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2 Philly-area dancers get to the pointe with the Trocks, a comic male ballet company performing at the Annenberg

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo bills itself as “the world’s foremost all-male comic ballet company, and it will be performing at the Annenberg Center this weekend.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in "Valpurgeyeva Noch."
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in "Valpurgeyeva Noch."Read moreZoran Jelenic

Jake Speakman didn’t take the traditional route from his youth in Upper Chichester, Delaware County, to dancing in pointe shoes on national stages — if indeed there is a traditional route.

In middle school, he auditioned for a musical on a whim. He enjoyed it so much, he decided to start dance classes.

“I just did the ballet, jazz, and tap, hating ballet at first. And eventually, I really loved it,” said 22-year-old Speakman, who joined the New York-based Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in November. The rare all-male ballet company performs parodies of well-known works. They will be onstage at the Annenberg Center this weekend.

In his teenage years, Speakman studied at the Academy of International Ballet in Media, adding some classes at Philadelphia’s Rock School for Dance Education. He went to high school at the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School’s Center for Performing and Fine Arts in West Chester and moved to New York for his senior year to study ballet.

But while he was talented enough to join a traditional ballet company, at 5 feet, 4 inches, he would have had trouble partnering a ballerina who may be 6 feet tall on pointe. So instead, he went to college for dance.

During his senior year at Marymount Manhattan College, he asked to take an advanced pointe class. He would be a beginner in a class with women who had been studying for about a decade. If he were serious, the department head said, he would have to explain his reasons in a short essay.

In that essay, he talked about his desire to join the Trocks, as members of the ballet company are known.

That said, he still thought he had a shot at a traditional ballet company, and he arranged for auditions. But that was in the spring of 2020, when companies were shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and no one was hiring. When he had his next chance, he aimed right for the Trocks and got in.

Among other roles, he is learning “swans one through eight” in the Trocks’ version of Swan Lake. As a newbie, he may be asked to jump into any role in the corps de ballet.

“I want to be the Swan Queen one day,” Speakman said. He also wants to change his field, “continuing to pioneer and revolutionize men dancing on pointe in an acceptable way.”

Giovanni Ravelo came to the Trocks — and to Philly — on a different path. Pennsylvania was his first stop in the United States, thanks to his ballet teacher in his home country of Colombia, who would come north to choreograph works for the Ballet Theatre of Scranton.

One year she was doing Romeo & Juliet in Colombia and wound up bringing it — and Ravelo as Romeo — to Scranton. Soon, he wanted to stay in the United States, and the director in Scranton sponsored his visa.

He spotted Philly early on.

“Philadelphia is my love,” Ravelo said. “I passed through it when I went to audition to Scranton, the bus stopped at the Reading Terminal Market. And then I had like two hours [before the next leg of the trip]. So I went on a walk and I was like, ‘I wish I could live in the city.’ I fell in love immediately because it wasn’t as crazy at New York. It was calm and — I don’t know, I fell in love immediately.”

Eventually, Ravelo found the daily trip to Scranton from Philadelphia too taxing. So a friend suggested he stay and go back to school, to the Rock School. A scholarship would allow him more time in the United States.

“But don’t say you are 24,” the friend suggested.

“So I went there and I say I’m 21, and they thought I was gonna say I’m 18. I always looked younger than I am. And they were like, ‘OK, we offer you a full-year scholarship.’ So I went back to taking four classes a day with teenagers.”

Before the year was over, he got a contract with a small New Jersey company, the Roxey Ballet in Lambertville. He also started choreographing. His first work for that company was about Frida Kahlo. To get the feeling of how a ballerina needs to work, he put on a pair of pointe shoes.

“I’m very OCD, I was like, ‘No, I’m going to do it well, I’m not going to just fool around. So every day after rehearsal … one of the dancers in the company, she was teaching a pointe class and she said, ‘Stay, stay, take the class with the little girls.’”

A year later, Ravelo got a job as a Trock and stayed for 13 years, commuting from Philly the whole time. Now 45, he retired in December. On Monday he started in a new role with the company, as assistant of production management, which means doing a bit of everything, as the company, while well known, is fairly small.

On Saturday afternoon at the Annenberg, the company will perform a preview of Ravelo’s first choreography for the company, a piece inspired by William Forsythe that Ravelo is calling Out of Line. It’s set to original music by Pablo Killombo.

The Trocks are assigned alter egos, both female and male, since sometimes they are the ballerina and sometimes they are the prince. Their colleagues teach them basic drag makeup, and they are allowed to run free with it. Ravelo’s characters were Irina Kolesterolikova and Boris Mudko. Speakman’s are Colette Adae and Timur Legupski.

“I’m apparently, I think, a French girl,” Speakman said of his female persona, “who grew up in the basement of the Paris Opera House and learned ballet through the rats to become a star. Very Cinderella.”

Or, in Philadelphia terms, very Gritty.


Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. 215-898-3900.