When the Trockaderos Are on Their Toes, Ballet Is Never a Drag

updated 07/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ah, an evening at the ballet and another performance of Giselle. What could be grander? Here's Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, bending willowlike to pick up a flower. She tosses it offstage in a graceful backhanded arc but the thing lands back at her feet almost immediately, thrown in from the wings. In a fit of royal pique, Myrtha picks it up and fires it offstage again, this time baseball style. Now beauteous Giselle makes her entrance, throwing off her veil, spinning energetically in place, and then nearly keeling over from dizziness as she comes out of the spin. By act's end Giselle is waving a wan hand in the direction of her lover, Albrecht, from the depths of her tomb and—is this part in the script?—he's vaulting across the stage to climb in beside her. They close the lid on this tale of eternal love as the curtain falls to thunderous applause.

If that's an unorthodox performance of this dance classic, the ballerinas—who sport mock-Russian noms de danse like Ludmila Beaulemova and Tamara Boumdiyeva—are even more unorthodox. The tutus are exquisite, all right, but what's all that chest hair peeking out? For that matter, how did Queen Myrtha manage to grow biceps and deltoids worthy of a hockey player?

It's all in an evening's work for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a corps of 11 male "ballerinas" who have just finished a three-week gig at Manhattan's City Center. "We combine the elegance of the classical style with the boisterousness of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the satire of Monty Python," burbles Natch Taylor, 35, co-artistic director of the Trocks. "You might describe us as the Harlem Globetrotters of the dance."

Unquestionably, they are a global success. In their nine years of existence, the Trocks have toured college campuses from Berkeley to Princeton; whistle-stopped North America from Billings, Mont, to Halifax, Nova Scotia; and played world-class cities from Rio to Johannesburg to Tokyo. They tour 28 weeks a year, commanding up to $10,000 a performance and grossing about $500,000 annually. "What started as a joke," Taylor has noted, "has turned into an international business."

Taylor, the only original member of the group who is still with it, should know. Son of an archaeologist, he spent a year and a half as a dancer with the Trockadero Gloxinia Ballet, an older all-male troupe. (The names of both groups were concocted more for their fanciful sound than for any particular meaning.) In the summer of 1974 he and two other male ballerinas decided to defect and launch their own company. "We wanted to do with ballet what Victor Borge has done with classical music," recalls Taylor. "Up till then the all-male companies were just playing the old drag routines." The new group found "a little theater over a strip-tease bar" off-off-off-Broadway and debuted that September. The Trocks drew a gay following from the beginning, but quickly appealed to a broader audience as well.

The real secret of the Trocks' success is the dance proficiency underlying their parody. Maintaining that professional standard is co-artistic director Betteanne Terrell, who works the troupe hard in rigorous four-hours-daily practice sessions. Certainly there's no faulting the Trocks' professional credentials. All members danced professionally for at least three years before joining the company. Sanson Candelaria—better known in his role as the company's prima ballerina, Tamara Boumdiyeva—is a former lead dancer with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and the Boston Ballet, and had performed only male roles before joining the Trocks. Getting on your toes is no trick at all, he says: "Any man with the proper background is prepared to go en pointe; it's just that most male roles don't require it." But the Trocks do require some special equipment. "We have some of the largest pointe shoes in the history of the art," says William Zamora, whose size-13 slippers "look like planters."

The biggest question facing the Trocks in their first years, however, was not where to find shoes that size, but where to find audiences to sit still for such outrageous onstage behavior. Happily, the great American heartland fell without a single shot fired. One critic in Billings said that a local performance by the Trocks "crippled ballet buffs with laughter." Says Taylor, "Obviously the cowboys like us."

Taylor and the Trocks intend to carry on their mission to "liberate" ballet. "The best roles have always gone to women," he says. "We just felt that we should have a crack at them, too."

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