Blokes who can stretch a pointe

GWYNETH HYNDMAN
Last updated 12:54 19/07/2012
Men In Tutus
LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
STYLISH AND FUNNY: Men In Tutus dancers, from left, Jonathan Mendez , Walter Battistini, Victor Trevino, Kevin Grant and Chris Morabito.

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For Men in Tutus artistic director and dancer Victor Trevino, size, unfortunately, has mattered.

The 1.57- metre-tall dancer, who was discovered at age 22 in a Florida nightclub and coaxed into dancing professionally, says at least he was fortunate enough to have discovered his shortness was a handicap early on.

He was introduced to classical ballet and flourished, but hit the hurdle a few years after moving to New York when he was told that if he really wanted to continue in the metropolitan dance scene he should think about a shift into jazz or tap dance.

That, he remembers, was never an option for him.

"It is difficult to hear someone say that," he says. Luckily, he adds, he was was born with a stubborn streak. He had always thrown himself into everything he did. Roles in Swan Lake and Giselle were no different, but it was also no surprise, where career challenges would arise, that it was just a matter of time before his height was pointed out. "I've always known I was five-foot-two."

The trick at that point was to go for an outside-the-box solution to continue appearing in classical performances.

"Being told [I was too short] ended up being a blessing," he says. Parody became something he began working on.

His size in the end, was rather serendipitous.

"Comedy is where I should have been all along," he says. "I think being short - maybe it was fate."

In the 1970s, a famous costumier in New York had formed a dance company - made up more of friends than dancers, he said - which ran the first all-male troupe.

"It was very campy," he remembers. "It was over the top; the jokes were very set and everything was choreographed. They weren't attracting a whole lot of dancers."

Trevino said he envisioned something similar, but wanted to attract the big talent and wanted it to be elegant and suitable for a wider audience.

After recruiting soloists from leading companies such as the American Ballet Theatre, the New York Ballet, the Royal Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Swedish Ballet and the Berlin State Opera Ballet, Trevino found he had a gift for directing dancers to relax and connect with the crowd, and delivering ballet that wasn't stuffy and uptight.

Ten years later - with world tours that have kept him in eternal winter - Trevino is now working to keep the humour fresh for the audience and the 13 men who wear stylish tights, tutus and pointe shoes.

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"Dancers are used to being told what to do," he says. "It can be kind of hard to get them to relax and have a good time."

His advice to them is to live in the moment.

"Listen to the audience, make [the dance] whatever you are feeling, " he says. "Be honest. That's what's funny about it."

Right now, the production is at a very funny point, he says. "Though not so funny that is loses its quality, its elegance." That was constantly the line the performance had to walk: "How much quality of dance do you sacrifice for comedy?"

This was something that had to be tested and experimented with.

Learning how to be the focal point was also a challenge for the troupe.

"The ballerina is generally the focal point of the evening - learning that is hard."

Everyone gets along well for the most part; a normal family would be sparring if on the road together for six months.

"It's a bunch of pretty crazy individuals. Six months of travel isn't easy. You are friendly, then you fight, then you're friends again. There is definitely respect for each other though."

Trevino is 52, which he admits is old for classical ballet. Another irony is that dancing a female lead extends the careers of the male dancers. Male dancers traditionally have a supportive role as well as a lead role - back injuries are common.

For most male dancers, their careers are over by the time they reach their mid-30s, he says. "I'm in the Twilight Zone."

When Trevino does see his final curtain call, it will be to directing or choreography, he says. Though, for now, dancing is ingrained - he is loath to give it up for good.

"It is still the most enjoyable part about a career in ballet," he says. "And I still think of it as private - it feels private. [From the stage] the audience feels like one entity, even though there are a thousand people."

  • Men in Tutus will be at the Theatre Royal on July 27 and 28 at 8pm. Tickets from Ticketek, ph 0800 Ticketek.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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