Can you give a quick background leading up to how and why you finished up as a Trock?
I had a unique experience leading up to joining Ballets Trockadero. My first year at Harrison School of the Arts, in Lakeland, Florida, my ballet teacher was holding auditions for a ballet piece, which would be danced on pointe. I was waiting in the hallway for these auditions to be over, and one of the girls came out of the studio walking on pointe. I thought it was the most bizarre and beautiful looking thing I had ever seen, as I had only trained in modern before then.
From that “pointe on”, I decided that I wanted to dance on pointe. I knew that I wanted to be a Trock and I auditioned at 17 years old and I was taken as an apprentice right out of ballet school.
The Trock dancers have two stage names, one male, one female… what are yours?
My ballerina name is Yakatarina Verbosovich and my danseur name is Roland Daulin.
The path to become a “Trockadero Ballerina” isn’t an easy one. It takes a lot of research into the history of ballet and understanding what made the great dancers of the past so great. Then, you have to find a way to encompass that grandeur and comically pay homage to them. Everyone goes about it in their own way, and that is part of the magic of Trockadero. I, personally, have read and watched most of the documentaries about the great ballerinas, such as Plisetskaya, Fonteyn, Kirkland, Farrell, and many more. Seeing how serious those ballerinas took their roles is the basis on which my character is based.
Naturally, I am not as “goofy” as some of the other guys, nor am I quite as “masculine”, but my characters make the parody by taking the roles so serious that they take it to the ultimate extreme, ultimately bringing in the character of the ballerina that is so immersed in her work that she is no longer that much in touch with reality. This sort of eccentric diva personality is apparent in most fine arts, and ironically this is quite opposite of who I am naturally as a person. I am actually quite shy and reserved when I am not dancing. This is one of the many great things about my job that I love. I get to explore and discover different parts of my own personality.
What was your previous experience with pointe shoes, and how have your feet and body developed dancing on pointe so often?
After seeing girls on pointe in ballet school, I bought a pair of Sansha pointe shoes from Discount Dance Supply – which were far too small – and I begin working on pointe on my own. Eventually, I became quite good, and brave, on pointe and my teachers began to notice and introduced me to a video of Les Ballets Trockadero. Once I saw the company, I felt as if my future were already planned for me. My teachers even began choreographing pointe pieces for me to help me achieve my dreams.
As far as how it has changed my technique, pointe work is terribly hard and detailed. It requires very strong, yet meticulous, work in order to do it any sort of justice. While my teachers were trying to teach me the basics, I sort of had to learn everything all over again. I felt as if I was doing ballet on a tight rope, where one wrong move resulted in me falling down. Balance is a lot more important on pointe than on half-pointe. Also, you really have to have the entire body involved in order to make it all the way up there, and take into account where you shift the weight of your body.
The pointe shoes did eventually make my feet stronger and more flexible, and gave me a different “pulled up” feeling in my legs and demi pointe. It also changed the shape of my legs to a much longer and streamline look. However, my feet are very ugly. My mother often describes them as looking like someone took a hammer to them!
What do you use to protect your feet: before, during and after a performance?
I use the ouch pouch, which is a silicone based toe protector. I also have sometimes used little cushions in between my toes, because I am prone to getting corns.
What shoes do you use, and how do you adapt or treat them?
I wear very custom ordered Gaynor Minden pointe shoes. It took me a few years to get just the perfect cut for my feet. It takes a lot of trial and error because you want them to look good and also feel good, but the people at Gaynor Minden are wonderful!
As far as treating them, Gaynor Minden last longer when you air them out and keep them dry. Also, when I break them in I wet the satin so that they mould to my feet. The shoe should become a part of the leg and not look like you are wearing a shoe.
The Trocks work hard: how is it putting on the pointes again for a day’s second show?
The Trocks do work hard, but our working environment is amazing! I really feel like we all support and help one another. It isn’t uncommon to see people giving each other massage between shows, using foam rollers, icing, napping, elevating their legs on the walls, etc.
I have found in my ten-plus years in the company that you should always do a ballet barre before the second show. In a way, you have to press the reset button and start all over again for the second show, and that includes warming up. When the body is warmed up properly, it has a lot more vitality than if you sort of “slam” through the second show with the body cold.
Make-up is so important: how long does it take to do your make-up? Do you have any special tricks to keep it from running? And what happens between shows if you want to nip out and get something to eat?
I always say that it takes as long as they give us. The company is very sympathetic when it comes to giving us ample time before the show. We usually get around 1 hour and 15 minutes. Sometimes more or less depending on if there are any last minute changes, but we always get at least an hour to do make-up, hair, and costume.
The trick to keeping your make-up looking fresh throughout the show is to POWDER! It is important to literally pound the powder into your foundation in order for it to become like your second skin. Even still, there are shows that your makeup will start sweating off. Often times it is a matter of the temperature of the theatre. Sometimes in the summer, we all come off stage looking like the end scene from Death Becomes Her. It can also depend on how much you sweat in a certain role. I have gone on stage looking like Odette and come off looking like the Zombie of Odile. It really depends.
You tour continuously to a wide variety of theatres: how difficult is it to adapt to different stages?
Well, first and foremost, we have an AMAZING team of women who deal with the technical aspects of the company. They work very long hours to make sure that not only the show looks its best, but also to insure that the stage is ready by the time we get to the theatre. Realistically, we have a system that has worked for 40 years, and it sort of foolproof. Anything you can imagine we have dealt with, and it is part of the life of an artist. Most artists have to deal with less than perfect venues at some point in their career.
Is humour is the same the world over or do you notice differences? Do you adapt certain comic elements according to where you are?
I find that our humour definitely penetrates all cultures, but the real difference is how people react. Culturally, every country laughs and applauds differently. The American audiences are quite boisterous, while the Japanese audiences are very well mannered. Nonetheless, the ending applause is usually the same, which is a standing ovation!
Do you have any stories about technical problems with costumes, wigs, make-up or shoes?
I have definitely seen a few, and also had a few happen to me. As a pet peeve of mine, I am a control freak when it comes to props, wigs, the ribbons of my pointe shoes, costumes, etc. We were dancing this Cuban piece called Majisimas and I was in this trio, where we were dancing with fans. I got on stage and right at the end of the piece we start of canon of opening our fans. I was the last to open the fan. Right as I go to open the fan, the fan slipped from my hand. I started scrambling to catch it as if I was trying to swat a fly. I ended up catching it before it hit the ground and opened it, but then I started to laugh. I broke character on stage by bursting into laughter and that caused the other two to burst into laughter too… ironically during one of the few serious moments of the Trockadero show. One dancer had to cover their face with their fan… The other one just laughed with me. Eventually the audience understood that this was a Trockadero Blooper, and laughed with us. Even Trockadero has bloopers!
How has being a Trock changed your life?
Trockadero has given me a place where I can openly be myself on and off stage. The company is so interested in having individual and unique artists working for them that it sets an atmosphere of freedom. I never fit in where I came from (Winter Haven, Florida). I always felt I was an outcast with a slightly different outlook on life. I was always creative, artistic, and a free spirit. When I came to Trockadero, not only did they employ me, but they are my family. In a way, Trockadero has raised me. They have taught me how to be a professional, educated me, cultured me, and even loved me.
Of course the life of a touring dancer isn’t easy, nor is it for everyone. As I have noticed, it is the artists in the company that keep the bigger picture of what the company really does that last. Trockadero brings laughter, gay culture, and ballet to a HUGE range of audiences and many different cultures around the world. We get to bring joy to people’s lives over 100 times a year. And in a world that is struggling so hard to find peace and happiness, I feel honoured that I get to participate in spreading joy and even get paid for it!