Testosterone and Tutus
For more than 40 years, the all-male comedy ballet company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo - affectionately known as The Trocks - have been delighting audiences of all ages at sell-out performances around the world.
Established in New York, the Trocks are loved for their sassy spoofs and tongue-in-cheek homage to classical ballet as the 18 dancers combine tutus and testosterone.
Ahead of their latest UK tour, I caught up with dancer Joshua Thake for a behind-the-scenes look at life in the Trocks.
What led you to auditioning to join The Trocks?
After attending the San Francisco Ballet School in California, I took a break from dancing and continued working and living in San Francisco. During this time, I started performing in drag under the alias Chastity Belle.
Through a series of fortunate events, I found myself performing in the male comedy ballet genre. After a few years of intermittent touring, I was looking for a more stable touring and living schedule, and when the opportunity came up to audition for The Trocks, I jumped at it!
For someone who hasn’t seen The Trocks before, how would you describe the style of dance that The Trocks deliver?
Our emphasis is classical ballet satire complete with an homage and choreographic ‘winks’ to various styles within the wider dance community, including contemporary dance.
An evening watching The Trocks is a wonderful introduction to ballet, and during the UK and Ireland tour we’ll be performing excerpts from some of the ballet greats - including signature pieces from Esmerelda, Paquita, Raymonda’s Wedding, Swan Lake Act II, Les Sylphides, and La Trovatiara.
The comedy is achieved by incorporating and exaggerating the foibles, accidents, and underlying incongruities of serious dance. The fact that men dance all the parts - heavy bodies delicately balancing on toes as swans, sylphs, water sprites, romantic princesses, and angst-ridden Victorian ladies - enhances rather than mocks the spirit of dance as an art form, delighting and amusing the most knowledgeable, as well as novices, in the audiences.
How technically difficult is it to perform the pieces tackled by The Trocks?
Our diverse repertoire means that there’s a wide spectrum of dance styles to perform - ranging from even-paced modern works to fully-abridged ballet classics. Each piece has its own ‘struggle’ and there’s no doubt it takes both technical prowess and stamina to perform as many as three pieces during a matinee or evening show.
Why do you think The Trocks seem to have such universal appeal?
The Trocks offer light-hearted comedy delivered with passionate tenacity from every member of the workforce - this on-stage energy filters off-stage into the audience and makes for a great time at the theatre.
People of all ages love what we do - our performances seem to connect with everyone, irrelevant of whether someone is eight years old, or 88 years old. There really is something for everyone and the whole family will enjoy the show.
Of course, it’s wonderful to hear everyone enjoying themselves and reacting to the show, but it’s always heart-warming to hear children giggling and connecting with what we do.
Is performing as part of The Trocks a form of drag?
Most definitely. I like to call it identity-bending performance art.
The Trocks seem to have a gruelling touring schedule. In which country do you feel that audiences respond most warmly to The Trocks?
If we’re not in New York rehearsing or performing, then we’re on the road touring across the US or internationally. To date, The Trocks have been seen in over 600 cities in 38 countries.
The schedule can be extremely busy at times, but it’s an honour and joy to share all the work with our amazing audiences. No matter where we are in the world, we feel the love and appreciation of everybody watching.
What have been some of your career highlights since joining The Trocks?
Getting to perform The Dying Swan at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, as well at the Gypsy of the Year performance at Broadway’s Amsterdam Theatre in New York City. More recently in Virginia, performing Stars and Stripes at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
Working for Les Trockadero is a whirlwind of fleeting moments, but some of them definitely stick in my mind - Japan is incredible, visiting Israel was breath-taking, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Serbia, Luxembourg, Canada, Mexico, and of course, the UK - all hold special places in my heart and soul.
I’m sure Ireland will too. I’m really looking forward to performing in Belfast and Dublin for the first time during this tour.