Yes, they're all men.
The superb dancers of the famed Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo perform ballet at the utmost professional level. But you don't have to look too closely to realize that the women's roles are played by men. That's the time-honored conceit of this 40-year-old company, known as the world's foremost all-male comic ballet company.
The "Trocks," as they're affectionately known, return to the Saroyan Theatre Saturday, March 29, after a nine-year absence in a concert sponsored by the Lively Arts Foundation. Here's a rundown on this funny, family-friendly evening that will expose you to great ballet and leave you laughing:
The company. Fourteen dancers make up the Trocks tour to Fresno. Four of those dancers danced in Fresno in 2005, says Tory Dobrin, the company's artistic director.
The program. The company will perform the second act of "Swan Lake," the ballets "Paquita" and "Pas de Quatre," and a Merce Cunningham work.
The Trocks philosophy: Think of the company as a silly send-up of the stereotype of stuffy Russian ballet companies that are such a part of the popular imagination. (Think overwrought diva.) Each dancer gets a Russian name and creates an outsized character on stage.
The back story. There was a time in ballet history in which dancers felt they had to fit into that Russian stereotype in order to be taken seriously, Dobrin says. (It came about because of the success of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, which toured throughout the U.S. in the 1910s and 1920s.) For example, the famed English ballerina Alicia Markova of Ballets Russes changed her name from Marks.
The drag factor. The men dancers playing women's roles don't make much of an attempt to disguise their gender. Part of the fun, notes Lively Arts artistic director Diane Mosier, is watching a man built like a "tight end performing the delicate choreography created originally for a sylphlike ballerina."
Ambassadors of dance. Aside from the silliness, the company has a deep commitment to classical ballet. The Trocks are a "curious bag of contradictions and confections," notes San Francisco Weekly writer Irene Hsiao. "They poke loving fun at the classics, turning the beautiful demise of the Dying Swan into a moulting, pecking last gasp, yet they also are bearers of a tradition of classical ballet that most ballet companies have jettisoned in favor of contemporary work."
No degree in dance needed. Even with all the enticing insider references for hardcore ballet fans, you don't need that background to enjoy the concept, Dobrin notes. "It's interesting for us, but it's not important to the show," he says. "What's important to the show is that it's an all-male ballet company."
The hard part for Lively Arts. The challenge in Fresno is to let people know about the company, that it is a unique all-male classical ballet company from New York City, Mosier says. "And that Valley residents need to be adventurous."
Kids are welcome. Times change. In the first years of the company, the concept of an all-male show was considered risque. Things are different now, Dobrin says. "The show is very suitable for children. It's a good introduction to ballet for kids. I think in a few years we'll probably be doing a lot of school shows."
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 29, Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St. livelyarts.org, ticketmaster.com, (877) 608-5883. $30-$78.