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Editorial

Cal Performances: A Home Away From Home For The Trocks

by Heather Desaulniers

As part of its current tour, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo makes a Bay Area stop, arriving in Berkeley for a three-performance run at the beginning of March.

The 40-year bond between Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, affectionately known in dance circles as the “Trocks,” and Cal Performances reflects a mutual commitment that has resulted in a fruitful and rewarding artistic exchange. Since its first appearance at Zellerbach Hall in 1976, the Trocks have worked with Cal Performances to bring the company back on multiple occasions, making them a beloved mainstay. Says Trocks company artistic director Tory Dobrin, “When you have a long-term relationship with a presenter, there is a special familiarity, and that organization becomes a friend; you know the theater, you know the people—it is a little like going home.” The March performances on the UC Berkeley campus not only celebrate the four-decade legacy of this partnership, but also usher it into the future.

Today the New York-based Trocks are nationally and internationally renowned and adored for inventive and comic interpretations of dance, particularly its take on traditional narrative ballets. The all-male company performs every role in the repertoire, and for the female parts, dance in pointe shoes and en travesti. It seeks to honor the historical significance of each ballet and strive for technical excellence in every movement phrase and variation, all while having fun with the conventions of the artform. The result is a visual feast of choreography, costume and impeccable parody. “The Trocks are about entertaining with comedy and a high level of dancing, and encouraging performers to find and develop their own artistic license and personality,” notes Dobrin. 

Back in 1974, the Trocks were just starting out, trying to build a following and working to become established in the performance landscape, it was “… mostly performing in lofts in New York City,” recounts Dobrin. And then, with one booking, things shifted dramatically for the group: Betty Connors, who headed Cal Performances back when it was called the Committee for Arts and Lectures, booked the Trocks to perform at Zellerbach. “Betty Connors gave us our first major opportunity; she was a mentor, like our fairy godmother in the early years,” Dobrin says. “Being presented at such an important theater and venue opened up many other possibilities and avenues for the company, and so, performing in the Bay Area and at Cal Performances has always been and still is incredibly meaningful for us.”

According to Trock and Cal Performances archival records, that first booking was for four shows with two separate programs; each sold out, with standing room only. Since that pivotal, and overwhelming positive 1976 Cal Performances debut, the Trocks have returned to Zellerbach repeatedly. “I can think of more than a dozen times that we’ve performed in Berkeley,” says Dobrin. Its most recent engagement was in 2014.

For March’s program, the Trocks bring a number of different works to Cal Performances, many of which are centerpieces of the company’s repertoire. Audiences can expect an eclectic mix of dance, choreography and comic theater with a pas de six from “La Esmeralda,” a pas de deux from “Le Corsaire,” the Dying Swan solo, the second Act of “Swan Lake,” and a one-act, 30-minute version of “Don Quixote.” In light of this 40th anniversary celebration, these last two ballets hold a particular significance—uniquely and simultaneously representing the rich history between the Trocks and Cal Performances as well as the next chapter in their relationship. “It’s exciting to have a program that includes “Swan Lake” and “Don Quixote,” pieces that were in the original 1976 performance. Now we have newer versions of them, with updated choreography and different dancers in the main roles”, explains Dobrin. “We are combining nostalgia with newness in this program, and that’s how we’ve lasted for more than 40 years, by constantly re-inventing our repertoire, moving forward and keeping things fresh.”

March 3 & 4

Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo at Cal Performances

Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

(510) 642-9988/calperformances.org