International Comedy Drag Acts visiting South Africa are nothing new, but prepare yourselves for something altogether different. Hot on the heels of the Queen of Mean Bianca Del Rio and Female Impersonator par excellence Ceri Dupree comes Les Ballets Eloelle (say it out loud and you will laugh out loud). This New York based all male dance company is coming to Johannesburg and Cape Town this April with their production of Men In Tutus, a comedy ballet danced by 19 prima dancers from seven countries around the world.
So ballet and comedy do not usually go hand in hand, but Men in Tutus combines the two. Humour is hard to find in classical ballet, and this is one reason for the popularity of this fabulous troupe of male ballerinas. The combination of dancing technique, tongue in cheek humour with and dancing mishaps creates great entertainment. From the thrilling pirouettes of the male dancers (in male and female roles) with brilliant choreography to the side-splitting humour, all presented in specifically-designed lavish costumes.
In the niche world of comedy ballet, there is no one quite like Victor Trevino, creator and director of Les Ballets Grandiva and its successor Les Ballets Eloelle. He was also once a member of the legendary Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. He has danced many of the art form’s plum female roles, including Odette, Giselle, Aurora and Juliet. Trevino has probably donned more tutus and squeezed himself into more pairs of tights than most women you know.
Much of Les Ballets Eloelle’s comic value is rooted in the fact that men dance all the parts. But the troupe relies on much more than cross dressing and slapstick. “The drag element is probably only good for a minute or two because, you know, you kind of get used to it,” Trevino explains. “What’s kind of fun about the show is that as it goes on and you get pulled into the fantasy of what you’re seeing, you tend to almost forget that you’re looking at a bunch of guys. They just look like all these odd characters dancing.”
Les Ballets Eloelle remains respectful to classical traditions. The all-male troupe are all highly trained dancers recruited from companies like New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Les Jeune Ballet de France. Trevino insists on hiring dancers and then training them to be comics, rather than the other way around.
“Each performer has to develop their own sense of comedy and timing, and so it takes me a good while to get a dancer to become a comedian,” he reveals. “They have to find something in their character that is funny on top of what they’re dancing because we’re not super slapsticky. I mean, there’s a little bit of that, but really it’s more character-based comedy and innuendo.”
Having said that, Les Ballets Eloelle is all about the laughter. As Trevino says, “I think that the idea of guys in pink tights and tutus is kind of funny by itself. So you know, you’re going to see some very tall ballerinas, and it’s obvious they’re not women. Just the physicality of seeing somebody who is not who you expect has a funniness to it.”
Men in Tutus comes to South Africa as part of an international tour. It is essentially a parody of both classic and modern ballet, combining magnificent dance proficiency with dance misadventures and naturally outrageous hissy fits by gentlemen role playing both masculine and feminine personas (some looking like beautiful ladies while others are undoubtedly hairy chested males squeezed into tights and tutus, dancing on perfect Pointe nevertheless).
Men in Tutu’s Prima Ballerina is the magnificent Nina Minimaximova (Victor Trevino), the toast of Paris, St Petersburg, Tokyo and Long Island. She is joined, amongst others, by neophyte Tamara Chilirojo and Imelda Hardtoes, the former first lady of Philippine dance and owner of 4 532 pairs of designer pointe shoes.
Dates: Friday 12th to Sunday 14th April 2019
Time: Friday 8pm; Saturday 3pm and 8pm; Sunday 2pm
Ticket prices: From R200 – R400
Venue: Teatro, Montecasino, Fourways
Dates: Thursday 18th to Sunday 21st April 2019
Time: Thursday 8pm; Saturday 3pm and 8pm; Sunday 2pm
Ticket prices: From R190 –R390
Venue: Opera House, Artscape