Ordinary man by day, beautiful swan by nightBy Peter Brenner • May 7th, 2012 • Category: People
As the elegant swan’s final white feather tumbled gracefully to the stage, her body fell limp and the crowd erupted in applause. A curtain engulfed Lady Swan, a six-foot gangling creature bejeweled in white, from tutu to tiara. She awoke, and poked her beak through the curtain, stepping out to bask in the praise of her audience. With a coy curtsy and a stage-left saché, she thanked them for their applause, fluttering her eye brows, blowing kisses and smiling wide, elated. After one final curtsy and her last blown kiss, the swan flew back to her nest behind the curtain.
Who is this dying swan? By night, she is Ida Nevasayneva, a world renowned “part-time socialist and full-time egotist ballerina of the working peoples.” By day, she is Paul Ghiselin, a 50-year-old male of Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Ballet Master of the entirely male drag ballet company Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
“I find ballet dancing for men to be so- boring,” said Ghiselin as he reminisced about his pre-“Trock” days while sipping tea at the Flame Diner on the Upper West Side.
In person, Ghiselin is more of a recluse than a rainbow flag embellished dancing queen. His faded yellow button down shirt and khakis can’t help but scream out “I’m ordinary!”
But Ghiselin is far from your ordinary male ballet dancer. With the help of ArtisticDirector, Tory Dobrin, Ghiselin is the mastermind behind the inconspicuously famous cross dressing spectacle known simply as “the Trocks.”
Originally from Norfolk, Virginia, Ghiselin trained at the Tidewater Ballet Academy and went on to dance with the Ohio Ballet for 13 years. It was there that Ghiselin was first referred to the Trockadero.
“I was attracted to the uniqueness of the Trocks,” said Ghiselin. “I was burnt out from doing male roles and because of my age, no other companies would have accepted me.”
But Ghiselin faced a difficult decision; does he retire a male dancer in the Ohio Ballet (Ghiselin had already been in his 30s) or take a severe pay cut and join the Trocks? In May 1995, Ghiselin made his risky decision, and chose the latter.
However, joining the Trocks meant Ghiselin would have to learn to dance ‘en pointe,’ a ballet style taught only to women. “It was like relearning how to dance, only twice as painful,” confessed Ghiselin.
Despite a smaller paycheck, Ghiselin doesn’t regret joining the Trocks. “If you’re dancing just for money, you’re giving up a part of your soul,” said Ghiselin.
Apparently, a soul decked out in eye make-up, lipstick and glitter.
In 2005, Ghiselin became the Ballet Master of the Trockadero, meaning he would be responsible for teaching the arduous dance routines to the young fresh-faced ballerinas. It is considered a treat to see Ghiselin take the stage these days, particularly in his infamous portrayal of Mikhail Fokine’s “Dying Swan” (not to be confused with Swan Lake, a favorite ballet of the drag troop).
Along with his fellow queens, Ghiselin takes traditional ballets and interprets them humorously, or as he puts it, “we add our special little twist.” The goal is to take an ordinary routine and find ways to make it enjoyable for a wider audience.
Ghiselin spends weeks at a time away from his second-floor duplex apartment in Brooklyn, jet-setting to cities such as Rome and Zürich.
Now in his 50s, being away from home, and his partner of several years, is a growing struggle for Ghiselin. “It’s very difficult, it’s the hardest thing,” said Ghiselin, who is home for one more week before flying off to the high altitudes of Columbia.
In between relearning how to breathe while dancing at high elevations and practicing routines for 10 hours at a stretch, Ghiselin will find little time to actually enjoy his exotic setting. It is because of this laborious schedule that Ghiselin has begun to envision a life after the Trocks.
“I see myself working as a florist, living a simpler life,” said Ghiselin.
“Definitely not in New York City,” he quickly added.
Although Ghiselin confesses his life after the Trocks is still a long way off, a world without this touring band leotard wielding drag queens may be growing closer.
Due to increasing economic woes, the Trockadero was forced to let six dancers go, downsizing from 20 to 14. To make matters worse, in 2011 the group was also forced to cancel two large tours: one in Russia due to logistical reasons, and even more damaging to its finances, one in Japan (Japan has always been one of the most profitable countries for the Trocks).
Yet, Ghiselin remains quasi-optimistic, acknowledging the demise of the Trockadero as a “potential reality,” but in comparison to a lot of New York City based dance companies, they still receive a fair amount of work.
At the end of 2012, the Trockadero will be returning to the United States, one of Ghiselin’s favorite locations to tour. Besides the obvious reason of being close to home, Ghiselin loves the energy of American audiences.
“The best audiences are in Australia and the U.S,” he said. “The constant interchange of energy is so inspiring. When we get a standing ovation in the U.S, it feels so rewarding.”
And maybe, if the American audiences cheer loud enough, our socialist swan may rise
once more to grace us with her elegance, demure grand plie’s and makeup that would make even RuPaul look like a drag.