Film Review: Rebels on Pointe

A warmhearted documentary that will tickle all audiences, 'Rebels on Pointe' goes behind the scenes with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a campy all-male classical-ballet comedy troupe.
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Beloved by dance aficionados, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, known as The Trocks by its devoted international following, is a New York-based, all-male classical-ballet comedy troupe. Its members are doubly extraordinary. Not only are they exquisitely trained ballet dancers with top-drawer technique, including a mastery of pointe work (typically only done by females), but they are also first-class physical comedians. Fans of the company’s hilarious, campy spoofs of classical ballet’s stuffy traditions and signature choreography have appreciated the dually talented nature of its dancers for more than four decades. But thanks to filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart’s Rebels on Pointe, a waggish, warmhearted documentary about The Trocks, we now know that there’s a third criterion for membership in the famous drag dance company: You must be a super-nice guy. While audiences have always loved their over-the-top personas onstage—where, in keeping with their parody of musty ballet conventions, they all take on gimmicky Russian names, such as Nadia Doumiafeyva or Ida Nevasayneva—Hart’s film goes behind the scenes and reveals The Trocks to be an unusually endearing, sympathetic, hard-working and genial group of gay men.

Fortunately, though the documentary focuses mainly on the dancers’ personal lives and backstage goings-on, Hart seasons her film with lots of performance footage of The Trocks in action. No matter how many times you’ve seen these hairy-chested men in tutus pepper romantic choreography with pratfalls or side-splitting facial expressions bespeaking riotous animosity between a prima ballerina and her pompous partner, watching The Trocks do their thing is always a treat.

Founded in 1974 in the wake of the Stonewall riots, the troupe is currently helmed by artistic director Tory Dobrin, whose keen eye, patience and sensitivity play a significant role in maintaining not only the company’s high artistic standards but also its healthy, family-like social dynamic. We watch Dobrin skillfully direct rehearsals and enthusiastically share information about the company’s history and accomplishments. The Trocks, he explains, “are not a gay company per se, because we don’t address gay issues from a political sense.” Yet Dobrin credits the company with exposing many people to a gay sensibility and doing it “with good cheer.” He points out how difficult it is for male ballet dancers who want to perform as women. There’s no place for them in conventional ballet companies. Dobrin strives to create a safe environment for them to work in, and we hear individual dancers attesting to how much support they get from him, both personally and professionally.

Despite its forays into the heartrending background stories of individual company members, the documentary never feels emotionally manipulative, but rather genuinely inquisitive and insightfully divulging. A Trock from Italy whose father is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, Raeffaele Morra spends his day off teaching the Dying Swan dance to a group of elderly women. Watching the rapt women’s attempts to create beauty with their bodies—bolstered by Morra’s assurances that what’s important is expressiveness—becomes a tear-jerking reminder of the richness dance can bring into our everyday lives.

Though primarily interested in the individuals who make the company tick, the film also contextualizes the troupe’s evolution alongside advances in gay rights and societal changes in attitudes toward gay culture that have occurred during its history. In its early years, the company was blackballed by funding sources because of its gay elements, and during the AIDS epidemic it lost many members, including Dobrin’s life partner, a fellow Trock. Today the company includes three married couples, and while for many years one never saw kids at their performances, a Trocks show is now considered a great way to introduce ballet to youngsters. The same can be said for Hart’s rib-tickling film. Like The Trocks, it’s for everyone who likes to laugh.

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