Les Ballets Trockadero are returning to packed Yorkshire houses. Almost 40 years after forming, Rod McPhee pins down their lasting appeal.
Just what are The Trocks all about? You could easily deconstruct their productions and draw any number of conclusions.
Maybe it’s a contemporary broadside on an archaic artform, perhaps a starting point for discussing gender, or sexuality, or just a bid to push prescriptive boundaries.
But the truth is that Les Ballets Trockadero is a group of men who simply love ballet – and want a laugh too.
“We spend a lot of time on the technique,” says the company’s artistic director Tory Dobrin. “And once we’re happy with that, then we start acting ridiculous.
“We just have to make sure we do what is appropriate. Initially we ask the dancers to be more ridiculous than is really necessary, then we tone it down from there. But it can’t be an intellectual process, it has to be at gut level.
“You know, when you decorate and furnish your home, you’ll get a plant and you’ll just stick it somewhere? You’re not sure why, you just know it looks good there. That’s what we do.”
The company was formed in 1974 by ballet enthusiasts for the purpose of presenting a new, playful view of the genre for late shows off Broadway. But within two years they became so popular that the company formed part of the wider cultural landscape, not just in Manhattan but across America.
Fast forward almost four decades and there’s barely a corner of the globe they haven’t danced in – including the UK where they invariably get a rapturous welcome.
The current tour of these shores sees them visit Bradford on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
But how do audiences, particularly British audiences, interpret the show? Does the fact that they are men, predominantly gay men, confuse or merely amuse?
“It’s not a gay show.” says Tory firmly. “Yes, there are some gay sensibilities, naturally, but we don’t address gay issues. We don’t address gays in the military, gay civil rights, gay adoption. We just address dance.
“You know, I joined The Trocks in 1980 when there was a lot of politics around, but if anything The Trocks have changed with society, rather than the other way round.
“And society has changed a lot. We’ve had to do more to entertain people in a way because, in the beginning, just the sight of men wearing tutus went a long, long way. These days people demand a lot more.
“At the same time a lot of straight people still assume that gay guys just want to be women – and that isn’t the case at all. We’re not women. We love women, but we don’t want to be women, even though we’re wearing tutus.
“The important element, both in terms of humour and dance, is that we are men wearing women’s clothes.”
American company member Robert Carter personifies this curious amalgamation of gender. Off stage he is a well built, conventional looking man, but on stage the dancer is much more a vision of feminine beauty – but not entirely.
Every fluttering lash is accompanied by a large flexing bicep.
“I was always just a little black boy from the south with a dream,” he laughs “There’s nowhere else I could have had the experience that I continue to have with this company.
“I saw The Trocks when I was very young and, obviously, I thought it was funny, but I also saw the company as an opportunity to dance en pointe, which was something I’d always wanted to do.
“I’d danced en pointe to help with balance in my dancing but when I saw The Trocks I thought: ‘Hello, career opportunity!’ And as a result I’ve travelled the world.”
And as he’s traversed the globe with The Trocks, he’s noticed the audiences they attract are more mixed than you might imagine. Although they are men usually wearing women’s clothes, the audience aren’t equally unconventional.
“You’d be surprised who comes to see us,” says Robert “A lot of our audience is aged over 50 and they may be your more traditional ballet lovers. They say to us: ‘We’ve been to see the more established houses and companies but you guys do it better!’
“It’s the reaction of audiences that tends to vary wherever we go. In the Far East, for example, they’re quite reserved in their response, even if they love us, whereas in the UK audiences are not exactly shy and subtle. That isn’t a bad thing when you’re coming to see Les Ballets Trockadero.”
Tuesday and Wednesday, The Alhambra, Morley Street, Bradford, 7.30pm, £18.50 to £35, Tel.01274 432000 www.bradford-theatres.co.uk
Early days of the Trocks phenomenon
The company was co-founded by Peter Anastos, Natch Taylor and Antony Bassae in New York City in 1974. They produced small, late-night shows, in off-off Broadway lofts. Their first show was on September 9, 1974.
After receiving a favourable critical review in The New Yorker by Arlene Croce, the company was suddenly exposed to a wider audience.
The Trocks knew they had arrived when they featured in a Vogue magazine photo essay staged by legendary lensman, Richard Avedon.