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The Trocks: Tiaras, Testosterone, and Tutus

All-male ballet company injects humor into high art

Dancer Robert Carter had only half-finished his make-up by the time he was able to speak on the phone before a performance in England.

Since 1995, he has prepared for shows with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo by applying liberal amounts of eyeshadow, donning a tutu and strapping on pointe shoes.

“No one really joins this company to do the male roles,” he says of the troupe known as “The Trocks.” Formed in 1974, the New Yorkbased all-male group performs traditional ballet with a satirical yet respectful look at the art.

Now the troupe travels the world, performing 120 shows per year, including an April 5 appearance at the Byham Theater.

Once the shock of visible chest hair on otherwise prima ballerinas wears off, the audience can gawk at perfectly executed choreography just before they guffaw at perfectly funny pratfalls.

Carter says the performances, including 50 repertory pieces with scenes from “Swan Lake” to “Sleeping Beauty,” are more of a commentary on the art than an imitation of female ballerinas.

“Explaining the joke kind of takes the humor out of it … it all depends on the perspective of who’s watching,” he says.

“The drag aspect of it is merely an element, it’s not what it’s all about,” he says. “We’re first and foremost a dance company.”

Down to the Trocks’ stage names – like Carter’s aliases Olga Supphozova (“Olga is a glamour girl, but she’s also got a lot of fire.”) – humor can help ease the audience into a conversation about gender performance, says Peter Merz, associate professor and head of ballet at Point Park University.

“You don’t see that much comedy in ballet,” he says. “It’s good for the art form to keep humble. We can be very stuffy in the ballet world.”

Especially in early English ballet, men played many female parts. Even today, female characters performed by men include the evil fairy godmother Carabosse in “Sleeping Beauty,” the stepsisters in “Cinderella” and the Widow Simone in “La Fille Mal Gardee.”

These men are meant to create imposing or evil personas when matched with ethereal feminine leads, Merz says.

“You don’t see that much comedy in ballet,” he says. “It’s good for the art form to keep humble. We can be very stuffy in the ballet world.”

With the help of companies like the Trocks, more non-gender specific ballet roles have been created and same-sex partner dances have become more widely used, he says.

Carter, 38, originally from Charleston, S.C., says during his 18 years with the Trocks, the dancing has improved while the wit has remained the same.

“The drag aspect of it is merely an element, it’s not what it’s all about,” he says. “We’re first and foremost a dance company.”

The group has not visited Pittsburgh for at least 15 years, says Paul Organisak, executive director of the Pittsburgh Dance Council.

“The Trocks have always put quality of performance first and it’s why I love them and why they were selected for the Dance Council season,” he says, adding that Pittsburgh Ballet will perform “Cinderella” April 19 to 21 to close the 2012-13 season.

But, he was unsure if men or women will be playing the stepsisters.

Les Ballet Trockaderos de Monte Carlo performs at 8 p.m. April 5 at the Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. Tickets for the show, presented by Pittsburgh Dance Council and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, are between $19 and $48, available by calling 412-456-6666 or visiting trustarts.org.

Stacey Federoff is a Sutersville, PA native, Penn State alumna, and reporter living in Park Place near Regent Square. She has written for The Daily Collegian, The Chautauquan Daily, Trib Total Media. She loves music, vinyl records, coffee, running, and volunteerism.