Film Reviews

Review: ‘Rebels on Pointe’

Hot Docs 2017

Courtesy of Hot Docs


Rebels on Pointe
(Canada, 90 min.)
Dir. Bobbi Jo Hart
Programme: Singular Sensation(s) (Toronto Premiere)

In Rebels on Pointe, Montreal filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart profiles Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the successful New York based company that knocks the stuffy art of ballet off its pedestal and makes it an open, inclusive, and accessible experience. The key to “the Trocks” is that it’s a very funny all-male, all-gay company. The Trocks offer a positive space for people who don’t fit the conventional roles of ballet. Their performances incorporate classical technique with camp, drag, and farce, and this spirited doc shows how much better art—and life—can be when everyone is invited to the party.

This backstage doc observes the Trocks as they rehearse their new season. Hart presents the usual sequences of choreography, practice, physiotherapy, and make-up application, but Rebels on Pointe gives them a distinctive spin as the dancers have a laissez-faire attitude that one doesn’t often see behind the scenes. This attitude helps open ballet to an audience that might be uncomfortable with traditional ballet. At the same time, the “out” queer space of the company builds a relationship with the larger community. It’s political by virtue of its existence without being explicitly so through its performances.

The scenes of their performances are laugh aloud funny as Hart presents ample footage of the Trocks on stage. The male bodies offer an obvious sight gag when playing female roles and the Trocks use flamboyant make-up to accentuate the ruse while exaggerated expressions and pantomime give cheery life to the show. The dancers are all professionals so the numbers from Swan Lake and A Midsummer Night’s Dream display the same impressive technique and strength that one enjoys in a conventional performance, but the Trocks embellish the sillier and outmoded elements of ballet with campy humour. Dancers might get carried away during a number and intentionally fall out of sync with the company to show how much more fun a ballet can be when it’s more about pleasure than performance. Other gags, like elbow jabs and elongated twirls, play on the rivalries that develop in a dance company, with the obligatory charming princes becoming objects of ridicule and envy from the ensemble. A highlight is the “dying swan” number from Swan Lake in which a Trock soloist struggles with the bird’s final wheezing breaths as feathers fly off his tutu and he draws out the death scene in one loony feat of hogging the spotlight.

The dancers dish on the inconsistencies of ballet that make their company a necessity. The high art sensibility of dance, for example, frequently demands a certain “type” (ie: petite white women) for lead roles while male dancers vie for her affection. One interviewee, the lead for a more traditional company, points out that he always plays Prince Charming going after the girl and that his success depends on repeating a role that is wildly inconsistent with his own life.

Hart makes a notable effort to highlight the cultural diversity within the company as she talks with Trocks from around the world who have flocked to join the company. Dancers from Italy and Cuba, for example, share stories about finding comfort in this surrogate family when opportunities for them to be out and on stage didn’t fly back home. At the same time, Hart highlights the relationships that form within the company as two dancers ready for marriage and become the third couple among the Trocks to wed. Artist director Tory Dobrin notes that the trio of marriages within the company is a feat he didn’t expect to see in his lifetime. They’re encouraging signs of social progress that’s developed as the Trocks continue to hit their stride with audiences.

Hart does an admirable job of approaching the company from multiple angles to create an inclusive doc portrait. Interviews with the dancers’ parents are especially touching as Rebels on Pointe builds to the reunion of one family that’s been separated for far too long. Hart buoys the film with a light sense of humour and charm that comes easily when the subject’s mission is to make audiences have a good time. The dancers of Rebels on Pointe are good company for any audience.

Rebels on Pointe has its Toronto encore at Inside Out.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!