Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
S35 Ep8

Ballerina Boys

Premiere: 6/4/2021 | 00:02:36 |

Discover Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (The Trocks), an all-male company that for 45 years has offered audiences their passion for ballet classics mixed with exuberant comedy. With every step they poke fun at their strictly gendered art form.



About the Episode

Ballerina Boys is a portrait of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (The Trocks), an all-male ballet company and international dance sensation. For over 45 years the company has shared their signature style and message of equality, inclusion and social justice with audiences around the world. The men perform classical ballet en pointe and in drag, challenging the art form’s rigid gender norms as they mix rigorous technique with comedy and satire. Inspired by the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the company was fueled by the spirit of defiance and creative exuberance that the gay rights movement unleashed. The film follows The Trocks on tour in the Carolinas, an epicenter of continued struggles for LGBTQ rights. Ballerina Boys interweaves original interviews and contemporary and archival performance footage to tell the remarkable history of the company and culminates with The Trocks’ 2019 performance at the Stonewall 50th anniversary concert at Central Park’s SummerStage in New York City. In the words of ballerina Kevin Garcia, “Every time the curtain opens we represent progress for equality. We just do it dancing.”


A production of Merrywidow Films in association with American Masters Pictures and ITVS. Directed and produced by Chana Gazit and Martie Barylick. Michael Kantor is executive producer of American Masters.

American Masters Pictures
Founded in 2016 by executive producer Michael Kantor, American Masters Pictures is WNET’s theatrical imprint for documentaries co-produced by American Masters, the award-winning biography series that celebrates our arts and culture. American Masters Pictures partners with filmmakers, distributors and sales agents on non-broadcast releases including film festivals, theatrical, online, DVD, VOD and OTT, with PBS as the exclusive U.S. broadcaster of all films as part of the American Masters series. Films include Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, N. Scott Momaday: Words from a Bear, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, Itzhak, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise and Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable. Since 1986, American Masters has set the standard for documentary film profiles, accruing widespread critical acclaim: 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET.

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; and newsroom NJ Spotlight News. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for nearly 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.


Original episode production funding provided by Jody and John Arnhold, Emily Coward and Raphael Ginsberg, and the Jerome Robbins Foundation.

Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judith & Burton Resnick, Seton Melvin Charitable Trust, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen and public television viewers.


♪ ♪ -The tutus, the pointe shoes, the glamour.

It was just always fascinating to me.

All of it.

That just appealed to me 'cause there was just such art and beauty.

♪ -Being in the company, we were pushing the limits of the definition of what men did.

What Ballets Trockadero has done over the years is turned this notion of what is beautiful in ballet kind of on its head and turned it upside down so that there can be moments in this ballet where you just say, 'Wow!'

♪ ♪ ♪ -What the Trocks did was really upend all of the traditions of ballet and, at the same time, embraced all of the traditions of ballet.

-Everything we did was layered.

Everything had some historical precedent and moment.

It was like putting the history of ballet through a blender.

And you're gonna come out with this shake.

-15 minutes to the top of the show.

This is 15 minutes to 'Swan Lake.'

-On paper, when it's advertised, it says, 'All-male comedy ballet company.'

We are Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, but people fondly call us 'The Trocks,' the drag ballet company.

-This is 10 minutes to places.

This is 10 minutes until the top of the show.

This is 10 minutes.

-We're a ballet show, and I think the aspect of it being drag entertainment is a wide net to expose ballet to a bunch of people.

Their guard is let down through comedy.

♪ [ Laughter ] ♪ So people come that are ballet fans.

People come on dates.

People can bring their families.

-We are a serious ballet company with training, with rehearsals, that travel around the world just dancing.

-We go everywhere. We're not just in New York.

We're not just in London or Tokyo.

We're in North Carolina. We're in West Texas.

We're everywhere.

-The Trockadero did a lot to popularize ballet in a country that didn't quite trust it yet.

People understood, 'If we can go to the ballet, and we could laugh, hey, it's not so bad after all.

Maybe we should go see another ballet.'

-These guys decided 'We're gonna dance,' taking something that's so formal and using it to give joy to people... ♪ [ Laughter ] ...and joy to themselves and create something that was a form of resistance.

♪ [ Laughter ] 'We're gonna be fun, and people are gonna love us, and we're gay.'

♪ -The mission of the company when it was first started was to have a fun, playful time with classical ballet using drag as part of the comedy.

♪ -The longevity of the Trockadero was kind of amazing.

The Trockadero really has been an ambassador for physical humor and for American humor.

It's a little bit out-there. It's sometimes rude and weird.

We never pull teeth.

We never tortured anybody.

I mean, except for people that hated us.

♪ [ Cheers and applause ] ♪ [ Laughter ] -I have to tell you, at the very beginning of all this, it was kind of a lark.

It wasn't like we formed this ballet company and, you know, here we are, we're established.

♪ [ Laughter ] We didn't know what was gonna happen.

We were all in the dark.

This happens with a lot of things that in hindsight look thought out.

[ Laughs ] ♪ Success was certainly not thought out.

We had no idea that was gonna happen.

It was just, the time was absolutely right.

So, the 1970s was a perfect moment for us to strike.

-So, into the stew emerge the Trocks.

[ Laughter ] It's impossible to imagine that there could have been a company like the Trocks before it was founded in 1974.

It's a little hard to believe that there a Trocks in 1974, but it was a more expansive time, and there was the possibility of something as transgressive as the Trocks.

♪ -At the period that we came along, it was during that upheaval after the Stonewall riots and when social mores and cultural mores were changing.

♪ We came along, and we kind of shook things up a little bit.

[ Laughter ] -I came out when I moved to New York.

But in those days, you know, in the late '60s and '70s, coming out wasn't like the '20s or '30s or certainly the 19th century, when there was no such thing as coming out, because Stonewall had already happened.

-1969, June 28th, in the early-morning hours, the police raided the Stonewall Inn.

There are so many myths about what happened at Stonewall.

Some of those myths were caused by the press coverage at the time.

The headline was 'Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad.'

And they described in that article and also the article about how there was a kick line that confronted the police.

They were gender-nonconforming kids.

They didn't call themselves that then.

And instead of running away from this line of police who were simply goose-stepping toward them, they formed a kick line and chanted, 'We are the Village girls. We wear our hair in curls.

We wear our dungarees above our nelly knees.'

And there was one more line before the police charged them.

And so these were teenagers having a lot of fun at the policemen's expense, and the police couldn't stand it.

Stonewall was the ignition point in a movement that spread across the country and then around the world.

[ Crowd chanting indistinctly ] -Without the Stonewall riots, I don't think that a company like Les Ballets Trockadero could have started.

Stonewall blew open the door and made all kinds of performances possible.

♪ -The 1970s in New York was called the Dance Explosion.

You know, there were ballet companies and modern dance companies, contemporary companies.

Really, every other block, somebody had a loft and a company.

And the New York City Ballet was a great power, and ABT was a great power.

And all the big companies from Europe came regularly to New York.

The whole place was just dance-crazy.

There were just so many companies.

[ Laughter ] So, in a way, we fitted into that whole scheme.

Why not a drag ballet company?

You know, why not men in tutus?

Everything else is happening. Why not that?

♪ -It is part of that whole post-Stonewall.

'We're gonna perform. We're gonna wear what we want to wear.

We're gonna do what we want to do.'

♪ -But doing anything that was gay-related in the 1970s, whether you intended it to be political or not, it was a political statement.

Whether the Trocks thought they were doing something political or not, it was definitely a political action, or it was perceived as such.

♪ ♪ -The first time I saw the Trocks, I was 12, and my reaction was seeing heaven open.

♪ And I just looked at my parents, and it was like, 'That's the perfect place for me.'

♪ I think everything starts when we are doing our makeup.

I start getting in my own bubble, where Kevin is aside and I become a ballerina.

♪ This company brings me the opportunity to be, finally, Kevin without any wall.

-There is something really empowering about performing in drag.

Let's go and do it.

♪ In the traditional companies, you end up dancing the male roles behind a girl, just partnering, and I felt that wasn't enough for me.

I always put the pointe shoes on by the side, hiding.

Girls are classically trained to go en pointe when they're 11.

I wore pointe shoes at about 22 years old.

So my body wasn't ready for that.

♪ It is painful, and it never really gets better, but there is that moment when your body is really used to it and you just don't feel it anymore.

And those are the best moments.

♪ I feel that when I wear the pointe shoes, the whole alignment of my body is different.

I can move more like a ballerina.

♪ You have to have a certain control, balance, a refinement that you just don't feel on flat.

♪ If you can surpass that misery, you can really feel there is this beautiful energy going on in your body.

♪ You feel like a different dancer.

♪ When I dance a female role, I am not trying to be a woman, if you want to say.

I am trying to be the character that I'm portraying.

I'm really trying to channel all the ballerinas that I've been looking up to and all the feelings that this ballerina can portray when she dances that role.

♪ When I'm Swan Queen, I'm not trying to be a woman playing Odette or a man dressed as a woman playing that role, 'cause that's a lot.

That's a lot to think about.

I'm just trying to really think of that character that I'm dancing.

[ Laughter ] ♪ Odette is a princess and under the spell of Rothbart, and she becomes a swan.

You have to portray this sort of feeling of being trapped into someone else's body.

[ Sobs ] Or not able to be yourself.

[ Laughter ] And that's a feeling I'm sure everybody can relate to in some ways.

♪ And that's what works when we are truly, you know, ourselves.

[ Laughter ] ♪ It's a role that every dancer looks up to, and, yeah, it's such an important figure in ballet.

Who doesn't love 'Swan Lake'? Who doesn't remember the Swan Queen?

[ Laughter ] There's a lot of expectation even in the normal company.

Everyone comes to watch the Swan Queen.

So I have a lot to work on, to deliver, because it's good to be a Swan Queen, but it's good to be a Swan Queen.

♪ [ Applause ] -In companies like ours, which is a self-created company, there's no institution behind it.

There's no academy.

You know, when we started the Trockadero, we just declared ourselves to be a ballet company.

We didn't go through 'Go.' We didn't stop at Park Place.

We just said, 'Here we are,' and I just declared myself to be a prima ballerina.

I had no dancing career at all.

I just said, 'This is it. I'm a prima ballerina.'

And I was accepted as that.

So it was kind of weird that we appeared on the scene and we were immediately accepted.

Well, by most people.

A lot of the muckety-muck dance establishment didn't necessarily like us.

They thought what we were doing was terrible and insulting and wrong.

But that's actually not what we were up to.

We were up to celebrating ballet and saying, 'This is the greatest thing in the world, and it can stand a little parody.'

♪ All the things in 'Giselle' -- you know, the Wilis, the dead girls running around in the cemetery at night, 'Swan Lake,' Prince falls in love with a bird and brings her home to mother to say, 'I'd like to marry her' -- you know, all these things are absolutely ripe for parody.

♪ [ Laughter ] Well, once we had a ballet company, we had to have names for all the dancers, because we couldn't just appear as, you know, 'Tom Smith is dancing Odette tonight.'

[ Laughter ] And so in those days, all these serious ballet companies, everyone had to have a Russian name.

So we thought, 'Well, we're the Trockadero.

We're gonna make up sort of parody names.'

So I became Olga Tchikaboumskaya.

And then there was another dancer named Ida Neversayneva.

This was just nuts, just totally crazy.

Who are these ballerinas?

There was a guy who was very chubby -- we called him Plushinskaya.

He was very plush.

All of our inspiration and all the ballerina attitudes came from the old Russian ballet.

So we created this entire world.

From the minute you walked in the theatre and started reading the program, there was a whole world.

Sometimes before the curtain went up, you can hear the audience out front, and we hear people start tittering and giggling and laughing, and you could tell -- and somebody would guffaw -- you could tell they were reading the names.

And then we would always have an announcement before the curtain, 'Please -- no flashbulbs.

It reminds the ballerinas of the Revolution.'

[ Laughter ] So we tried to channel those sort of old-fashioned ballerinas.

You know, it's very cute, it's very over-the-top -- big eyebrows, big eyes, a lot of kohl around the eyes.

It's all kind of silent movie acting.

We could kind of put ourselves in the line of ballet from the 18th century until now.

We could put ourselves in that arc.

-By men coming in and dancing en pointe, a lot of questions were raised about things that the ballet world had thought for centuries.

The ballerina had always been put up on a pedestal -- that essence of beauty, the perfect body.

And we were coming along and saying 'You can do Swan Queen with a short, fat, black man, and it's still realistic and there's still a reason to it.'

The role is still the same.

It's just the visual is different.

Tony had worked with the American Negro Ballet before.

He had toured in Europe.

There had been other black ballerinas in the Ballets Russes and in major companies, but there had never been, as far as I know, a black Swan Queen.

So when he joined the Trocks, having a black prima ballerina was another first.

-Tony was a large black man in a completely white, female world of ballet, which is what the ideal was.

And so when he came on stage, I mean, people would gasp -- really gasp.

And for the audience, it pushed the envelope even more.

'Okay, we're gonna be all these guys in tutus, we're gonna be in drag, and on top of that, some of us are gonna be black.

How do you like that?'

-We came along and said, 'Why not?'

And they got a different perspective on both physical beauty and the physical energy that it took to do the ballets.

♪ ♪ -Another bill that was introduced last week would change the definition of marriage in South Carolina.

-We don't really feel like there is a reason for South Carolina to try to... -A group of South Carolina lawmakers are working on a bill that would rename same-sex marriage 'Parody Marriage.'

-It's called the Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act.

It would prohibit the state from respecting, endorsing, or recognizing any parody marriage.

-A newly passed bill in North Carolina that has been labeled the most extreme anti-LGBT measure in the country.

-We were just in a town called San Angelo, Texas, and one of the stagehands had to move five hours away from where he lived because he got shot for just being gay.

That just really broke my heart.

-On the main stage, the category is 'Wigs on Wigs on Wigs.'

-On wigs.

-And may the best all-star win!

-Oh, my God, isn't everything better with wings?


-RuPaul's kind of like a gay Oprah.

-Oh, okay! -Okay!

-I think he put drag on the map for, you know, a whole community of people.

-I think the world still perceives drag as just a man in a dress or a man impersonating, but especially today, it's evolved to just so many different facets.

-It's kind of a way to show other people that they should be who they want to be or could be who's inside of them.

RuPaul always says, 'We're all born naked, and the rest is drag.'

We're all humans, and we all put on how we want to be perceived.

♪ -The first time my mom saw me with the company, she was okay with it at first.

You know, it's art, whatever.

And then she saw me in a picture where I went out in drag, and she asked me, she was like, 'Do you want to be a woman?'

You know, she was confused. She didn't understand.

♪ Anatomically, I am a man.

I have these parts.

But I never really connected to this idea of what it was like to be a man or what it meant to be a man.

I don't feel like a woman. I'm myself.

And I express myself in however it comes to me.

-Okay, so, we'll start the laundry pile.

Love this.

-You know, it's a little Judy Garland-inspired, 1960s.

-Are there shoulder pads? -There shoulder pads.

'Cause I have sloping shoulders, so I'm gonna need some support.

And then, you know, you add a nice, like, black trouser with a little beaded fringe on the side... -Speaking of fringe, did I show you this vest that my grandpa passed down to me?

-No. -You want to see it?

-[ Gasps ] -Isn't it awesome?

-Oh, my God. He gave you fringe benefits.

[ Laughs ] -Well, my dad was there for Christmas and got to go through his closet, and then he, like, sent me all these pictures, and he's like, 'Yeah, you know, you would love this.'

I'm like, 'You don't think I've been thinking about this for years, how I'm gonna get into my grandfather's closet and get all of that?'

[ Laughs ] But it's awesome.

My dad's an athlete, so his gift to me as a parent was giving me the opportunity to be able to play sports.

These are things he didn't have growing up.

And so I was really confronted with seeing all of these other boys who were a certain way and I was not like that.

♪ ♪ Growing up, not fitting in, and wondering why I didn't like to play football or basketball, and my dad was the coach of everything that I played.

♪ Track was okay because track and field was mixed, so there were girls there, so I could hang out with the girls.

♪ Being able to be in a company like this, where I can freely be black and gay and a dancer on stage and be good at it is a great thing for younger people to see.

I am fortunate enough to show that this is possible.

♪ ♪ [ Laughter ] ♪ [ Laughter ] ♪ [ Laughter ] ♪ ♪ [ Applause ] -Before we continue, so that he can also breathe, have you all seen Ballets Trockadero?

Do you all know what Ballets Trockadero is about?

What is very interesting about this piece, 'The Dying Swan,' is that it shows a little bit of all the different aspects of Ballets Trockadero.

We make fun of ballet.

We change things around.

We sometimes even change steps.

But one thing that we keep is the meaning of the piece.

We are still doing 'The Dying Swan.'

So there's a little bit of drama, there is that feeling, there is the presence.

Just because we do things before that are funny doesn't mean that the substance of 'The Dying Swan' is not there.

You still feel the sadness, so that has to remain.

♪ [ Laughter ] -Our first theatre in New York was at a small loft theatre on West 14th Street in the middle of the Meatpacking District.

Funny thing is, you'd look out the window, and there'd be huge lines of limousines with people coming in in furs and long gowns.

They had been up at Lincoln Center earlier watching Ballet Theatre or New York City ballet.

And it was a shock, I think, for some of our clientele, too, but they came.

-We danced in New York, you know, exclusively in our early years, but once we got to be sort of a thing in New York, we realized we wanted to do more than just dance in a loft.

I'm not sure touring was in our heads, but a lot of agents approached us, and they said, 'We will manage you guys.

We will book your tours.

We'll put you out there, but we won't put you in our brochure and we won't promote you.'

It was maybe an anti-gay thing.

Maybe they thought -- and I think this is probably not a bad thought -- that we would damage their serious concert artists.

You know, you can't have Dame Myra so-and-so at the harpsichord and the drag ballet on the next page.

Then we took a meeting with a man named Sheldon Soffer, and Sheldon Soffer, who was a very distinguished agent, Sheldon, not only did he put us in the brochure, he said, 'I'm gonna put you on the of the brochure.'

And he did what no other manager in New York would do -- he honored us for who we were.

And I think that outraged a lot of people, but he sure did get us a lot of tour dates.

But the very first tour date we had was South Bend, Indiana.

And if you can imagine in those times, we were really frightened.

'How are we gonna take this show, which is a total downtown phenomenon, and move this to South Bend, Indiana?

What is gonna happen to us?'

We were just sure that, you know, nobody would really get this outside the hothouse world of ballet in New York.

When we left New York, we said goodbye to all of our friends.

We were sure we would never come back -- they'd kill us out there on the road.

And so we landed in South Bend, Indiana.

They had just built this beautiful performing arts center.

We thought, 'Oh, my God, we're gonna desecrate the building, and they're gonna run us out of town on a rail, and it's gonna be awful.'

But we went to the theatre, made up, and we did the show, and they loved us.

They absolutely loved us.

You know, this is a strict Midwestern audience.

We started touring, and people just took us right away.

Maybe we were living in our own little planet, because, you know, anybody who tours understands this -- you don't see anything of the city that you're in.

You see your hotel and you see your dressing room and you see the stage.

And, again, we were never out in our tutus, so we weren't where someone would attack us.

As far as I can remember, nobody ever threw anything at us.

-We went to strange places.

We played little towns that, yes, we were kind of afraid to go to.

Occasionally, we would end up somewhere and we would be staying at the motel by the truck stop, and we're going, 'This doesn't quite look like where we want to be.'

But once the audience came in and started having a good time, they didn't care, because it was funny dancing, and that, they could deal with.

[ Laughter ] [ Laughter ] -There's no question that people who came to the Trocks who laughed, who really thought we were a great show, also found that gay people don't all bite.

Our show was just so benign and it was so much fun.

[ Laughter ] And there was no message of bitterness or hate.

And I think, in a way, people said, 'You know, these gay people aren't so bad after all.

They made us laugh.

Grandma loved it. The kids loved it.'

And I think they did have a different impression of gay people.

♪ [ Laughter ] We just did our show, you know, and then we went home and watched television.

♪ [ Laughter ] -All my dance teachers, when I told them what I was doing, they said, 'That's a career-killer.

You will not have a dance career after this is over.

You realize that?

You've just destroyed your dance career.'

I was working with two dancers from the Graham Company.

They had their own company.

And I was learning this piece, and it was all Graham.

And I thought it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.

So in the rehearsal, you know, I'm doing all this... ♪ Da-da-da-da, da-da-da, hunh, hunh ♪ and all this absurd -- and on my knees and all this, like, falling to the floor.

And he stopped the rehearsal, and he said, 'What are you doing?'

And I said, 'I thought this was supposed to be funny.'

And there was like this, 'Oooh.'

And people, like, cleared the rehearsal studio, and he said, 'It's not funny.'

So, on my way home, I thought, 'There's something that I do when I dance that puts all this stuff together, and the only logical place is Trockadero.'

[ Laughter ] ♪ Getting hired by Trockadero fulfilled how could I dance and carry on this tradition of slapstick, insane situations, and make the audience laugh.

[ Laughter ] ♪ -For some reason, I seem to have a talent to make ballet funny.

♪ [ Laughter ] ♪ When the Trocks first started, I spent a couple of months in the Soviet Union watching ballet.

I had to join some communist organization in order to get in.

And that's all I did. I threw my card away after that.

And in a funny way, that's where the Trockadero was born.

[ Laughter ] I saw a kind of way people danced in the old Soviet Union that was so old-fashioned.

Nobody danced like that anymore.

But that kind of had a lot to do with me understanding what ballet used to look like and that it could be funny.

And so as a choreographer, I was always seeking to dive down past the steps into some cultural information that would make a ballet appear funny to a modern audience.

That's why the Trockadero always looks sort of over-the-top -- because we were dancing in a way that people stopped dancing 30 years before.

♪ So, as a choreographer, I kind of always looked at history and I looked at precedent and I looked at what people had done before, and I wanted to sort of bring back things that had died.

I mean, it's like trying to bring back high-button shoes, I suppose, and I thought living in the past was interesting and that I could make it funny.

What could I do to turn it and twist it?

And I was always looking at the mechanics of ballet and how could I use the mechanics to make it humorous.

I mean, this became the way the Trockadero performed.

And so everything we did was real information.

We didn't have to make a lot of those jokes up.

They were already there, just waiting to be shown.

[ Laughter ] And so, a lot of people would say I don't honor it and I don't value it, but actually, I really do and I really did.

And that's the only reason it became really funny -- because it was from a place of honor, from a place of love.

♪ -If it feels really sticky now, it's because I was told to Coke it, 'cause it was really slippery before.

You know what it is?

It's like stepping on Saran Wrap stretched over a tile.

-Sometimes you're performing on cement, sometimes you're performing on wood, sometimes you're performing on a marble floor.

-I performed on grass.

-You performed on grass? -Grass.

You know, the green stuff that grows?

[ Laughs ] ♪ -What we do is very rigorous.

We do class in the morning, we go into rehearsal, We do the show.

♪ Rinse, repeat.

♪ -Boysie, what are you doing?



-Oh, really? -Yeah.

-Curtain in five minutes, and then we will be starting on time.

This is five minutes.

[ Indistinct talking ] ♪ -[ Speaking Italian ] Are you doing the first variation?

Would you like to do it for us?

The way casting works is, I mean, first of all, everybody has to be able to do the technical parts, so when I started to become director, I changed the casting so there would be multiple casts for all the leading roles.

I thought 'There's enough for everybody.'

So everyone got to do something, so you didn't have a bunch of seething people, you know, waiting for someone to leave or to die so that they could get the role.

And that actually was instrumental in changing the atmosphere of the company because everyone started rooting for each other.

♪ Ballet is a classical art, and so when you have classical art, there are rules that one must follow -- same sizes, shape of the foot, size of the head.

But this is not what we do.

We're a comedy company, so a comedy company works better with diversity.

♪ -And we move very fast.

♪ -Comedy tends to work better if it's a little fast, so we want everything to be as fast as possible.

Sometimes the newer dancers have a really hard time with that.

And my line is that, 'The music is never too fast.

You're too slow.'

Head to the left! Head to the left!

♪ Did you ever get into a fight?

-Like, a physical?

-Mm-hmm. -No. I try not to.

-So, what you need to do is just walk towards him.

Just like that, and you don't need to do anything else.

-When you first join the company, probably you don't have any experience with comedy, but then you develop it over time.

-5, 6, 7, 8.

-And you get some mentoring from the director.

He tells you, 'Think about it this way.

Has this ever happened to you?'

And then it clicks.

These feet are tired!

♪ Then I'm able to use that, and then I take it on stage, and then -- let's say, the entrance to 'Swan Lake.'

It took me a very, very long time to get the audience to laugh at my first entrance.

If you don't get that smile just cheesy enough, oh, my God, this is gonna be really hard.

[ Applause ] If they don't laugh, then I know I have to work much harder on my comedy throughout the rest of the show to get them on board.

♪ No matter who you are, you can find your own inner comedian.

♪ [ Laughter ] -Some people, you actually need to coach into a specific way.

Because they don't really understand the point of view or the sensibility.

And some people, you need to let alone because they got it.

[ Laughter ] And if you try to fine-tune it, they lose that.

♪ ♪ -Here we go.

-Tory informed me that he wanted me to run through the lead in 'Paquita.'

-He came in, and he knew the entire thing.

No one had to say anything to him.

That was somebody where you have to stay out of their way.

♪ -That was lovely, Philip. -That was excellent.

-Lovely. That was lovely.

-When it comes to classical choreography, I am able to pick up very quickly and memorize it very quickly because of my autism.

-And 1, yum-pa, yum-pa, yum-pa.

-My autism helped the ballet because I was able to have that lock in focus, being able to let my obsession obsess.

♪ -And out and fifth, 2.

Pas de chat, plié, and in and in.

-I didn't know that I was autistic until I was 10 years old.

-1 and 2 and up.

And 1, 2. Shoulders up.

-I had so much expression inside, but it couldn't come out.

My thoughts, my feeling, speaking -- almost every aspect was locked.

I was teased every day, made fun of every day, hit every day.

There were people always trying to make me feel ashamed of me being myself, me living, me being a person.

Ballet was the only place where I was able to dry off the tears.

[ Indistinct talking ] ♪ ♪ -Alright, guys, take off your shoes.

Just shoes.

When you're ready, we're gonna go say hello to Mr. Philip, our ballet teacher.

-Hi. How are you?

This class, even though they have their own dance therapy classes at their school... -Aah!

-You guys can have a seat on the floor while we're waiting for class to start.

...they rarely get to do full-on ballet therapy class.

So this is when... Just relax.

...they can really get excited and they can really go for it and they can really just let loose and enjoy themselves.

3 and 4.

And side, side.

Up, around, and over.


Around the world and up.

♪ Straight up.

♪ Let's go again.

I definitely see myself in those kids.

I was just like them.

Are we ready for the next part?

I see the wonder. I see the no filter.

You open your legs.

Very vulnerable.

Now we're gonna go into third position.

It's really beautiful.

Can I see your first position?


I was very lucky to get to teach at a very early age.

And rise.

Very good.


Let me see everyone else.


And I fell in love with it.


6, 7, 8.

Jump, 2, 3, 4... 5, 6, 7, 8... 9, 10, 11, 12.

I would be very happy to see in this class these kids, of course, with a smile on their face.

And straight back.

And with kids of all different ranges and levels, what I'm looking for is the children's natural sense of sync, which is meaning we're feeling each other's energy and we're moving all as one, trying to all be cohesive together.

A lot of people think autistic children cannot be cohesive as a group together, but they are able to do this, to most people's surprise.

Now hold on to the barre and go into your plié. Keep this straight the whole time.

Now go down.

Doing these classes with them, it really helps not only for them to understand their body coordination and their own strengths... Very good.

Plié and lift up, up, up, up.


...their own vulnerabilities, their own self-confidence.

That's right. That's good.

But it's good for me because it helps me to always remember where I came from.

Alright, are we ready?

Who's number 1?

-He was number 1. -You were number 1?

So let's do one number 1 again.

I needed help to get through this.

And 1, 2, 3, 4.

And turn, 2, 3, 4.

1, 2, 3, 4.

Next up.

And go around that way.

And 1, 2, 3, 4.

1, 2, 3, 4.

Now that I don't really need that help anymore, it's up to me to do that, to give the help back.

So that's why I do it. That's why I teach these kids.

...2, 3, 4.

1, 2, 3, 4.

And 1, 2, 3.

Can we go on those high tiptoes?

High, high tiptoes.

And 1, 2, 3, 4.

And turn.

And... It's amazing. It's really amazing.

And up, 2, 3, 4.

-Ballet is a profession. It's a calling.

You're called to dance.

You dance.

You know, Balanchine once said, famously, 'I don't want people who would like to dance.

I want people who dance.'

-Thank you.

-You have to give yourself up in order to serve the art.

Ballet is so big and it's so all-encompassing.

Even if it's drag ballet, even if it's comedy ballet, even if you're joining the Trockadero, your problems have to take a back seat to how you can serve the choreography and how you can serve the audience.

And in a funny way, this has a great way of healing people.

♪ -Towards the end of my career as a Trock, in '82, '83, we had gone that year from somewhere in Texas to -- we went from hot to cold, and two people in the company got really sick.

My roommate at the time, Sanson Candelaria, woke up one night in Chicago -- this was in winter -- dripping wet.

He said to me, 'I'm gonna die. I'm dying. I'm gonna die.'

And I said, 'You're not gonna die. I don't know.

You have some kind of fe-- I don't know.

Let's get you an aspirin.'

Nothing dawned on me what was going on.

And then we were in San Francisco, and I did see this article in the paper about this gay cancer.

And then other people in the company started to get sick.

I was like, 'Oh. Oh.'

-There was a period when four or five of our dancers were dying of AIDS.

I would be dancing with them, and months later, they were gone.

Sanson -- I had danced with Sanson as my Swan Queen for years, and all of a sudden, I didn't have Sanson anymore.

-I hired Sanson when I started the company, and he was clearly heads above any of the other dancers.

He was the first really, really good dancer that joined the Trockadero.

He was the first one in the rehearsal, the first one in the dressing room, and the last one to leave at night.

Everything he did had a level of seriousness and professionalism, you know, that the rest of us sort of lacked.

But he was very funny, too.

More than anybody else in the company, he loved to dance.

-I remember this story that Sanson had just gotten out of the hospital and he was well enough to do 'Swan Lake.'

And there's this moment in 'Swan Lake' where the Swan Queen is all the way down and then the prince picks up the Swan Queen and they're gonna do their dance.

And, um, that moment... [ Voice breaking ] was breathtaking.

-Sanson died midway through the worst of the AIDS crisis.

He lost so much -- lost his strength, lost his stamina.

He was way too young.

♪ -That the company kept going is just amazing in itself, because, like every other dance company, so many people got sick.

Um... Those people that passed, especially Sanson, they are with me all the time -- all the time.

♪ -None of us thought the company would last.

The company didn't think it would last, and didn't think it would last.

But it's about faith.

You have to have faith in something.

If you don't have any faith, you don't have anything.

What do you hold on to?

Where's your refuge in life?

Doesn't have to be religion.

For a lot of people, it's dancing.

It's very, very powerful.

It's primal.

A lot of companies really have kind of lost that faith in the thing itself and what it means.

[ Laughs ] But, oddly, the Trockadero has not.

What's happened over this 45 years is now, in a funny way, the Trockadero is the keeper of the flame.

♪ -Are you doing soft shoes, Josh?

-No, ma'am. -Okay.

-Pointe shoes.

If we're gonna do this, we're gonna do it.

This is about tenacity, perseverance.

That's really what the American spirit is all about.

-♪ La ♪ -Aah! That was a mistake! That was a mistake.

-[ Russian accent ] Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

In accordance with the greatest tradition of the Russian ballet, there will be changes in this evening's program.

I'm really excited about performing in celebration to Stonewall.

We are charged. We're ready. Yeah.

We regret to announce the absence in this evening's program of Natasha Notgoodenoff.

[ Laughter ] For us performing here at Summerstage during Pride, I feel that sometimes we forget how things were before.

But we'll make the best of making this night memorable.

We wish to remind you that the use of cellular phones, the taking of photographs, and video recording are strictly prohibited.

Rattling noises and sudden bursts of light tend to remind our more fragile ballerinas of terrible Bolshevik gunfire.

[ Laughter ] -There goes Julie Andrews after too many martinis.

-Trockadero is such an institution within the gay community.

-Makeup is ready. Kind of.

-And I feel really proud to be a part of something like that.

[ Cheers and applause in distance ] -They liked that one, didn't they?

-And to be part of the celebration, this is one of the most special moments of my dance career.


-Stonewall was a unique moment in New York City.

What made Stonewall special was that people could dance there.

And it was joyous.

Over and over again, I heard people talk about how important dancing was and why shutting down that particular bar and making it impossible for these young people to dance infuriated them.

This was the one place where they felt safe, one place where they could dance, one place where they could be close and do what everyone else did.

[ Cheers and applause ] -Thank you, Central Park. We love you.

♪ -What I love about the Trocks deciding to do 'Stars and Stripes Forever' for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall is that it's so in keeping with who they are.

♪ Totally subversive.

And to do it in Central Park, where many of the great performances of all time have been done, and they did it in plain sight, I love that.

It's joyous fun that speaks to what it means to be an American in an all-inclusive America -- and, I like to think, a America.

♪ -'Stars and Stripes' is Balanchine's love letter to America.

He loved America, and he did a lot of ballets that had to do with the kind of 1950s patriotic feelings.

It's the Eisenhower era.

It's the America that defeated Hitler.

It's that America that he was celebrating.

It's more like a Fourth of July message.

♪ Well, the Trocks' 'Stars and Stripes' is a love letter, too.

But in a way, it's a reverse love letter, because what it means is America has taken in the Trocks as part of our culture.

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪ The Trockadero was a militant organization because we were breaking all of the statues.

We were smashing all the icons.

Now, mind you, we did it all nicely and it was all done with culture and sophistication -- sort of.

And that made people laugh.

America has fallen in love with the Trocks.

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.