Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo returns to the Joyce Theatre, running through Jan. 2, 2022, for its biannual holiday celebration of art and high comedy marking the company’s reemergence after COVID-19 with programs characterized by excellent dance and downright hilarious performances.
Fresh from their episode of the PBS docu-series “American Masters,” Les Ballets Trockadero continues their delightful dominance of international stages with a three-week engagement at a jewel box theatre in Chelsea that has become their New York City home. The New York Amsterdam News caught up with one of the company’s stars, Robert Carter, for a brief look behind the curtain of the upcoming season which includes, in Program A, the New York premiere of “Nightcrawlers,” an uproarious parody of Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night” set to nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin staged by Trocks co-founder Peter Anastos, as well as Act II of the perpetual classic “Swan Lake.” Program B features ChopEniana, evoking the spirit of both Giselle and La Sylphide; the seductive Spanish flair of Majisimas; and an anticipated company premiere work.
Carter made it clear that while the company’s performances are hilarious, what makes them so is the fact that the dancers are so technically exquisite in classics such as Act II of “Swan Lake,” that the audience is caught off guard by the pratfalls that might punctuate multiple pirouettes or an excellently executed fish dive that ends, unexpectedly, with both ballerina and her prince charming flopping on the floor. The perfect mix of technical brilliance and slap-stick is also evident in the company’s rendition of the iconic Dying Swan solo performed flawlessly even as the ballerina’s tutu leaves a trail of feathers as she bourrées across the stage only to collapse to the floor, feet in the air. Even the names of the dances are a play on classics we know and love, such as “Go for Barocco,” a comedic turn on George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco.” Then there are the dancers’ stage names that mock the era of Russia’s ballet dominance. Even the company’s name, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, is a take-off on the famous and historic Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo.
In addition to the fact that the company’s “ballerinas” are all male en travesti (in drag) and en pointe, the other thing that has long set Les Ballets Trockadero apart from other companies is its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion years before others got religion. After all, the company was founded in 1974 in the wake of the LGBTQ rights struggles that captured the world’s attention as a result of the Stonewall rebellion. This historic backdrop has always underscored the Trocks’ commitment to providing a stage for dancers often underrepresented in classical ballet due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, size, social class, race and ethnicity. And the tradition continues. For instance, rather than merely including a token Black dancer, the Trockadero has three—Duane Gosa, Maxfield Haynes and Robert Carter.
The Amsterdam News caught up with Robert Carter, whose stage names are Olga Suppohozova and Yuri Smirnov, just before early morning rehearsals for the upcoming season. For Carter, who joined the company in the late 1990s, it was a perfect milestone in a ballet journey that started as a 7-year-old youth in Charleston, S.C. The journey eventually led to classes at the Joffrey Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem where he briefly joined DTH’s Ensemble Company. Then, a friend convinced him to audition for Les Ballets Trockadero.
Carter says, “I’d seen Trockadero as a young dancer when they came to Charleston for an engagement. It was a fierce-looking company of men doing what I wanted to do having been told for years that men en pointe was not a thing. For a time I did the conventional route of trying to have a standard career, but this company, from the moment I walked through the studio door to watch, has always been home.” Carter recalls being invited by the artistic director to take a company class and being so excited to be there he took the whole class en pointe. “Quickly it was apparent that I had the technique to do the demanding things that the artistic director envisioned. At the time, the company was known for its comedic timing and interpretations of the classics, but the director wanted to raise the barre, so to speak, and create a blend that was as hilariously funny as it was technically demanding. Today that dream has become a reality.” Carter says he’s proud he was part of a new revitalized crop of dancers who were younger, just out of ballet school, with nice technique who could just throw on the pointe shoes and slay. “It was the beginning of the company starting to upgrade itself and do more technically demanding work because we are first and foremost a dance company.”
With his years of experience, Carter is now in a position to both enjoy works he’s done for years while also sharing his experience and expertise with younger, newer members of the company. “Now with all these new younger dancers coming in and coming up, my focus and my position has also been on giving them a sense of the history of this company which has become a viable source of a career for guys within the dance form. In the beginning, when I started, my mother was kind of concerned that this would pigeon-hole me and limit my opportunities in the event that I wanted to do something else. But, within this job I have been able to have a most fulfilling career because artistically I have been afforded the freedom that I never would have had otherwise.”
What’s more, Carter notes that Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is also helping to bring new audiences to ballet. “We’re more or less ambassadors for the arts,” he says. “We tour a lot and to this day, we’ll travel somewhere and after a show I will hear some audience members say it’s their first time viewing ballet. With our approach, we appeal to everyone and that’s what I love. We keep the subject matter light. It’s all relatively familiar and, if it’s not familiar, the comedic aspect enhances the audience’s appreciation of the dance.”