Premieres on PBS American Masters
June 4th 2021 @ 9pm Eastern
Please check your local listings
“Ballerina Boys” is a portrait of an artistic institution that has brought to the world some of its most beautiful ballerinas. They are the men of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a company of dancers who challenge the traditions of ballet art. This is a beautiful and funny lm, yet it asks viewers to face issues of gender, inclusion, and social justice.
For forty- ve years “The Trocks” have, in their fanatic adoration of classical ballet, overturned many of its strictures: that ballerinas are women, that ballet is highly serious, that it’s an endeavor for white people, and that it is meant only for high-brow audiences. And while the Trocks have messed with the rules, the one rule they have preserved is that ballet must be di cult. What they do just as well as female ballerinas is dance on pointe – an astonishing feat for their male bodies. These dancers – who mix mastery of many ballet styles with physical comedy and acute satire – are changing the world one pirouette at a time.
“Ballerina Boys” travels with the Trocks on a bus tour to the Carolinas, the epicenter of efforts to walk back LGBTQ rights. On that trip, the dancers reveal how, by way of wrenching personal histories, they found their serendipitous pathways to the Company. The film interweaves this tour, the backstories of three main characters, and the survival story of the Company itself.
Inspired by the spontaneous kicklines that materialized during the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the Company was fueled by a spirit of defiance and creative exuberance unleashed by the blossoming gay rights movement. They named themselves Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an homage to Les Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, a company that toured the country in the ‘50’s, introducing Americans in the heartland to classical Russian ballet. (As a matter of fact, an intrinsic aspect of the Trocks’ comedy is giving each dancer a preposterous fake-Russian stage name.) Their first performances took place in a run-down meeting hall on a plywood stage. Not content to be consigned to the fringe of the dance world, within a year they set out to tour the country. At a time when a man wearing women’s clothes violated the law in many states, the Trocks were forced to ask the question: where can we be safe?
Much to their amazement, their blend of expert technique and joyful “homage” caught on. By 1980, they were touring not only the country but the world. Then, like a tsunami, came AIDS. The 90’s were full of unimaginable heartbreak – as more than half the dancers died. But the company pushed forward, energized by grief and the conviction that male ballerinas had something important to o er the world. This was the moment when the Company should not have survived. But survive it did.
While many dance companies folded over the next 25 years, the Trocks continued touring and growing as an institution. Dancers mastered dozens of ballets, performing 150 shows a year. The days of grungy lofts are long gone; the Trocks now grace grand opera houses around the world.
The film’s half-century historical arc culminates with the Trocks’ gala performance at Central Park’s Stonewall 50th Anniversary Concert, where they danced “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Their version of George Balanchine’s 1958 military ballet features John Philip Sousa marches and—of course—a kickline. New York City cheered as fifteen drag queens in red, white, and blue tutus flaunted their stunning technique and exulted in a moment of unabashed patriotism. The world will love these heroes who do actually wear tights.