Review: En Pointe and En Travesti With Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo  

Brave drag queens and cowardly Russian oligarchs dominate the news these days. These fabulous queens are often incorrectly labeled as subversive while the Slavic autocrats aren’t receiving enough comeuppance for their crimes against humanity. For almost 50 years, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, aka the Trocks, have been skewering Soviets and celebrating gender fluidity via their riffs on classical balletic canon.

The Trocks. Photo by Marcello Orselli.

The troupe was founded after the Stonewall Riots as an offshoot of the Mattachine Society, an early LGBTQ rights organization in New York, as early promoters of diversity, equity and inclusion. The all-male dancers inhabit traditionally female dance roles, complete with tutus, pointe shoes and tight buns both above and below their waistlines. The Trocks made a stop at the Auditorium Theatre last weekend. They played three sets with two intermissions to a packed, enthusiastic and mostly older crowd on an unseasonably warm night, under the gorgeous, historic proscenium that says “the utterance of life is a song, the symphony of nature.” 

The Russian nesting doll characters are real men from around the globe who play mainly women and an occasional man, who then earnestly perform in famous ballets. The first piece was five parts from Les Sylphides, and included Eugenia Repelski (Joshua Thake), Elvira Khababgallina (Kevin Garcia), Nicholas Khachafellenjar (Haojun Xie), and Varvara Laptopova (Takaomi Yoshino). The classic Trocks tropes of excellent execution partnered with sighs and side eyes, sabotage and freeform footwork, alongside running interpersonal commentaries and clashes, populated the pieces. The frantic jockeying for prominence and position was enjoyable, and the bits mostly landed, although more satisfaction might have been met had the antics built into a crescendo, a final trophy to entropy. 

Duane Gosa (left). Photo by Jose Luis Marrero Medina.

In this iteration, the Trocks’ middle piece was a pas de trois, featuring music by Bach, costumes by Philip Martin-Neilson, and towering performances by Helen Highwaters (Duane Gosa) and Repelski (Thake), with an assist by diminutive Boris Dumbkopf (a male-presenting Yoshino character). The play with the body size differentials and attempted lifts elicited laughs. The swan-ish segment featured Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter), and Go for Barocco showcased Nadia Doumaifeyva (Philip Martin-Nielson, who also created some of the whimsical costumes) and Minnie van Driver (Ugo Cirri). 

The final installment after the second interval was six variations on Minkus’ Paquita, which follows a Spanish gypsy who saves the life of French aristocrat Lucien, whom she later marries. Laptopova (Yoshino) is the principal ballerina with Thake as the whiskey-inspired Jacques d’Aniels. Maria Clubfoot (Alejandro Gonzalez) and Ludmila Beaulemova (Trent Montgomery) shared the spotlight (despite a sometimes erratic spot operator) with Highwaters (Gosa), Khababgallina (Garcia), van Driver (Cirri) and Laptopova (Yoshino). Strong, lyrical balletic technique was fleshed out with modern moves like flossing as well as foot stomping and often dramatic, haughty face-to-the-wings exits.  

The result is fun. Under Artistic Director Tory Dobrin and Ballet Master Raffaele Morra, the dancers clearly enjoy themselves when they first join the Trocks and create jokey Slavic names, then inhabit costumes that have always embraced flatter chests, followed by the chance to dance some challenging and iconic repertoire. And they’re so much on their toes that their orthopedic consultant, Dr. David S. Weiss, is listed in the program. These delights are reminiscent of Chicago’s own Footsteps Theatre Company, where female-identifying artists played and relished Shakespeare’s trouser roles. After half a century, the Trocks' joy of dance continues to supersede the rampant, rising rigidity to put people into restrictive expression boxes. 

If you're unable to rock with the Trocks in person, check out the 2017 documentary Rebels on Pointe, available on Amazon Prime Video or iTunes.

Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s arts scene and sometimes beyond? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!

Picture of the author
Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.