They're men, they're men in tights. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, or The Trocks as they're known to their fans, are the world's most famous all-male ballet company. A true dancing phenomenon, they've been pirouette-ing and plié-ing en pointe since 1974, and this year marks The Trocks' Spoleto Festival debut. More exciting, hometown boy and veteran Trock-er Robert Carter will perform with his company in Charleston for the first time.
Carter's career in ballet started when he was 7 years old. He was singing in the children's group Magic Circle at Middleton Place during Spoleto when he caught the eye of Robert Ivey. The local dance guru zeroed in on the young Carter and quickly contacted his mother, asking her if she would like some dance training to go with his singing.
"I saw Bobby, and he had so much enthusiasm," Ivey recalls. With his mother's encouragement, Carter enrolled at Robert Ivey Ballet School, where he quickly took to dance. "After my first class, I couldn't wait to go back," Carter says. "And since then, I knew that was what I wanted to do."
Flash forward to today, and not only is Carter a star in The Trocks, he and Ivey are still close friends. "I'll get calls in the middle of the night," says Ivey, "and it'll be, 'Hey Mr. Ivey, it's Robert. I'm in Hungary today.' Or, 'I'm dancing in France.'" The dancer credits his success to Ivey's influence and his mother's continued support. "I think I was fortunate to have grown up in Charleston, because I had a supportive environment and was exposed to people who nurtured me on my way to where I am. I must say I have been blessed."
The biggest blessing, however, goes to the Spoleto audience members who seize the opportunity to see Carter and The Trocks perform. The cast dances in drag wearing pointe shoes, performing some of the world's most famous ballets, including Swan Lake, which Carter will showcase in Charleston. Although it's all farcical fun, the men take their moves seriously. It's true you have to have a sense of humor to be in the company, but more importantly, you need the ballet chops to match. "When we're in a rehearsing period in New York, we work five days a week," Carter says. "On tour, we don't rehearse as much, but first days in a theater, including the two hour show, can go as long as seven to eight hours."
Carter honed his skills under Ivey's tutelage, but it was really the open-minded environment of Ivey's studio that allowed him to dabble with toe shoes, usually reserved for women. Ivey says, "When he was about 12, Bobby said he was interested in trying out pointe, and we happened to have a girl in one of our classes with very large feet. So when she was done using her shoes, he'd try them on."
Like any teacher, Ivey was thrilled Carter had so much interest — it didn't matter that he was studying in shoes generally meant for a feather-light ballerina. (In case you're curious, today Carter wears a 6.5 E in Bloch pointe shoes.) These early beginnings en pointe paid off. "I had danced in a couple conventional ballet companies and found I was not happy," Carter says. "When I got the opportunity to audition for the Trocks, there was never a struggle to decide."
So what makes Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo so fabulous? The perfect harmony of exquisite dance paired with killer comic timing. A bat of an eyelash here, a particular head bop there, a seemingly ad-libbed flash of choreography there. While it would have to be said that the Trocks in large part parody the classical style, isn't imitation the highest form of flattery? In a sense, they make a four century-old dance tradition more approachable, one laugh at a time.