“Rebels on Pointe”, screening for one night only at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh, gave us through this 2017 documentary film by director Bobbi Jo Krals (also screenplay and cinematography) an insight into the lives of the people behind the most famous all male dance company in the world “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo”, or “Les Trocks” as they have become affectionately known to their many, many fans world-wide.
“Rebels on Pointe” takes us behind the greasepaint and costumes to reveal behind the on-stage glamour the reality of not only what it takes to be a dancer in this company, but also what it means to so many of the dancers, choreographers, teachers, designers and many others to be part of this almost “self enclosed” world. Along the way, as we explore the private lives, loves and losses of some of “Les Trocks”, we also get an interesting history of not only the company itself, but the very reasons for its existence.
To anyone who has not heard of the company, “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo” is a dance company that performs parodies of many of classical ballet’s iconic set pieces. The twist here is that all of our dancers are male, and they take on both the male and female roles. For the vast bulk of our dancers, this means taking on the “on pointe” dance movements traditionally only performed by female dancers. Yes, along the way there are, through innovative choreography twists to the traditional performances, visual jokes that the general audience will easily get, and also more subtle ones that anyone from a dance background will immediately recognise (perhaps as someone they have performed with too). This is satirical comedy taking apart and re-assembling a performance art that, at times, perhaps takes itself far too seriously, and can be often far too elitist. The one thing that is never compromised however is the technique and spirit of the dance, as everyone “on pointe” has a rigorous teaching and training schedule that ensures that classical technique, line and form are strictly adhered too. Les Trocks may not be taking some elements surrounding classical ballet seriously, but they are taking their classical ballet seriously.
Away from the dance, costumes and any perceived glamour though is where this documentary really shines as the very reason for the existence of the company and the many people who have contributed to it over the years is for me far more interesting than any on stage performance. Although it is not a requirement to join the company, the performing company is currently made up of entirely gay men. To be honest, even using the term to identify a person by their sexual preferences is one that I am not comfortable with as no one should ever be identified as “different”, but it is a term that is so important historically to the company in its formative years when the world was a very different place for anyone who did not conform to the norms of society.
The company was formed over 40 years ago, and although it is now a global success story with a gruelling “never ending” schedule of performances world-wide (they are massive stars in Japan), its origins are very humble as this quote from Wikipedia proves
“Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo was co-founded by Peter Anastos, Natch Taylor, and Anthony Bassae, all of the Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet Company, in 1974. They initially produced small, late-night shows in off-off-Broadway spaces. The troupe's first show was on September 9, 1974 in a second-story loft on 14th Street in the Meatpacking District.”
The origins of the company and the fight for “gay rights” and the right to be who you want to be as a person are forever a part of the company, and these humble origins need to be put into a context of major historical “gay rights” events such as New York’s Stonewall riots. The “AIDS” epidemic also had a significant impact on the company and the far wider gay community, and many good friends and bright talents, both male and female, were lost to its terrible grip. Through all of this though, the company survived and through good times and bad times, kept going “on pointe” to become perhaps even stronger as the result of adversity. A large part of our history of the company and insights into their private lives is affectionately told by current artistic director Tory Dobrin, ballet master Raffaele Morra, and dancers such as Robert Carter who has spent his entire adult performing life with the company
The world that “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo” was born into and the hate and prejudice that the performers faced on a daily basis is thankfully now a changed world, and unimaginable from their founding years perspective, events like same sex marriages are now legally possible (the company has three married couples at the moment) in many parts of the world (but not all). Social attitudes to what is “normal” have changed for the better (but there is still much more work to be done), and the company has never deviated from its core founding guidelines. Today, as always, it is still a haven for not only talent, but for many who still find difficulty fitting into what society still too often expects them to be. The company is not just a dance company, it is an extended family and a world of safety for everyone involved in it where they are free to be the person that they know they want to be, and encouraged to achieve their full potential as individuals.
This was a more than appropriate screening for The Festival Theatre as the “Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo” stop off at the theatre for live performances on Tuesday 30th and Wednesday 31st October 2018 as part of their current touring schedule.
Review by Tom King