REBELS ON POINTE: A Delightful Dance Documentary With A Dark Side
If viewed out of the context of recent events, Rebels on Pointe is an enjoyable and inspirational look inside the world of a unique group of artists that will make you eager to take in one of their performances in real life as soon as possible.
Founded in New York in 1974 – on the heels of the Stonewall riots – Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is an all-male comic ballet company whose work is designed to be much more playful and approachable than traditional ballet. The Trocks, as they are affectionately known by their followers around the world, perform classical ballets like Swan Lake in drag and with a healthy dose of humor. Men of all shapes and sizes strap on toe shoes specially made for their large feet and dance en pointe with astonishing talent and grace. With their performances, the Trocks give ballet a lipstick-laden makeover, turning a somewhat stodgy art form into entertainment that anyone can appreciate, from young children all the way up to experienced dance critics.
Director Bobbi Jo Hart tells the story of the Trocks in her documentary Rebels on Pointe, which follows the troupe to performances in locations as diverse as Calgary, Edinburgh, and Tokyo and delves into the personal stories of certain dancers in the impressively diverse company. It’s a heartwarming story of how outsiders came together to create art and became a family, even if the technical quality of the film leaves something to be desired. Yet it’s hard to reconcile this message of openness and tolerance with the recent allegations of harassment and discrimination outlined by Chase Johnsey, a former Trock who is one of the four main dancers featured in Rebels on Pointe.
A Merry Company
Shot in a low-key, cinéma vérité style, Rebels on Pointe doesn’t really have a narrative arc. While this makes it feel truly realistic in a lot of ways, it also makes it drag a bit towards the end as you attempt to figure out what Hart is trying to say apart from “The Trocks are really cool.” The cinematography itself is also not terribly impressive, but with cinéma vérité that is generally to be expected, if not necessarily appreciated. What are impressive, however, are the Trocks’ performances, which are on par with classical ballet in their execution but a lot more fun to watch.
Yet the best parts of Rebels on Pointe are the scenes showcasing the dancers’ personal lives, telling us how the Trocks helped these men discover their true callings and – in more than one case – their true love. The film introduces Carlos Hopuy and his husband as the first married couple in the Trocks and allows us to attend the wedding between Chase and his partner, another dancer in the company. Carlos also shares the story of his impoverished childhood in 1990’s Cuba, and how his ballerina mother influenced him as a dancer. When he is finally able to bring his mother to America to watch him dance Don Quixote – a ballet she danced in her youth – it is impossible not to feel a touch verklempt.
We also meet Bobby Carter, who has been dancing with the group since 1995. He takes the audience to a physical therapy session with him, where he shares his anxieties over having already passed the age of 40 – the usual retirement age for dancers. Bobby also brings us back home to Charleston, South Carolina to meet his mother and father, and talks about how proud he was to pay for the entirety of their first-ever trip to New York to see him dance. And Italy native Raffaele Morra wrestles with the need to balance his career with the Trocks with his desire to spend time with his father, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. These personal moments allow us to truly appreciate how the Trocks have provided a home for so many men who spent their childhoods feeling like outsiders as a result of their sexuality and their interest in dance.
Trouble Behind the Curtain?
Yet if Chase’s recent claims are true, the Trocks may not be as open as they seem. In the film, Chase credits the Trocks and creative director Tory Dobrin with having a great deal of patience with him during his troubled youth, putting up with behavior that he says other dance companies would not have tolerated. But in a recent YouTube video, Chase announced that he was resigning from the Trocks after a celebrated 14-year career in which he was praised for his unique ability to embody traditionally female roles on stage.
According to Chase, he was harassed and bullied in ballet class for being more slender and effeminate than the other, more masculine dancers – the very qualities that made him so perfect for dancing female roles. Indeed, in Rebels on Pointe, Chase talks cheerfully about the wide range of body types that can be found among the Trock dancers and notes that he needs to keep his slight figure so that other dancers can continue to lift him during performances. In addition, Chase, who identifies as genderqueer, said that during a period of time when he was thinking about transitioning, he was told that if he did so, he could no longer dance with the Trocks. Unhappy with what he perceived to be an atmosphere hostile to his own particular gender identity and appearance, he quit.
Watching Rebels on Pointe, which Hart shot over four years of following Chase and the rest of the company, one would never guess that this was the case. If one had watched the film when it was first making the festival rounds at the end of 2017, one would feel incredibly warm and fuzzy as the end credits rolled. But now, it’s hard to reconcile Hart’s portrayal of the Trocks with what Chase says went on behind the scenes. If Chase’s allegations are true, then did the company hide this behavior when Hart’s cameras were rolling in class? Or did she just choose to not include anything that would alter the story she had decided to tell? Whatever the truth may be, one thing is for certain: it gives Rebels on Pointe an unfortunately sour aftertaste.
Rebels on Pointe: Conclusion
If viewed out of the context of recent events, Rebels on Pointe is an enjoyable and inspirational look inside the world of a unique group of artists that will make you eager to take in one of their performances in real life as soon as possible. Perhaps it is unfair for the offscreen drama to affect one’s opinion of the film as a whole, but it’s also impossible for it to not do so.
What do you think? Do Chase’s allegations affect your opinion of the Trocks or your desire to see this film? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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