I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a documentary about the world-famous New York-based, all-male, gay dance troupe Le Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (referred to as the Trocks by many), whose performances feature most of its male cast dressed as female ballerinas.
But what I quickly learned is that, for as funny as the performances can get at times, the grasp of technique and commitment to honoring the presentation of traditional ballet is no joke. As one noted choreographer mentions in Rebels on Pointe, because the performers all learned ballet from the male perspective, they often had to unlearn/re-learn the form in a way that embraces the classic female ballerina grace while injecting a masculine quality to works like “Swan Lake.”
Formed in 1974, five years after the Stonewall riots changed the course of LGBTQ culture in New York City, the Trocks pride themselves on not just quality dancing but also inclusion of performers of all shapes and sizes, including those that more traditional companies would not accept. Dancers who were too short or beyond what many would consider the peak performance age (basically anything over 35) were all welcome as long as they were genuinely gifted performers. Director Bobbi Jo Hart (I Am Not a Rock Star) does a terrific job of introducing us to the current troupe lineup and digging into their history with the company, their family stories, love lives, and philosophies on dance. It becomes clear that for many, the Trocks is the family they have chosen and the one with whom they have the best relationship.
The filmmakers move back and forth between the company’s history and more current rehearsals and touring, and the affect shows both how much things have changed and how much the mission of the original company has remained remarkably steadfast. One of the men in charge of the Trocks makes the point that, although the company was always made up of gay men, they were not a gay organization pushing any type of political agenda. The idea was that by being among the best examples of dance in New York or the world, anyone rejecting them would essentially be doing so only because the members were gay and must face up to their own prejudices.
That being said, one of the most powerful sequences in the film involves the company’s alarmingly high death count during the 1980s AIDS crisis—a part of the Trocks’ history that remains in the forefront of the minds of some of the older members. But for the most part, director Hart sticks to the more positive elements of the troupe, including one member of Cuban descent whose mother’s four-year paperwork journey to come to America from Cuba finally ends. We also get a front row seat to one of three recent marriages between performers.
As a pure display of artistry in the making, Rebels on Pointe shows us the detailed decisions made to make each Trocks performance a perfect balance of technical precision and comedy—from the way the makeup is applied and the costumes designed (some are designed for deliberate wardrobe malfunction) to the execution of the actual performance.
I was especially amused by the dancers who had to take on the male roles in the productions and the way they often subverted playing an endless parade of one-dimensional prince characters. There is no denying the artistry, professionalism, and the precision of the dancing or the humor, and I hope I get to catch a Trocks performance in the near future. This one is a real joy for classical dance fans and casual admirers alike.
The film opens today for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.