A drag ballet troupe has been performing around the world for nearly 50 years

Tory Dobrin:Hundreds of thousands of people have seen us.

Robert: I’m Robert Carter.

Haojun: My name is Haojun Xie.

Alberto: Hi, my name is Alberto Pretto and I’m a dancer with Le Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

Tory: The Ballet Trockadero is actually an all-male comedy ballet company. So we take classical ballets and also modern styles and we are trying to parody these styles and we do it for comedic effect. Alberto: In Trockadero we have to obviously perform en pointe and perform in tutus, and makeup, and hair in a bun so we look like ballerinas, drag ballerinas.

Tory: The company was started in 1974 and in that period, in New York City particularly, right after the Stonewall riots there was a lot of drag elements in the city in a lot of clubs and a lot of bars, people were experimenting with drag. So the company really came out of that period and it was a bunch of guys who wanted to put on a show. So, they started doing these midnight shows parodying classical ballet and it really took off. Who knew that 44 years later we were still going to be in existence. Alberto: I always knew about Le Ballets Trockadero because of videos that I’d been watching and always had in the back of my mind the idea of auditioning.

Haojun: When I saw Trock videos online for the first time and I said, like wow, like amazing like dance company. And they’re so talented. And I said, “Yeah, one day I want like to join this company.” Like now, like my dream have like come true. It’s like perfect, I love it. I love dance like a with Trock. I very enjoy. And then all the dancers are so nice. And the other dancers are very like, can be – make me like feel like home. Yeah.

Alberto: It’s special for men to go en pointe because ballet is very traditional. Boys don’t get to do en pointe. They just are – the prince is on flat and is there to support the girl who is the prima ballerina. She gets to go on the toes.

Elena Kunikova:You know, gravity is the same of all of us, men, women. First of all, one has to be well-balanced and stable because if one is falling he cannot do anything. So, we worked on everything that needed to be worked on. Technique, strength, style, expressiveness, you know, my list is very long, I can go on. And I’ve been working with them for I believe almost 25 years.

Alberto: I was just fed up with being in the back and lifting girls and doing choreography – neoclassical that I really didn’t enjoy that much.

Robert: I love dancing, period. So, you know, the steps in ballet are all the same, it’s just how they’re implemented for men and women. I enjoy the challenge of doing the female choreography. It’s en pointe because I have the power and the physicality of a man but I can still play with the delicacy that a woman has.

Haojun: I started dancing like at 11 years old. This is my first season dancing with Trock.

Robert: I began training in ballet at seven and a half. I am the only one in my family that dances ballet.

Alberto: I have been dancing with the company for seven years. In my life, I think about 16 years. I was the only boy, yes. It’s very rare to find boys in ballet classes, especially where I come from, from Italy.

Haojun: And then I graduated like a Beijing Dance Academy. Then I got like a scholarship with University of Cincinnati and then after I got like another scholarship from Joffrey Ballet School.

Robert: Coming from the south, it’s typical there aren’t a lot of boys. It was still somewhat frowned upon, especially even my own father didn’t care for it so much. My father was raised, you know, in that traditional blue-collar kind of vein. His idea of work was you had to get your hands dirty. With dance, I enjoyed it so much. And so for him, it’s like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all good and dandy, but when are you gonna find a real job?” I remember it got so bad that at one point my mother threatened to take my sisters and myself and leave him.

Alberto: I was getting a lot of bullying from other guys at school but I didn’t really mind it so much because I was never part of their group, I was always hanging out with some girl friends at ballet school so I kinda had my little niche protected.

Robert: When I began training ballet immediately I was fascinated with pointe shoes. I would beg the girls when they would come to the ending of the life of their pointe shoes, I like begged them, you know, give me. So I stashed a couple of old, used pointe shoes and would just play out in an empty studio. My dance teacher caught me and instead of getting in trouble, you know he said, “Well then get your butt into pointe class.”

Haojun: For me, I want to challenge myself like en pointe, I say “Why not.” Yeah

Alberto: So when I was younger obviously I always wanted to dance en pointe and dance as a ballerina but it wasn’t allowed. You know, I still learned the female variations on the side and I remember like hiding to put the pointe shoes on alone in the studio when no one was there.

Robert: I’m a spiritual person and everything happens for a reason. I got the opportunity to see the company, I was about maybe 11 or 12. Immediately I said, well that’s it, one day I have to be with that company.

Alberto: We rehearse five days a week, eight hours a day. That’s normally our schedule before we head out on the road.

Robert: The most challenging part is the travelling. Not even the performing. It’s a lot to live out of a suitcase the majority of the time of the year.

Haojun: For me, I have like wide feet and then some pointe shoes are very like narrow, and when I – first time I tried the pointe shoes it’s like, it’s so narrow I can’t push like my feet in the pointe shoes, it hurts. Like I feel the girl, the feet, always like narrower than boys. And then after I found the softer pointe shoes it’s like good for me pointe shoes and I feel like, wow, this is good for me in the en pointe.

Alberto: It’s just no matter what, it hurts. It’s like wearing heels, it always hurts. They look beautiful, but they’re gonna hurt at the end of the night.

Haojun: I don’t wanna spend my time go to like a finding like a second job because I really like enjoy my work, my company, yeah, dance with Trock.

Alberto: I’m also a drag queen, so I perform at clubs when I get the gigs. It’s really hard to get the gigs, but once I get one that’s what I do. And I also have a brand of dancewear that I sew myself and that keeps me busy and keeps me going.

Robert: Every day I think to myself how fortunate I am that over the course of this long time that I have had with the company I have never worried about where my next paycheck was coming from.

Alberto: The part I love most about performing with the Trocks is, well the fact that I get to dance female roles en pointe, I always found them fascinating, much more than just the male roles. And also I love the makeup process. I love getting ready and doing the whole makeup and wearing a costume. You have to give the illusion.

Robert: A lot of what I do, as far as my makeup style at least, it’s all for my own vanity. Even if the audience doesn’t see it, it helps me.

Haojun: When I saw myself like, “Wow, is that me?” It’s surprise, yeah, because I never to do a lot of makeup. Yeah, we used to do kind of like a draw makeup. All the like dancer will help me to do the makeup and teach me how I can to do the makeup, how I can make me beautiful.

Tory: The Trocks have actually performed in 600 cities all over the world. The company performs in New York every two years. We go to the Joyce Theatre. We’re usually there for three weeks around Christmastime. Of course, performing in New York City is important ’cause this is our home.

Alberto: The audience is so warm and always laughs and claps a lot. I used to dance in regular companies where you get an applause at the end of the show and that’s pretty much it. But people break into during the show and they laugh and I love the comical part of the show too. My family is really supportive. You know, they had no idea what I was gonna get myself into at first. But they came and watched a lot of performances of the Trocks. They love it, they find it really funny.

Robert: My mum has been and always will be my number one fan. First time they saw me, well – that’s pretty funny. The first time they actually saw me, my father, I sent a picture of myself to my mother when people still used to write letters and so on and I had enclosed a picture of me in costume. And so she put it on her dresser and my father saw it and it was so funny because he actually thought it was my younger sister. The one good thing about society is that people are a lot more broad-minded nowadays and so it’s kind of like the old you can’t wear white shoes after Labour Day rule, it’s kind of been done away with, well so has this whole notion that dancers have to retire at 40. There are many dancers in 40-plus that are still going very strong and I’m one of them.

Haojun: Oh yeah, my friends know I’m in the Trock right now. They’re like, “Wow, are you in the Trock? I’m so happy for you.” I think, “Yeah, I’m happy too.” Yeah, they’re jealous, they said like, “Wow, oh my God, that’s like so good, amazing.” I say, “Yeah, thank you.”

Emma: Have they ever seen you dress as a woman?

Haojun: No, never. I would like make surprise to them.

Emma: How do you think they will react?

Haojun: I don’t know. Just like, just show them. Just like, “Hi, Mum, surprise,” like this, with tutu and makeup. Yeah.