Joshua Thake, far left, performs with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. (Courtesy Zoran Jelenic)

Ballet’s beloved comic Trocks prance into town

Veteran male dance parody troupe delights old and new fans

Due to the novel coronavirus threat, these performances have been canceled, as are all Cal Performances’ events scheduled through March 29. Ticketholders will automatically be refunded.

By Lawrence Helman

Just when all looks bleak, tonic has arrived in the form of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the irrepressible drag classical troupe coming to UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall in a Cal Performances presentation weekend.

Known as “The Trocks” and billed as “the world’s foremost all-male comic ballet company,” the group was founded in 1974 by dance enthusiasts who delighted in parodying Russian classical ballet, but with men in typically female roles (and male parts, too). Its first performances were in Off-Off Broadway lofts in New York City, and its first appearance in Berkeley was in 1976.

Led by artistic director Tory Dobrin, the 13 dancers perform ballet and modern, with a repertoire including 19 classical ballets and five modern works, as well as solos, duets and trios.

This weekend’s program includes Act 2 from “Swan Lake” and “Valpurgeyeva Noch,” inspired by the Bolshoi Ballet’s “Walpurgisnacht” and set to music by Gounoud.

The comedy comes not only from the way the accomplished performers incorporate and exaggerate professional dancers’ moves; the prima ballerinas’ names — Nadia Doumiafeyva, Irina Kolesterolikova and Maya Thickenthighya, to name a few — are uproarious.

Joshua Thake, who portrays Eugenia Repelskii and Jacques d’Aniels, trained with San Francisco Ballet School and was a member of Man Dance Company of San Francisco before joining The Trocks in 2011.

“My time in San Francisco was like The City’s hills — full of ups and downs, and the silhouette of the experience will always be present within my being,” says Thake, who also worked as a barista as his dance career in the drag and queer performance community blossomed here.

In roles from Albrecht in “Giselle,” to first brigade lead in “Stars and Stripes,” Von Rothbart in “Swan Lake” and Waltz Girl in “Les Sylphides,” Thake has enjoyed how The Trocks have given him the platform to strive for transcendence of gender.

The men, as they delicately balance en pointé as swans or princesses, aren’t mocking, but elevating the art form as they amuse both ballet experts and casual dance fans.

Yet the years between 1986 and 1990 were catastrophic for the troupe.

“The HIV crisis had a major impact on the company at the start of the epidemic,” says Dobrin, adding, “We lost many dancers. The pressure, ill health of many, and fear of the situation caused a type of paralysis.”

There was collateral damage, too, in that federal funding stopped for companies or projects with a gay sensibility. Although the Trocks did not directly receive funding, their bookings declined, because presenting theaters relying on government support feared losing their subsidies.

In 2017, a fine documentary about the Trocks, “Rebels on Pointe” by Bobbi Jo Hart, was released.

IF YOU GO

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Presented by Cal Performances

Where: Zellerbach Hall, near Bancroft Way and Dana Street, UC Berkeley campus

When: 8 p.m. March 14, 3 p.m. March 15

Tickets: $38 to $98

Contact: (510) 642-9988, calperformances.org

ComedyDance

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