The dancers of New York-based Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo may be men dressed in tights and tutus, but don’t mistake them for drag queens.
“We don’t dress as females,” explained Raffaele Morra, the company’s ballet master and a 17-year veteran. “We dress as ballerinas.”
The company was founded in 1974 by a group of “ballet enthusiasts” and began performing classical ballets in parody form at late night shows Off-Off Broadway. Today, 44 years later, the company attracts highly trained dancers from around the world, including Italian-born Morra, who studied in the conservatory in Torino, not far from his small hometown. Like Morra, most devote their careers to the company.
While men dancing in pointe shoes might have been an oddity at one time, “nowadays, pointe work has been accepted in ballet schools for boys,” Morra said. “We have more new dancers who have danced en pointe. There is no judging.”
Dancing in “toe” shoes helps male and female dancers strengthen their ankles and develop the leg muscles in ways jumping cannot, he said, ”but sometimes, we get so good at dancing as ballerinas we can forget our male technique, our male power.”
Because the dancers’ technique is flawless, audiences might easily confuse the male dancers for ballerinas at first. Their art is serious, but they never forget the company’s roots. The choreographers and dancers look for every opportunity to inject a little bit of camp into their performances.
The “Trocks,” as they are affectionately known, will return to South Florida with performances at the Duncan Theatre at Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth on Feb. 28 and at the Arsht Center in Miami on March 4.
Morra says the performance will include a gender-bending interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s beloved “Swan Lake,” Glazunov’s “Raymonda’s “Wedding” and “Troviatara,” a parody of the ballets typically inserted into the middle of operas set to music by “Verdi.
“We are little pirate girls,’ he said of “Troviatara.”
Morra no longer dances with the company but may be called to step in if there is an injury or illness. He himself admitted to baring his hairy chest above the bodice of his costumes on occasion.
While most of the dancers are gay, Morra emphasized that was not a requirement.
“The company is specific: you don’t need to be gay to be in the company. We are not closing doors and we don’t want it to seem as a drag show,” he said. “We are trying to make this show always very well balanced between jokes and the good quality dancing.”
LGBT audiences are important an important constituency for the Trocks.
“They like the controversy,” he said, but the performances also draw families with children and straight fans “who may not appreciate drag, but like to enjoy the dance.”
Just don’t call the Trocks “drag queens.”
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo perform at the Duncan Theatre at Palm Beach State University in Lake Worth on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. and at the Arsht Center in Miami on Sunday, March 4 at 8 p.m. For more information and tickets, go to Trockadero.org.