGBTQ community members and allies.
    • Mix and mingle.
    • And have a great Night OUT!

    The Cal Performances LGBTQ Night OUT post-performance reception is free with the purchase of March 14 performance tickets. The space is limited, though, and requires RSVP. Tickets for the performance start at $38 and are available at the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall, by calling 510-642-9988, and at https://bit.ly/3c97KKy

    Groups of 10 or more will receive a 15% discount off single ticket prices. Some restrictions apply. Contact the Ticket Office at 510-642-9988 for more information.

    If you purchase your tickets online, you will be prompted to RSVP for the Reception once you place your ticket(s) in the cart. https://calperformances.org/nightout/

    Published on February 27, 2020