Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (hitherto referred to as “The Trocks”) has been in existence for over forty years. But despite a large and ever-growing following all over the world, many people have never even heard of them. Such was the case with filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart — who had seen an advertisement for one of their shows about four or five years ago.
“I contacted their artistic director, Tory Dobrin, and asked if I could bring a camera along to record some backstage footage,” Hart recalled in a recent Skype interview from Montreal with Gay Essential in Los Angeles. “I wanted to see if there was a story for a documentary.”
As it turns out, there most definitely was. Hart created a demo and took it with her to the Hot Docs Documentary Festival. Hart pitched her idea to the Documentary Channel Commissioning Editor Bruce Cowley, who immediately came on board and was able to secure the financing for a feature about the Trocks. That feature, called Rebels on Pointe, is screening at this year’s Outfest Film Festival in Los Angeles.
As summarized on their website, the Trocks are an all-male ballet company that was founded in 1974 by a group of ballet enthusiasts for the purpose of presenting a comedically playful view of classical ballet – with many men dressed as ballerinas (tutu and all).
“This is my first film about men… who happen to be in drag!” Hart says. “I became a fan right away just watching them from the wings – their art, their struggle, their determination and their originally. I couldn’t believe no one had ever done a backstage documentary about them before.”
The Trocks had been featured in other documentaries (as well as in a 1977 Shirley MacLaine TV special), but only as it related to their performances. No one had ever gone backstage to get to know the performers. “They were always on or being in character. I wanted to see the humanity beneath all that and connect the audience with that,” Hart explains.
Hart initially set out to frame her story about the Trocks around their 40th Anniversary celebration, but when the dancers started telling her their personal stories, she realized that this was the story she needed and wanted to tell in the documentary.
“I was really curious about how these men got to be who they are. A lot of them were just trying to create a safe environment for themselves to feel free to express themselves and be their unique selves in that environment.”
Personal stories such as being bullied as a child, aging parents, not finding a place in other ballet companies but finding one with the Trocks factor into the documentary – punctuated by a wedding, a mother/child reunion and visits to childhood homes.
“My favorite part is sitting in the audience and watching people’s reactions to the film,” Hart says. Fans of the Trocks come up to her and talk about how they never understood them personally but now have a whole different level of appreciation them that transcends them as artists. “They’re fans of these artists who are also these amazing human beings. That’s how we should be seeing each other. We’re all neighbors on this little spinning ball. And if we don’t start paying attention to that ASAP, we’re just going to spin off of this planet.”
Hart’s approach to the film clearly became more than just about telling the personal stories of the Trocks. “We are all going through life experiencing what we experience. But people are scared – scared of what’s different. For me, I like to transcend that wall by exploring universal human elements – family, love, success, failure, determination, resilience, fear, happiness, sadness. We all feel those elements. Yes, we’re talking about men’s ballet. Yes, they’re on pointe [which at one time was a taboo thing for men to do]. Yes, they’re gay. But even with the marriage, for example — yes, it’s two men getting married. But I wanted to go to the heart of it – the family coming together, the moms looking at them and being moved.”
A great moment in the film was when a black mother, a white mother and a Latina mother met and were seated together to watch their sons perform.
“This is what normal should be,” Hart states emphatically. “Parents just being there helping their children find their own wings to fly.”
Though a filmmaker, Hart’s degree is actually in International Relations, so she sees filmmaking as her way of exploring humanity and bringing people closer – which is one of her aims with this documentary. “Given all the divisiveness in the world and the political climate in the States, we need reminders to celebrate our similarities and honor our differences. The Trocks represent that.”
And the response from audiences reflects that. They’re so huge in Japan that people follow the entire leg of their tours out there. Outside of Japan, in 500 cities all over the world, audiences of all ages, races and backgrounds are packing out large venues. Parents are even bringing their children – which hasn’t always been the case. And some of those children want to grow up to be Trocks.
“They’re breaking down the ‘stuffy’ barriers and bringing ballet back to the people and breaking down the invisible fourth wall of performance and talking directly to the audience,” Hart observes. “People all walk out happy because it’s such a feel good show. It’s time the Trocks are fully celebrated!”
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Bobbi Jo Hart