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A CurtainUp Berkshires Feature
Gender Benders Are Big Winners in Two Prime Berkshire Venues

Members of the Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo AKA the Trocks in a scene from their signature piece, Swan Lake.
Having men assuming roles intended for women dates back to the ancient Greek tragedies when the stage wasn't considered a place for women to appear. As time passed, operas cast men "in drag" for comic effect. And once women entered the picture, trouser parts were common for opera contraltos while star thespians like Sarah Bernhardt famously played trouser parts. The contemporary theater scene abounds in male drag performers. But the dancers of the famous, world traveling company known as Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and this summer's all-male production of A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum are in a class all by themselves.

Given the cultural riches that are as much part of a summer in the Berkshires as its beautiful mountain ranges and cool lakes, I had time for only one visit to Jacob's Pillow this summer. That narrowed things down to the Trocks' first-time visit to the Pillow which was founded by Ted Shawn in order that he and his male dancers could put their own stamp on the then female dominated ballet world.

Unlike Shawn's dancers whose focus was on very masculine dances featuring Indian Warriers and other distinctly masculine types (Shawn's Indian dancer image still appears next to the podium of the Ted Shawn Main Stage), the Trocks have become a Global phenomenon by virtue of the tutus, over-sized ballet shoes and wigs donned for their take on classical ballet — beautifully danced but with enough hilarious touches of parody to make time spent with them a terrific mix of exquisite dancing with mind-boggling pirouettes and leaps and playful, perfectly timed and not overdone comedy.

The troupe's visit to the Pillow was very much a crowd pleaser. Both long-time fans and those experiencing these ballet boys and their same sex ballerinas extraordinaire for the first time responded with standup and cheer enthusiasm to their signature Swan Lake (Act II). The almost straight Le Corsaire pas de deux was an equally well received feast of superb pirouettes and sky-high leaps with just a few quick nods to the company's parodic identity.

Also on the very full menu was the pairing of a skyscraper tall ballerina with a Tom Thumb sized ballet boy, the one all-out spoof piece, The Dying Swan. In a departure from the classics, a new piece, Patterns in Space, satirized the highly stylized work of choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage featured three danseurs and two Trocks providing Cage-ian music from a seemingless bottomless basket of sound-making props. It was Merce-ifully timed not to overstay its welcome.

A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum
Christopher Fitzgerald as Pseudolus
I think for all his championship of a distinctly American, he-man style of ballet, Ted Shawn would have smiled from his corner of the great beyond reserved for artists to see the Trocks at once honor and mock the Russian classical ballet. And if Zero Mostel who pioneered the role of Pseudolus in Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened to Me On the Way to the Forum were in the same heavenly neighborhood, he too would have smiled on actress and first-time director Jessica Stone's all-male production starring her husband Christopher Fitzgerald that got the Williamstown Theatre Festival's summer 2010 season off with a bang. (Review). As Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo made an evening of Swan Lake or similar Russian dance classics into a brand-new experience, so Ms. Stone's idea of doing the ancient Greek story as the Greeks would have done it completely revitalized yet stayed true to this musical.

While you're reading this with both the Trocks and the WTF's revival of A Funny Thing. . . no longer in the Berkshires, the Trocks are bound to show up in a city near you sooner or later. (See the company's web site for a full schedule: which includes a stop at New York's Joyce Theater this winter). And I wouldn't be surprised if the WTF revival shows up on Broadway, if not next season, in the season after that.

In the meantime, Jacb's Pillow still has some wonderful programs in store both in its Ted Shawn and smaller Doris Duke venue-- not to mention more FREE Inside/Out performances on upcoming Wednesdays. For full details see

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