‘Call me old-fashioned but…’ Tory Dobrin Flies the Flag for classical standards
Mary Brennan talks to Tory Dobrin – Artistic Director of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Some things can really irk Tory Dobrin. Which is surprising, because the Trocks’ Artistic Director seems possessed of an elastic good humour which allows him to cope with all the last-minute hitches and glitches that make life on tour resemble a roller-coaster with no brakes and no jumping off points.
But start talking about trends in repertoire… “Unitards,” he says, and he’s clearly not enthused. “What is it with so many ballet companies nowadays – everything they do is in unitards. You could spend good money and not see a tutu all night. As for all those older Russian ballets – essentially you’re talking about the heritage repertoire – you hardly ever see them done by American companies, or even by the visiting high-profile companies from Europe or Russia who used to stage them regularly. How often do you even see Les Sylphides? Who does Paquita nowadays? Or La Vivandiere? I suppose, in the great world order of things – financial disasters, recession, conflict in the Middle East – the loss of a few old ballets doesn’t count as any kind of priority…” But clearly it matters to Dobrin, which is why he’s consciously made the Trocks’ repertoire a haven for as many of the endangered species as the budget – and audience tastes – will allow.
“Oh, absolutely, we take every account of what our audiences respond to,” he says. It’s not token lip-service, it’s practicality speaking here, as Dobrin explains. “We don’t, as a company, get any grants so we are very aware when it comes to programming that tastes do vary – and we can’t just impose something on an audience if it’s not going to engage and entertain them. We’re a performing company, not a museum. Yes, there are certain neglected ballets that will only really appeal to afficionados with a passion for historical rarities – and we did one quite recently, La Cacucha. But even though it was well received, in some quarters, I don’t see it ever replacing something like the Don Quixote pas-de-deux or the Black Swan duet. People never seem to get tired of those – or of Dying Swan.”
What makes him so attached to the forgotten classics? His response is immediate, succinct. “The vocabulary. Just look at the wealth of steps in these works. It’s remarkable. At times, when I look at the contemporary ballet repetoire, it strikes me there’s a same-ness there – one work looks much like another, there really isn’t that extensive a vocabulary. Granted, it can be very athletic…” His expression says ‘long jumpers, pole vaulters, hurdlers should be athletic – ballet dancers should be artists.’ It’s the artistry – and indeed what he describes as “the artifice of the high, Imperial Russian classical ballet” – that he reckons is being lost simply because it’s been labelled as old-fashioned. “If you were to put some of these old ballets in Spandex, they’d look not just contemporary, they’d look cutting edge because the vocabulary is just so gorgeous, so full of detail and invention. To me, there’s nothing old-fashioned about that kind of choreography. If you adore ballet, then you want – need – to protect the heritage.”
The UK’s Critics’ Circle not only agreed with Dobrin, but clearly felt that the Trocks were doing an admirable job when, in 2006, they were awarded the Company Prize for Outstanding Repertoire (Classical). A further accolade – and one that delighted Dobrin no end – came just before Christmas 2008, when the Trocks were invited to perform in the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium.
“And anyway, an Old-Fashioned is a helluva fine cocktail – which could describe the Trocks, and the spirit of their dance.”
As Dobrin himself says “I don’t think standards, quality, artistic integrity, are ever old-fashioned. I don’t think bringing out the inner lunatic on-stage is either – not if you do it well.” And anyway, an Old-Fashioned is a helluva fine cocktail – which could describe the Trocks, and the spirit of their dance.