By day they look just like everyone else, with the exception of remarkable posture. But at night, the male ballerinas or ballerinos of the Les Ballets Eloelle company transform into comedians and dancers – dressed in drag.
Ballets Eloelle is an all male comedy ballet company, one of only a handful in the world. And they’re in Cape Town this month to perform their Men in Tutus production.
Victor Trevino, artistic director and lead dancer at Les Ballets Eloelle, told the Sentinel Men in Tutus is a unique ballet meshed with comedy and it’s suitable for the whole family.
The men might be in drag, but there’s nothing debauched about the show.
“My goal with mixing ballet and comedy is to create something for everyone. Unlike the more classical ballets, Ballets Eloelle wants to bridge the gap between the highbrow and those merely looking for a night of fun. Hopefully we can show people that dance is accessible to all, by bringing together people from different backgrounds. Ballet, in the form we do it, isn’t as uptight as people would expect. We want people to connect to dance through humour.”
Trevino says that while comedy can be specific to people’s frame of reference, the story of Men in Tutus is one of human behaviours, which makes it universal.
“We’ve travelled all over the world and so far, everyone seems to love the show. People connect when they see the characters aren’t that much different than those they encounter in their everyday lives.”
Trevino says their ballet company’s name isn’t only an “artistic” spelling of the internet’s acronym for Laugh Out Loud (LOL), but it’s also a play on words El (him) or Elle (her).
“Comedy and ballet are difficult fields to master. Our dancers are highly trained, some have been training as classic ballerinos for over 20 years. Ballets Eloelle’s challenge was finding dancers who could let go and embrace the comedy – each of the dancers is expected to bring their own brand of comedy. It’s important for us that the audience knows this isn’t merely a ‘drag show’ – it’s not that at all. It’s a carefully constructed show of professional ballerinos who happen to be dancing in tutus instead of tights.”
Jonathan Mendez, a Colombian ballerino, portrays the role of Palomina Carrera – a spoof character of prominent Argentine principal ballerina Paloma Herrera.
“I’ve been a professional dancer for almost two decades, and working with this company has been the most enriching experience. Most ballet dancers never get to make decisions about what goes into the show, but Victor encourages us to bring our own flavour. And the audience loves it.”
According to Mendez, one of the biggest struggles for ballerinos joining Ballets Eloelle is dancing on pointe shoes – usually the forte of female ballerinas.
“It can take male dancers months and years to get used to dancing on pointe. But we’re professional dancers, so we have the training to tap into. It’s also our job to make it look effortless.”
Mendez says he perceives himself as a “cultural ambassador for dance”.
“Our company is diverse. We have dancers from different countries, and we all get the opportunity to experiment and grow our talent through organic and natural movement – which is important when you’re working in dance as well as comedy.”
For Men in Tutus, Ballet Eloelle is travelling with 50 costumes and many cases of make-up and false eyelashes to make sure they look the part. “We’ve become so good at make-up and dressing up, that even a sex-change during the show doesn’t take longer than 30 minutes,” Mendez says. “But costumes and make-up are all part of creating the perfect product.”
Men in Tutus is showing at Cape Town’s Artscape Theatre from Thursday April 18 to Sunday April 21.