Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male comic ballet company, takes the stage at the Joyce Theater (Dec. 13-28) with a program presenting parodies of traditional classical ballets that tickle, tantalize and make audiences laugh out loud while treating them to technically skilled, impressive parodies of such iconic ballets as “Swan Lake,” “Giselle” and others. As Artistic Director Tory Dobrin said recently, “We don’t poke fun at ballet, but have fun with ballet.”
During a recent rehearsal, as the company’s dancers flew across the mirrored studio executing steps with speed and precision, it was easy to imagine them transformed into ballerinas wearing elegant white or jewel-toned tutus, glittering tiaras, pink tights and point shoes (“en travesty” or in drag). Glissades, jetes, arabesques and pirouettes have to be just so when they’re done by men en pointe and identified in the program with funny Russian-sounding stage names, such as Ida Nevesayneva, Nadia Doumiafeyva and Vladimir Legupski (poking fun at the old idea that the best ballet dancers are Russian). During its current season, Les Ballet Trockadero presents two programs featuring a carefully choreographed mix of classical technique and well-timed pratfalls and sight gags. They include “Swan Lake” (Act II), “Giselle” (Act II), Petipa’s “Raymonda’s Wedding,” which premiered in 1898 at St. Petersburg’s Marinsky Theater, and the New York premier of “Pas de Six” from the Danish choreographer Bournonville’s 1842 classic “Napoli.”
Since it was founded in 1974, critics have praised Les Ballets Trockadero’s wit. One critic described it as “a disarming blend of parody and tribute, music hall and high art, a drag act that is just as often played straight.”
Imagine a “Swan Lake” with a big-eyed swan queen reminiscent of female physical comediennes such as Lucille Ball or Moms Mabley and Prince Siegfried as a suave Lothario or the villainous Von Rothbart captured with one or two bold strokes, menacing gestures and sinister stares. These dancers know their ballet and their comedy and take both seriously. After all, they’ve been doing this long before Ru Paul gained enough name-recognition to have his own cable TV show. From the beginning, Les Ballet Trockadero was ahead of its time in other ways. Back when most mainstream American ballet companies didn’t include Black ballerinas in their ranks, the company was
committed to diversity.
Today, dancer Duane Gosa stands out not as its only Black dancer, because he is not, but because his long limbs create elegant lines, whether executing an arabesque or attitude in a tutu and en pointe, or capturing the regal stance of Prince Siegfried.
During a brief break in an eight-hour rehearsal day, Gosa talked about Les Ballets Torcks, how he got here and what it’s like for a man to dance en pointe.
Born in Chicago and raised in Ohio, Gosa said his youth was filled with the usual array of extracurricular activity—marching band, choir and track. Everything changed when a friend recommended dance classes. “My dad was a little hesitant at first, but my mom was different,” Gosa said. “She was very supportive. When she was a little girl, she had wanted to become an Ailey dancer. In fact, she was and still is my biggest fan.”
In 2008, while attending the University of Akron as a dance major, a teacher suggested he audition for a company she once danced for, Jennifer Muller/The Works. He did. Then after a few years and fond memories, he followed another friend’s advice and auditioned for Les Ballets Trockadero.
Gosa said what attracted him was Les Ballets Trockadero’s iconoclastic flavor. The company also rekindled his love of ballet. At one point he had stopped studying ballet, he said, “because I didn’t feel like I fit.”
He explained, “I felt like my frame and my quality of movement didn’t match that image.” It didn’t help that one teacher said his “arms were too ethnic,” voicing the false but all-too-prevalent idea that Black dancers’ bodies are incompatible with ballet. But now, that’s changed thanks to Les Trocks.
“I focus on the technique but also on acting and then, at times, I’m able to completely break character with some comedic business, I love it and I’m having fun with it,” Gosa said. “What’s more, the dancers in this company are so good that I’m learning so much. I’ve also grown technically thanks to the company.”
He added, “Pointe work has really forced me to be honest because if you’re not doing it right, it’s really not going to happen. Feet are very important in ballet, whether they’re in point shoes or not. Misty Copeland has beautiful feet. Non-dancers often don’t usually think about of how you articulate your feet, but ballet dancers have to have the same dexterity in your feet as you have in your hands.”
Gosa said he is enjoying his time with Les Ballets Trockadero and knows audiences will enjoy their upcoming Joyce Theater season running from Dec. 13 to Dec. 28.