Ballet Eloelle’s founder and artistic director is Victor Trevino. Trevino started dancing at a the age of 19 in college. This first brush with classical dance left him feeling that was not for him – being surrounded by beginner students left him with the wrong impression of the art form.
A year later, Trevino’s parents were in a car accident and he went home to help with the family business. While there, he was invited to take jazz classes at a professional dance school. He half-heartedly agreed to go with a friend for exercise. This chance invitation would change his life. The academy was associated with Ballet Florida and he eventually became a full member of the company.
Because of his size the roles Trevino was able to play were limited and Ballet Florida was not a touring company at that time. He became aware of male comedy ballet and auditioned for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where he was offered a contract. Over the next decade, he performed almost every lead in the repertoire and began choreographing for the company.
He was offered an opportunity to create his own company in 1996, which led to the founding of the highly successful Ballets Grandiva. That company was featured on the cover of Dance Magazine and garnered wonderful reviews in the New York Times and many other publications globally. In 2011, he updated the name to Ballet Eloelle.
Trevino has choreographed many children’s ballets for a civic company, New England Ballet of Connecticut, and has also choreographed, taught and coached at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Men in Tutus: can you give us insights into the piece – the show sounds like it’s a compilation of stories?
I like to think of Men in Tutus as a short description of the show. It is a way for people to quickly grasp the concept. For this tour the evening will consist of five works.
We begin with Pas de Quatre, which is an old romantic era ballet that was created to bring four great ballerinas of the time together. It was a huge headache for the producer of this idea as the grand dames were not all that willing to acquiesce to the idea that the others were in the same league as themselves. Egos are on full display!
Then we continue with a Pas de Deux, most likely Le Corsaire Pas de Duex. These pieces are show pieces that display the technical abilities of the dancers. Of course, in our version, the dancing and comedy will go hand in hand.
The third piece of the evening is called Go For Barocco, and is a parody of George Balanchine’s choreography. Balanchine believed that ballet was about women and used simple costumes to focus on the beautiful bodies of dancers. We too, will offer some eye-catching bodies for our audiences to gaze upon and will lovingly recreate his style.
The first act ends with the most famous solo in dance, The Dying Swan. We have spent a lot of time recreating a faithful rendition of the famous fowl’s final flight. Bring your hankies – it’s a tear-jerker.
The evening ends with the full second act of Swan Lake. This ballet is one that I think almost everyone has heard of. It follows the courtship of a young prince and a lovely swan. This type of relationship was probably more popular in the past before internet dating sites appeared.
Where is the ballet company based?
We are based in New York, but we are really an international group. We have dancers from Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Japan and the Philippines for this tour. In the past, I have had dancers from many countries, and I think it is important to bring different cultures together both on and off stage to share laughs.
When was the company founded?
The company was formed as Les Ballets Grandiva in 1996, in 2011 we changed the name to Ballet Eloelle. We now perform under both names, which I know is a bit confusing, but we are the same company. The reason for this is a bit complicated, but the reality is simple: we have been around now for 23 years!
Who funds the company?
The company is completely funded by ticket sales and performance fees. So please support us by coming to the show. We receive no government help to make this show possible.
Is this the first tour to SA?
Yes, this is my first tour to South Africa and the company’s first tour here. We have done multiple tours to Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, USA, and Europe, but it is very exciting for us to perform in South Africa for the first time. We have a dancer who was part of Joburg Ballet, and he is excited to be coming back in the role of ‘Darcy Mussell’.
You danced for ten years as a lead dancer in Les Ballets Trockadero des Montecarlo, and then founded as Les Ballets Grandiva. How old were you when you became a principal with Trockadero?
I began dancing with them when I was 27. They do not designate people as principal dancers, but I had a featured role my first year and a lead role my second year. By the third year, I would do at least one lead role every evening and sometimes two including the role of Swan Queen. During a show in Brazil, one of the other lead dancers injured themselves during the show and I actually did the lead in four of the five ballets presented that evening.
Ballet Eloelle – the Spanish word for ‘him’ (el) and ‘or’ (o) and the French name for ‘her’ (elle), and it’s pronounced LOL, as in “laugh out loud”.
Yes, exactly. It is always fun to watch people sound it out for the first time. Also, it captures the essence of the company – the dancers can dance either a ‘him’ or a ‘her’ role.
Laughing out loud – that’s what you want from the audience?
Yes, we hope to have audiences laugh and applaud throughout the show. This is not a traditional ballet performance where you are encouraged to be quiet and respectful. Comedic timing requires interaction with the audience, so please feel free to laugh and applaud during the show.
You say that you are vertically challenged – 5’3″, with no meaty roles for smaller men in classical ballet.
Yes, one of my heroes was Mikhail Baryshnikov. I had always heard that he was not very tall, so I was very encouraged by that. When I met him, I realised he is more of a medium height and several inches taller than I am. Although he is still one of my favourite male dancers, being 5’3 is really difficult for a classical career. I know of a few male dancers of that height that made it – Gen Horiuchi at New York City Ballet was that height – and became a principal dancer.
What made you take the leap to dance so-called female roles? Why didn’t you create roles for smaller-framed men?
Being small makes partnering ballerinas difficult. When they go on pointe, (on their toes) they became several inches taller. Consequently, you need a very short ballerina as a viable partner. There are roles for smaller men in ballet, but they are limited and require a type of pyrotechnic skill that I didn’t possess. I was better at being expressive and pliable, similar to what is required of ballerinas. Ballerinas also tend to be the focus of the ballet, especially the older, famous ballets.
The reason I was drawn towards Men In Tutus was that I wanted to do ballet and I seemed suited for comedy ballet. I also thought it would be interesting to be the focus of the ballet as opposed to the male supporting role. I didn’t know how the comedic aspect of it would work, but I paid a lot of attention to the more seasoned performers and the audience reactions and worked on my timing. Eventually, I found that I preferred comedic ballet to traditional ballet. It was much more rewarding and freeing.
Traditional ballet requires a perfection which is almost impossible to achieve. I found that I actually danced without that pressure of worrying over everything being perfect. I also found that this approach to ballet was more open to individuality, which I think gives the audience a unique connection to the performers onstage. Drag is a complicated idea. I have spoken with different performers about what drag really is and what it encompasses. I think maybe it is the intent of the performer that defines drag. For me, the idea is to portray a character that happens to be a ballerina. The personae I create does not exist outside of the theatre or dance. I consider it dance, not drag, but others might disagree. That is the beauty of art. The audience may perceive more than the artists intention.
Comedy ballet is very serious in terms of the choreography and the skills of the dancers.
Each dancer is a professional. I only hire professional dancers or trained dancers. I have had men who get confused and audition for me thinking that being funny is enough or being able to dress up as a ballerina is enough. It is not. I have even had professional dancers quit after a week or two of working with us and tell me they had no idea it would be so hard. Although it is essentially a comedic show, the dancing gives the show its structure. When you see the show, you will understand how this attention to making sure the dancers are trained changes the aesthetic of the show. I think we have all seen four burly men donning small tutus and prancing around. Yes, that can be funny, but I am not sure you could sustain an evening of entertainment at that level. Our mission is to help bring new audiences to dance through comedy. We are essentially sharing the love of an art form with as broad of an audience as possible. Our hope is that audiences that come to our show who have never been to a ballet will consider seeing traditional (serious) dance. There is this mystique that dance is too difficult to understand and is only for audiences who have a deep knowledge of culture and art. We hope to change that misconception using comedy as a means to expose audiences to the magic of dance.
Can you comment on the body strength that men might have over women of same stature and how that effects lifts and aesthetic of ballet?
For the most part, men are going to be stronger than women and develop muscle faster too. Men can achieve strength on pointe much more quickly than women because of this. The weight distribution and structure of men’s bodies is also different, and this makes partnering men different. I have had the privilege of working with some amazing men who join us and only do male roles with the company. When they first join, we always spend time helping them to adjust to how to lift male ballerinas and where to place their hands for things like partnered turns. Generally, men have a lot more power and strength when they dance. Women start much younger to work on pointe and have more control through their feet. They are generally more fluid and graceful. I know there has been a lot of talk about gender and men taking women’s roles in serious companies. I don’t think it should be a serious concern. Ballerinas are incredible and very few men can compete with what the best ones achieve in terms of balancing flexibility, strength, and grace.