PORT JERVIS, NY — It’s not often that ballet students get the opportunity to be taught by a professional dancer. On Saturday, March 23, students of all ages at The Dance Center in Port Jervis got that chance.
The dancer who came to teach is as unique as they come. He is Philip Martin-Nielson, the youngest and newest member of the company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. Trockadero is an all-male comedy ballet troupe that dances both the male and female roles, requiring the men to dance en pointe.
“It’s not as new and unusual as a lot of people would think,” says Martin-Nielson. He explained that men have been dancing en pointe for many years, and it is especially popular in European companies. He started when he was 12, and said his teachers knew he would join Trockadero. “They told my mother when I was six years old that I would probably end up joining this company, before my mother even knew what it was.” He said he always wanted to join a big ballet company and when he saw an ad for the audition he decided to go for it.
He auditioned when he was still in training at the School of American Ballet. The company liked him, but he was too young to join. On his 18th birthday, the director sent him an email with a contract to join the company. He said, “I was so excited and I was so ready and I said yes right away.” Martin-Nielson joined in September 2012 at 18 years old, the youngest of the 15-member company.
Trockadero started in the ‘70s during the drag movement in downtown New York. Famous ballet dancers would watch the performances, like George Balanchine and dancers from American Ballet Theatre. Increasingly in demand, the company started doing longer shows earlier in the day, and then started internationally touring. Today it travels the world doing 30 to 40 weeks of touring. In one week it will begin its U.S. tour, where it will perform in Binghamton on April 2.
A show by the “Trocks” has the original choreography of famous ballets with gags thrown in. The jokes play on the world of the ballet dancer, yet are still funny to an audience unfamiliar with that very exclusive world.
The spoofs are many. When a dancer accomplishes the difficult feat of doing the dreaded 32 fouettés, seen in “Swan Lake” and “Don Quixote,” they just want to pump their fists and cheer. So, that’s what they do in Trockadero. A ballet dancer falls, a lot. So, they put that in. During a pas de deux (a dance with two people) the female dancer will dramatically run toward the male dancer. Instead, in Trockadero, they somersault toward them. They are all at once subtle and theatrical, and always hilarious (just watch some YouTube videos). Martin-Nielson said that during his first performance he almost had to go off stage because he was laughing so hard.
Another big aspect of the company is the hair and makeup, emphasis on the big. Martin-Neilson says they have artistic freedom and can do it themselves. They can choose the color of their wig and have their lashes as long as they want, but they have to wear red lipstick. After his master class, he taught the students how to do stage makeup. Katie Krause of Matamoras, PA, said it was “A much-needed stage makeup session and another wonderful learning experience.”
Don’t be fooled, behind the wigs, makeup and jokes are renowned dancers who have had extensive training and are world-class ballet dancers.
The students at The Dance Center enjoyed Martin-Nielson’s class. Margaret Polatnick, a 13-year-old from Shohola, PA, said, “I had a really fun time. It wasn’t scary; he was extremely fun to be around and made a lot of jokes.” After the class, they watched him tie up his pointe shoes and rehearse some of his repertoire, such as “The Dying Swan.” Martin-Neilson served as an inspiration to them, proving it’s possible to do what you love.
“I’m going to stay with Trockadero for a long time because I’m very happy here,” he said. “I get to see the world, and I get to do what I love and have fun doing it.”