Ballet has forever been stereotyped as an art form strictly for the highest classes in society, with no entry point for audiences considered to have less knowledge of highbrow culture. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the world famous ballet troupe from New York, have spent decades popularising the art form with audiences by parodying its conventions and transforming ballet in to a work of slapstick performance that proves an easy sell to those who would otherwise never attend a recital.
As well as showing genuine affection for classic ballet pieces through their warm brand of parody, Les Ballets Trockadero are also notable for being an all male drag act – although this unique selling point is mercifully never responsible for any obvious jokes in their performances. Documentarian Bobbi Jo Hart’s new film Rebels on Pointe follows the troupe on a world tour, discovering their worldwide fanbases and the artists behind the make-up. Despite being set in a drag inspired world, this feels as removed from the bitchiness associated with that culture as possible, as we find genuine warmth and affection between all group members.
Founded in 1974, the troupe has gone through numerous line-up changes and has continued to grow in popularity in the decades since its inaugural performance in a New York loft. If the world of ballet has previously been presented in pop culture as a world of intense bitchiness and image conscious divas (think back to the surrealistic camp histrionics of Black Swan and you’ll know why), Rebels on Pointe fully rehabilitates how audiences will view ballet. Not only does it show ballet isn’t a restricted art form for society’s most privileged, it shows that those performing aren’t letting their egos get in the way of their profession.
This is largely due to the fact the troupe considers themselves to be a “family”, who prioritise collaboration and co-operation – but also, as openly gay guys from different corners of the world, need a bedrock of familial support that not every member has been able to receive back at home. The idea of finding your place in a nuclear family is long rooted in drag culture, but the genuine affection the members have for each other leads to natural relationships forming between the dancers. Director Bobbi Jo Hart sometimes portrays this in overly saccharine ways, but I must admit, I found it hard for my heart not to flutter as two of the ballerinas get happily married in front of proud mothers crying tears of joy. It’s a world away from the nuclear families in earlier, similar LGBT documentaries such as Paris is Burning – now, society has moved on to the extent both birth families and newfound families can happily co-exist, and it’s an utterly joyous sign of progress.
The documentary does tend to skim over the rich history of the troupe, as well as the more tragic events; only a brief section is dedicated to members of the eighties line-up lost to the AIDS epidemic. This isn’t the only showbusiness documentary in this year’s Outfest line up to prioritise the happier moments of a subject’s career to the more dramatic ones (The Fantastic Allan Carr suffers from the same issue), leading you to wish that there greater detail as to the hardships they have faced and emerged stronger from.
Like the other documentary I just mentioned, this is entirely by design; after members of the troupe started to pass away, they doubled down on the comedic elements as a form of rebellion against the hopelessness they had faced – and that is the noble intention of the director here, even if you do wish it had a little bit more grit underneath the tutu. But as a tribute to the current roster of dancers and an exploration of their extraordinary daily routines, Rebels on Pointe is very much, ahem, on point.
Read our interview with Bobbi Jo Hart
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Bobbi Jo Hart