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Since its founding by choreographer Peter Anastos in 1974 this New York ballet company has been performing modern and classical ballet compositions including the well-known stuff, like Nutcracker, Giselle, and Swan Lake. The kicker is that all parts, male and female, human, sprite, and avian, are performed by men. (There was one female in the original troupe performing mime roles, but she's sort of non-canon.) The other kicker is that the men aren't really passing as women. Sure they're in tutus and wigs, performing admirably en pointe, but they're oft furry-chested, heavily muscled men in the spatula-makeup, garishly saturated, palm-fronds-for-fake-eyelash style of drag queens. In the wrong hands, this could be a setup for Very Bad Drag, with guys "noodling around en pointe." But the troupe are fanatic about their art, and achieves its effect not from what they're doing, but how they're doing it, which makes it funnier parody and artful at the same time. (See especially the uproarious uptake of The Dying Swan as an example.)

Drag for straights is at its IMHO best a funhouse mirror, exaggerating the feminine until it becomes comic, allowing us to finally see it for what it is. It must be done by gay men because only the fool can mock the king. It's this same principle that makes Les Trocks so powerful. Because they are men, exaggerating what is considered feminine in classical ballet, they reveal the artform's feminine conceits (and restrictions). On the way they're critiquing gender roles and ballet and aestheticism and producing...well, fabulous dance that is beautiful and touching and funny and much, much more accessible than classical ballet.

But it doesn't stop there. Ballet compositions have male roles as well, and Les Trocks addresses this with the style you might expect. The dancers don't dance these roles as themselves, but rather as a male persona that is almost as much drag as their female persona. Take the dancer Grant Thomas. When on stage as a man, he is William Vanilla. Following is his bio.

    Despite the fact that he is American, he is very popular within the company.

    He is extremely personable, the ballerinas very much enjoy dancing with him, the management finds him agreeable, his costumes are never soiled, his fans admire his directness, he photographs well, he keeps regular hours, brushes his teeth after ever meal, and he has never said a bad word about anybody.

    He will never really understand Russian ballet.

When on stage as a woman, he is Doris Vidanya. Following is her bio.

    The legendary Vitebsk Virago, first achieved recognition as a child performer, appearing with the famous Steppe Brothers in the world premiere of Dyspepsiana (based on an unfinished paragraph my M. Gorki).

    As a favorite of Nicholas, Alexandra, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and the czarevich, La Effhrvia, as she is known to her admirers, was compelled to flee St. Petersburg disguised as a karvsky shaslik.

    Upon arriving in the New World, she established herself as the Prima Ballerina Assoluta de Kalamazoo, a title she still retains.

Even for those of us who don't get the ballet-history-centric parts of the humor, it's still a hoot.

Gladly, les Trocks have found terrific success, performing in a frenzied yearly schedule touring the globe over. They've even earned a nationwide cult following for their summer performances in Japan. If you are lucky and they perform near you, I highly suggest a viewing or two. (Now that I think of it, bring an uptight friend. Don't tell him what he's in for. Blindfold him until the curtain rises.) If you are unfortunately remote, the troupe has made two DVDs available from their website (and at Tower Records in the States) which should suffice until you move out of the sticks.

Keep on Trockin!


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