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Slapstick comedy, drag and ballet are all 'en pointe' with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

 Duane Gosa (left) will appear as Helen Highwaters in the "Swan Lake" pas de trois for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo's April 7 visit to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.
Zoran Jelenic
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Duane Gosa, left, will appear as Helen Highwaters in the "Swan Lake" pas de trois for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo's April 7 visit to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

In 1974, in the wake of the Stonewall Riots, a few ballet enthusiasts formed Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a satirical ballet company born out of New York City’s drag scene. Lovingly known as the Trocks, the company’s hilarious takes on classic ballets are performed en travesti, with men dancing all the roles and donning tutus, tights and very large pointe shoes.

For Ballets Trockadero’s Twin Cities debut on April 7 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, dancer Duane Gosa will perform a trio from “Swan Lake” and “Majisimas,” a parody set to Jules Massenet’s opera of the same name. You won’t see Gosa’s name in the program, however. Look for Helen Highwaters and the Legupski Brothers, Gosa’s stage names, selected on account of his tall stature and very high kicks.

After graduating from the University of Akron, Chicago-born, Ohio-bred Gosa moved to New York. There, he continued his training at the Ailey School and worked with several contemporary dance companies.

“I remember wanting to do something totally different and seeing Trockadero have an audition posting online,” he said. “I auditioned, got a job, and it’s been great. It’s all of the things that I loved about ballet, but felt that it maybe wasn’t available to me as a professional because I started late.”

After nearly 10 years in the Trocks, Gosa said he’s still able to “work it” and enjoys bringing high drama and high comedy together on the same stage.

Typically, girls start dancing on pointe at a young age — somewhere between 9 and 13 years old. Gosa first pulled on a pair of pointe shoes in college, around age 19 or 20.

“When I first started doing ballet partnering, I was really a mess,” he said. “I had no idea what was going on. I asked if I could take pointe classes so that I could be a better partner.”

Gosa said his college professors were supportive and the biggest challenge was all the attention that came from taking the class.

“Being a 6-foot-tall Black guy walking into a ballet class and then slapping on a pair of pointe shoes, you get a lot of people who are curious,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that has been a burden, but it’s something that I’ve noticed. I have to really put an extra set of focus goggles on.”

Ballets Trockadero’s roots stem not only from the gay rights movement, camp and New York nightlife, but also point to the origins of ballet. With women prevented from performing alongside their male counterparts in 17th century French courts, the men performed all the roles en travesti.

In this spirit of authenticity, the Trocks take on some of ballet’s most famous works. Their Bloomington program will include humorous adaptations of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s “Swan Lake,” George Balanchine’s “Vivaldi Suite” and Michel Fokine’s “The Dying Swan,” to name a few.

“I think that’s the beautiful thing about this company,” Gosa said. “We’re doing some serious work. It’s not all comedy. There’s a lot of technique involved, and there’s a lot of history in these ballets. It takes something and opens it up in a whole new way for a lot of people."

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo appears at 7:30 p.m. April 7 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets, starting at $34, are available at artsblooming.org.

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Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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