By way of Cuba and Miami, Latino dancer on pointe with Les Ballets Trockadero
Going for a bounce off Balanchine, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo bring ballet spoofs aplenty to the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami for one show Thursday, Jan. 11. (Photo courtesy of Zoran Jelenic)
Dancing en travesti, these men serve up delicious parodies, their ballerina guises sporting finicky makeup and fine-to-the-last-ruffle costumes. From stabbing little steps to slashing moves, their daintiness can lead to the baring of muscle. They adopt bios to go with a male and a female stage persona, some with convoluted names as if ripped out of a Tolstoy novel consigned to the fire.
They are Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo—the Trocks to the tickled initiates of this national treasure of a company celebrating its 50th anniversary. And they’re rolling their fun-filled caravan to the Arsht Center in Miami on Thursday, Jan. 11 and head north to the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach the next day.
From giggles to guffaws, the Trocks fuel their high-flying and occasional pratfall humor with talent, knowledge, and craft—a love, really, that’s keen-eyed and unafraid to poke fun at their art form. They’re canny comedians but also notable technicians, purveyors of dance history and analysts—a tweak here, a whack there—of performance style.
Italian-born Raffaele Morra, with the company since 2001 and its current ballet master, can pin down what it takes to wear the jewels in a Trock tiara. “The guys need to be funny and good dancers, obviously. We hope they can dance on pointe when they come to the company though it’s not a prerequisite. Most important is being a team player.”
Frequently on the road, company members spend a lot of time together in studios and theaters, airports, and on planes. So Morra emphasizes, “When we hold an audition, we usually ask the guys to stay with us for more than just a day. We’re able to see if someone has good technique soon in an audition. But we’re more interested in finding out how they interact with the group.”
Cohesion and commitment to mission—as Morra puts it, for people “to forget problems for a couple of hours and leave the theater with a big smile”—has allowed several generations of Trocks to enjoy prosperity and overcome hard times, the AIDS and COVID pandemics in particular. And the current multinational group of performers remains as plucky and clever as ever.
Top trouper, at almost thirty years with the Trocks, Robert Carter (a.k.a. Olga Supphozova and Yuri Smirnov) trained at the Joffrey and danced with Dance Theater of Harlem. That conventional ballet background, as is the case with other Trocks, lays the foundation for the gender-role and tradition-testing diversions that have earned him widespread admiration.
Carter is the role model relative newcomers to the Trockadero, including several Latinos, can take to heart. Alejandro Gonzalez Rodriguez represents that Trock spirit of putting your best foot forward—nicely arched, of course, and in his case armored in pointe shoes.
Gonzalez couldn’t have imagined he was headed here when, as a little boy in eastern Cuba’s Holguín, he loved to strut around in pointe shoes, accessible since his mother, Odalmis, teaches ballet.
“She’d caution me not to hurt myself,” Gonzalez says in Spanish. “But that was just my game-playing. The truth is in Cuba men going on pointe was taboo.”
From the age of nine, he followed the course of Cuba’s ballet curriculum, whose benefits Morra praises. “Training with Cuban teachers in Italy influenced my own dancing and teaching,” says Morra. “Their methodology is a wonderful mix, with the strength of the Russians, the elegance of the French, and the speed of Americans. It has an almost extreme sense of style perfect for the Trocks.”
Always supportive of Gonzalez—who developed professionally in Havana and Camagüey—his mother encouraged him to see the best of ballet as he went on to dance in his native city’s troupe. In 2009, Odalmis made it possible for her son to follow her to Ecuador, where she was teaching, to join that country’s national ballet company.
But nearly eight years later in San Antonio, his first U.S. residence, Gonzalez wondered if he’d ever dance again as he waited to formalize his immigration status. Urged by ballet friends to shoot for the Trockadero—Carlos Caballero Hopuy, a Havana classmate, had made a name for himself there—he queried the dreamed-of troupe about to visit the city. Former colleague Yosvani Cortellán helped by training him in Pilates.
“I worked hard to get back into shape and send the Trockadero a video,” says Gonzalez. “But there were no positions available.” Driven deeper into doubts about his professional future, he headed for Miami, where family awaited.
Hope arrived in an e-mail one spring day in 2019. Trockadero was coming to dance in Fort Lauderdale and invited him to audition. Says the artist, “I could only think, Now what? I’d practically done no dancing for a couple of years and only had about twenty days to get ready. I needed to trust the technique I’d learned and hoped my muscle memory wouldn’t betray me.”
Gonzalez wasn’t even sure where to take class until, to his enduring gratitude, director Eriberto Jimenez welcomed him to Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami. Otherwise, he would have had to keep preparing in the small patio of his trailer in Kendall.
His mother’s advice to stay calm and move forward comforted Gonzalez on the day he tried out for the Trocks, taking company class and then learning a part from the ballet “Paquita” on the spot.
“I couldn’t just show I was able to dance on pointe,” he recalls. “I had to command the scene. At the end I was dead tired, my whole body trembling.”
All that vanished the moment Trockadero’s artistic director Tory Dobrin asked him to start with the company within weeks.
“Imagine the adventure!” says the dancer, who went into full-speed-ahead mode, rushing back to Ecuador for intensive instruction from his mom and then getting insider tips from his good pal Carlos—on makeup, costuming, and interpretation.
Embracing the double personalities of Maria Clubfoot—putative heir to a glorious line of Native-American ballerinas—and disavowed aristocrat Tino Xirau-Lopez, Gonzalez debuted with the Trockadero in “Swan Lake, Act II” and “Patterns in Space,” a spoof of postmodernism, in June 2019, at the Stonewall 50th anniversary concert in New York’s Central Park, filmed for PBS’s American Masters.
All too soon, though, the dancer met with the fears of COVID howling at his dressing-room door. “Oh, it was horrible,” he reflects. “Just imagine, my dream to be in this company had finally been realized when—bam!—everything closed. I remember the date exactly, March 11, 2020.”
Gonzalez had good reason to fret when stages became off-limits.
As ballet master Morra points out, “Touring is crucial for the company’s survival. And performing in front of a different audience almost every night keeps it looking fresh.”
As things turned ugly in New York, Gonzalez came back to Miami, where he dabbled in real estate. “In this country,” he says, “I’ve become a jack-of-all-trades.” Add to his resumé assembling cars at a Toyota plant in San Antonio and cashiering at a South Florida discount department store.
But it would take more than a pandemic to clip the wings on the swan ballerina Gonzalez had so lovingly hatched. Some Zoom appearances along the way, he returned with the Trocks to New York’s Joyce Theater in December 2021 for roles in Morra’s “Majísimas,” its Spanish-dance accents acute, and in “Nightcrawlers,” Trockadero co-founder Peter Anastos’s choreography mischievously straying from a Jerome Robbins ballet.
On the current tour, “Go for Barocco,” an Anastos company classic bouncing off Balanchine, comes with “Valpurgeyeva Noch (Walpurgisnacht),” giddy as a Soviet-style bacchanalia, and “ChopEniana (Les Sylphides),” its ballet-in-white Romanticism quite bro-mantic. These provide grand opportunities for Rodriguez to sparkle.
Morra also promises surprises, saying, “We include different styles of ballets and humor, new pieces and old-time favorites.” A Trockadero show, he insists, should please first-timers as well as loyal friends. “We aim for inclusivity and freedom on stage but also in the audience. No one should feel left out.”
WHAT: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
WHERE: Adrienne Arsht Center of the Performing Arts, Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11
COST: $35, $49, $75, $99
INFORMATION: 305-949-6722 or arshtcenter.org
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