What would happen if the girl in the tutu was … a guy? Welcome to the world of the all-male comedy ballet.
By Paul Ransom.
Classical ballet as a joke?! (LOL)
Okay, Sugar Plum Fairies, settle down. It’s not the end the world. In fact, it’s the start point for a fun ballet phenomenon: the all-male comedy ballet. When Victor Trevino’s Les Ballets Eloelle arrive on our shores for a massive twenty five week metro and regional tour of their latest comic smash, Men In Pink Tights, it will doubtless bring brand new fans to ballet.
“We’re not down on dance,” Trevino tells me from his apartment in West Palm Beach in Florida. “What we’re trying to do is show people that dance is easy to understand and actually a lot of fun. Y’know, it’s accessible if you give it a try. We make it fun and for all types of people, especially people who have never gone to a dance concert before.”
With a repertoire full of classical favourites, including Swan Lake, Nutcracker and Romeo & Juliet, the boys of Eloelle (LOL) set out to make ballet fun in ways that might make the purists shudder. However, as Trevino is quick to remind us, he came from the classical ballet world, dancing under Marie Hale with Ballet Florida before migrating to the comic Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and eventually founding Eloelle.
That transition, rather than being driven by any aversion to classical ballet, was inspired by Trevino’s physique. As a “short guy who didn’t weigh much” he was advised that he had very limited opportunities. “So, I’d heard of this group where the men danced ballerina roles and I thought, ‘a-ha, there’s a place that will be really happy to have somebody who doesn’t weigh a lot’. I sent them my weight and height and they called me immediately.”
Today Victor Trevino is the king (and sometimes the princess) of comedy ballet; the perfect person to explain just how it is that the most serious of dance forms came to be funny. The story begins in New York in the early 1970s with the foundation of ‘The Trocks’. “These guys had an idea to do something funny with the clichés of ballet, and have the men dance the ballerina roles. They did it in a very small downtown theatre called La Mama. They got all their friends together and the audience loved it. What we’ve done now is taken it to another level.”
For Trevino, taking the genre beyond slapstick is one thing; making sure his company can dance is another. “Instead of being a bunch of guys who like dance but aren’t really dancers, I have all professional dancers. They can actually dance on their toes,” he points out.
As the choreographer of Men In Pink Tights, Victor Trevino’s challenge has been to take traditional motifs, like those in Romeo & Juliet and give them comic context. “I kinda thought, ‘okay, what would a twelve or thirteen year old really be thinking in that situation in today’s world?’ I mean basically the boy is thinking about how to get into the girl’s pants and she’s thinking, ‘well what do I get for it?’ So y’know, it a slightly different take on it.”
But before you go thinking that it’s all a bit Priscilla, think again. Les Ballets Eloelle is not a drag outfit. “The most important element of our show is the dance, not the fact that we’re men in tutus,” Trevino asserts. “That’s the joke walking in the door but obviously that’s just the starting point. Two hours of looking at that is not going to work and so we really try to put in a lot more elements, especially for those who already know and understand dance.”
After all, as Trevino argues, just because the boys dance the girl parts, “we’re not trying to convince people that they’re watching women. It’s not about female impersonation. The point is far more about gender roles; and I think that’s a little bit different. It’s more like Eddie Murphy playing a female character in a movie.”
So, apart from the obvious pleasures that might be derived from wearing a tutu and waving a wand, what is it that draws some men to want to be ballerinas? “The girl in ballet tends to be the focus and so it’s really kind of nice to experience that,” Trevino explains. “Male roles tend to be more supportive; a lot of lifting and following her lines. As the girl you end up connecting with the audience in totally a different way.”
Although happy to admit that dancing en pointe is a stern technical challenge, Trevino is similarly content to confess, “I’m a little guy so I don’t necessarily have a lot of strength and power to give. So, I’m a little bit more suited to the female parts,” he quips.
On the eve of what can only be described as an epic Australian tour, Victor Trevino considers the daunting list of dates and towns in front of him and laughs out loud. “I think if there’s a theatre we’re going there,” he says.
With an itinerary that includes Kalgoorlie, Whyalla, Wagga Wagga and Alice Springs, Trevino’s intrepid Men In Pink Tights will not only be travelling more of this wide brown land than most Aussies but doubtless having a few onstage hissy fits and tiara traumas along the way. Already hailed by audiences around the globe, LOL will almost certainly have country cockies and city slickers alike pirouetting in the aisles.
For the full list of performances in regional centres and major cities across Australia and News Zealand visit Balletlol.com/upcoming-performances. Make sure to get your tickets!