Friday, January 14th, 2011 12:00 PM
The Trocks: Ballet That Doesn't Take Itself Seriously
Written by Brian Patrick Thornton
Friday, 14 January 2011 00:37
On Saturday, Jan. 29, the best drag show in Cleveland won't be on the stage at Bounce. Rather, it will be in PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theatre.
And it won't be some queen from Lorain lip-synching to the latest Britney. Instead, it will be a corps of highly trained dancers, performing more › the original choreography of some of the greatest ballet and modern dancers.
Oh, and you won't need to tip them. So leave your moist and wrinkled singles at home and prepare for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the acclaimed New York-based troupe that's arriving for one night courtesy of DanceCleveland.
We chatted with Balletmaster Paul Ghiselin about this all-gay comedy dance company.
Ghiselin, hailing currently from Bushwick, Brooklyn, began his dance career right here in the Rustbelt with Akron's Ohio Ballet. But 15 years ago he auditioned for Trockadero, where he's been ever since.
Today, as balletmaster, "I'm a bit older to be doing the hard-hitting stuff," he says. "And my responsibilities with the company are training the new dancers, teaching them the [repertory]."
That repertory involves a serious devotion to making audiences laugh.
"We parody, we satire ballet. We kind of model ourselves after a rusty old ballet touring company from Russia," Ghiselin says. "All of the guys have two alter egos: one female, one male. We have these made-up names. My stage name as the female is Ida Nevasayneva."
In lambasting the classics, the company performs the real choreography - Swan Lake "with a twist," for example. The men, as women, are on point. And they hire authentic Russian ballerinas as coaches.
When Ghiselin began in '95, it took him almost a year to adapt to the difficult task of dancing on his toes. Today, "the dancers come quite well-trained," he says. "It's not like in the old days when male dancers couldn't train on point."
* * *
"The Trocks" arrived in 1974, rising out of the 1969 Stonewall riots and a general drag movement that swept New York, Ghiselin says. Men playing women's roles in Greek tragedies in loft spaces so far off the Great White Way, "I can't even call it Off-Broadway," he says. "It was off-off-off-Broadway … And that was the beginning of Trockadero. And now we're performing in the best theaters in the world. This past year we did 136 performances."
And are all of the performers gay?
"Well, I don't want to out anybody, but yes," he says with a lilt. "We have had straight men in the company, but they don't last long."
Why is that? "I just don't think it's a thing that a straight man gets into," Ghiselin says. "Putting on the point shoes every day. Putting on eyelashes every day. Having to get into eyelashes and tiaras … It's just not a straight man's aesthetic."
Yet the ballet master is quick to point out that it takes a tough man to do the difficult job of dancing with Trockadero.
"The guys in this company are very into what they do," he says. "They care about their dancing. All of them do a lot of homework. They watch the ballerinas. They go to concerts. So you have a group who are very into what they do … They're very serious about making fun of it."
For the Jan. 29 engagement, the company is bringing its most recent New York performance.
The evening starts with the second act of Swan Lake, "a send up of the traditional. It's based on the Royal Ballet of London's choreography, which you really don't see any more. But it was restaged 40 years ago, when the company first started. It's based on the classical. It's a lot of fun; a lot of humor is built into it."
That's followed by Patterns in Space, based on choreographer Merce Cunningham's work. And the evening concludes with Raymondo's Wedding, "which is a very Imperial Russian piece. The choreography is very grand," Ghiselin says.
And expect to laugh. Trockadero's audience crosses all categories, he says. There will be your standard dance fans, but also those who normally wouldn't go to see dance. The usual reaction?
"They'll say we've ruined Swan Lake for them because [now] they'll see it and laugh."
Be prepared to be ruined.
Thursday, December 9th, 2010 12:00 PM
This holiday season, share the thrill of live dance with DANCECleveland's "Just Duet" package! Don't miss your chance to experience two mesmerizing performances for one incredible price. See both RIOULT on April 2nd and Parsons Dance with East Village Opera Company on June 11th at PlayhouseSquare at the "Just Duet" rate and save!
Start with the sensual, articulate and exquisitely musical works of Pascal Rioult, including signature pieces, Bolero and Wien more › plus a new dance set to music by Bach. Add to that the most ambitious production in the history of David Parson's company. Titled Remember Me, this high-energy mix of contemporary American dance, opera and rock combines the athleticism of Parsons with an exhilarating live performance by the East Village Opera Company.
Treat yourself or someone else to this marvelous dance package from DANCECleveland. "Just Duet" subscriptions start at only $60 and can be purchased via phone at 216.991.9000 or click here.
Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 12:00 PM
Fly: Five First Ladies of Dance @ Oberlin
Not only did the Five First Ladies of Dance fly, they also swept audience members right off their feet during the Fri 12/3 sold out performance at Hall Auditorium in Oberlin.
Sponsored by Dance Cleveland and Oberlin College, the performance featured five legendary dancers/choreographers who had hundreds of eyes and ears glued to their every movement and breath. We followed their decisive footwork more › around the stage. We raised our vision up and down watching each body bend and diagonal pose. Drawn in by the dancers' erect stature, willowy arms, flickering fingers, and expressive turns of their heads, messages were conveyed telling their dance stories.
Germaine Acogny, Carmen de Lavallade, Dianne McIntyre, Bebe Miller, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, African and African-American women, mature women all over 60 years of age, danced solo their signature pieces. These ladies already have significant careers demonstrating accomplishment and skill in performing, teaching, and creating dance work. But tonight, they went further exhibiting an exciting array of dance styles and techniques in the foreground while dramatic lighting, music, staging, spoken words, costumes, and video played in the background enhancing the total production.
Bebe Miller opened the show dancing her choreography of "Rain." Looking dramatic in her deep red dress, she moved slowly and quietly, seemingly heavy with thought. First dancing away from a large rectangular grass-like shag rug (maybe a grave site), she grew in confidence to dance closer to this symbolism. Miller expressed her story though dance, gaining momentum, to finally owning the stage at the conclusion. Since 2000, she has taught dance at the Ohio State University.
Germaine Acogny performed "Songbook Yaakaar (Facing Up to Hope)." Dressed in black knit with a black feather boa draped around her neck, she brought the audience into her performance. She began by entering from the lobby and walking down the aisles toward the stage chanting, "We need more women presidents in the world! Yes we can!" A strong presence, she encouraged the audience to join in repeating these words. Acogny is the founder and director of the International Centre for Traditional and Contemporary African Dances based in Dakar, Senegal.
Remarkably, Dianne McIntyre's feet never stopped moving in the next dance, "If You Don't Know…" George Caldwell, formally dressed in a white suit, accompanied her on stage playing background music on a black baby grand piano. McIntyre, a native Clevelander, set her stage well – a study in black and white along with a study in lines. Her twining arms mirrored the folds of her soft white dress. She is a 2007 John S. Guggenheim Fellow for Choreography, a three-time Bessie award-winner, a recipient of an AUDELCO award (NY Black Theatre), AUDELCO Pioneer award, Helen Hayes award (DC theatre) and four Helen Hayes nominations.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar danced "Bring 'Em Home" to spirited New Orleans music using a small white cloth as her only prop. Waving the white flag, she first appeared to be surrendering, but by the end of the performance, she conveyed positive strength and commitment. This dance is part of Zollar's effort to re-build the cultural life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the city in 2005. She founded her dance company Urban Bush Women over 20 years ago with the goal of bringing women-oriented perspectives in front of audiences through dance.
Carmen de Lavallade performed the final solo dance of the evening, "The Creation." Her husband, Geoffrey Holder, is the choreographer. Poised in a full length flowing red dress, Lavallade gave us her compelling voice reciting the narrative of creation while acting out the story. We were with her every step of the way.
Fly: Five First Ladies of Dance, in its second year of touring, created a memorable evening for audience members. Hats off to the ladies for being so accessible at Oberlin teaching Master dance classes and being available at Q&A sessions. You Go Girls!! Bravo!!
Saturday, December 4th, 2010 10:00 AM
Spending time with the performers who inhabited the stage Friday at Oberlin College's Hall Auditorium could only be termed an honor.
The program was titled "Fly: Five First Ladies of Dance," which didn't begin to tell the story.
Make that stories. Each of these artists has been a distinguished contributor to the dance scene for decades, either onstage or behind the creative scenes – or both. They take to the more › footlights as if they're the finest of terpsichorean wines, revealing textures and characteristics that continue to deepen.
To watch them in action, mostly performing their own solos, is to witness pages of dance history being turned. Carmen de Lavallade, nearing 80, remains a regal presence, even if she's just standing still. For a blend of buoyancy and spunk, Dianne McIntyre can hardly be surpassed.
It is impossible not to be struck in the gut by the whimsy, resolve and power that Germaine Acogny projects or mesmerized by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's sizzling vitality and Bebe Miller's reflective sensitivity.
The program, presented by DanceCleveland and the Oberlin College and Conservatory Theater and Dance Program, could only provide snapshots of the work these aptly dubbed "first ladies" have been developing throughout their creative lifetimes. But as a glimpse into artistic souls, "Fly" is a knockout.
Presented with slight pauses between selections, the program proceeds with inevitable force from the resilient explorations of Miller's "Rain" to the grand theatrical gestures in the finale, Geoffrey Holder's "The Creation," spoken crisply and danced to the skies by de Lavallade, his wife.
The Miller piece begins in silence as the dancer-choreography moves from vulnerability to a place of calm. She simulates walking, reaches out with yearning hands and circles a patch of grass, in which she ultimately luxuriates. Explosive chants and percussion music by Hearn Gadbois give way to the haunting tranquility of Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5, an ideal sonic odyssey for Miller's hypnotic monologue.
"Yes, we will," announced Acogny as she walked down an aisle of the theater proclaiming the need for more female presidents in Africa. Her "Songook Yaakaar (Facing up to hope)," choreographed with Pierre Doussaint, goes well beyond this charismatic act to become an ode to freedom, complete with narration, film clips and a soloist who applies spellbinding control and thrust to every moment.
McIntyre's "If You Don't Know…" contains audio recordings of beloved departed colleagues singing, discussing the challenges of being a black filmmaker and playing exhilarating jazz. But the magnet is McIntyre, radiant in white, a feather who flutters, floats and fights to do her artistic thing. Her collaborator, pianist George Caldwell, plays Olu Dara's music with polished intensity.
In "Bring 'Em Home," Zollar also commands the stage, rising from a heap and waving handkerchief as if in surrender. Don't be fooled. Zollar, motivated by exuberant New Orleans jazz, is a convulsive and shimmying dynamo, proud to bring this brief masterpiece home.
RELATED COMPANY: FLY: Five First Ladies of Dance
Friday, December 3rd, 2010 11:00 PM
Click here to view photos from the FLY: Five First Ladies of Dance tech rehearsal at Oberlin College.
Plain Dealer photographer Gus Chan captures the five first ladies as they rehearse their solo works in preparation for sold-out performances at Oberlin College. more ›