Off The Cuffs

Snow White
Presented by: Company XIV – http://www.companyxiv.com
in association with Liberty Theaters, LLC :
Under the Direction of Margaret Cotter
Conceived, Choreographed and Directed by: Austin McCormick
Featuring: Hilly Bodin, Marisol Cabrera, Laura Careless,
Courtney Giannone, Lea Helle, Nicholas Katen, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmundsen, Davon Rainey, March Richardson

Ran: January 26th – March 12th
Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane
New York, NY 10012

By Louis DeVaughn Nelson
@hokum_arts

PHOTOS: Courtesy Company XIV, Benjamin Riley – http://www.benrileystudio.com

“More tease, less strip!” was a common phrase I would shout at my classically trained dancers, sometimes strippers, performers every once in a while, and part time whatever else they could do with their many talents to make ends meet. That was over a decade ago when Cher and Christina Aguilera’s Burlesque movie hadn’t yet made the art form more acceptable to mass appeal audiences and the film Chicago had just made it more accessible.

I was then working for the award-wining Peekaboo Revue (Philadelphia, PA), deemed a neo-burlesque troupe that was just as much ahead of its time as it was reliving the past. 2002 sparked the inaugural New York Burlesque Festival in which the burgeoning cabaret scene began to (once again) celebrate the entertainment value of the good old-fashioned “leg shows” and “good clean fun” of the American Vaudeville era when a few pence would allow you all day access to a bevy of bump & grind and sideshow acts.

Courtesy of the NYBF, troupes from all over the country (along with a few international groups) congregated in a place where society was starving for a bit more bang for their buck in the post 9/11 live life till it runneth over climate. While the frank association of T&A is synonymous with burlesque – the artful spectacle of the experience will always remain a big draw. During the first festival there was a lot of pageantry and couture costumes, but the most memorable and engaging performances were those who pushed skin and the desire to get under it in new and innovative ways utilizing inspiration from avant garde technique.

 

Company XIV 1

Winner of a New York Innovative Theater Award for Best Choreography, Austin McCormick founded Company XIV based on these principles during the very same year the NYBF began. With a background as a former dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet of New York along with many other accolades in the theater/dance performance world, McCormick has served up contributions to several opera houses in direction and choreography: The Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Houston Grand Opera, and Canadian Opera Company…

What he does with Company XIV along with co-founder, Laura Careless, who passionately graces the stage of the their latest enthralling installment, is nothing short of spectacular; a simple Google search will retrieve a plethora of poetic pieces acclaimed by critics from The British Theatre Guide to The New York Times. Recreating and staging the classics, fairytales and ballets is commonplace in the burlesque community, so standing out and wowing jaded audiences is a feat in itself.

Case in point: I first heard about Company XIV from a theater artist in New York who proclaimed that there was nothing like it in the city and the meticulous effort they put into each and every show is astounding. Having had the ambitious undertaking of managing expectations in so many regards in my work with The Peekaboo Revue (my girls/boys had a lot of brilliant ideas, some too racy for audiences), I did my best not to roll my eyes at this statement, especially after seeing the Kleine Nachtrevue of Berlin, Germany – possibly the capital of burlesque it its true and original and perhaps most enjoyable form. The decadent depiction Bob Fosse presented in the film version of Cabaret still reigns today in this day and age (sans the Nazis).

Company XIV 2

“Well, I saw a ballerina dressed up as a construction worker use a handsaw to cut metal of off herself, and that was her striptease, so…”

“They do amazing things, like one girl sings opera while she is pole dancing,” my ears perked up and he continued, “but I’ve seen it a few times and would love to see something else. But I go to all of their shows.”

That’s the thing about these burlesquers. The whole “You Gotta Have A Gimmick” is a necessary part of the craft. There are many details and hours and hours of repetitive rehearsals these performers must endure in order to perfect their tricks. There is a delicate balance between overdoing it and making sure you are accommodating an audience who are used to seeing a certain “gimmick”. It is very hard to raise the ante each time, which is why so many burlesque troupes stick to a certain style or aesthetic.

About a week later I met one of the company’s management partners at a theater networking event. The conversation went on and on about the style and content of this particular troupe. Not only was this serendipitous but it seemed this was one of the hottest tickets in town.

When I arrived (on a Tuesday) at the Minetta Lane Theatre, I was taken aback by the sheer number of folks lined up on another one of those little streets tucked away just off Broadway where patrons can congregate before the house opens and let the pre-show excitement wash over them. It was Tuesday, right?

The show started before it began. There was an air about the place which afforded a certain hospitable acceptance and an environment that allowed folks to bustle around the theatre (with drinks in hand no less) holding conversations while the performers were getting ready on the baroque adorned stage and walking around the audience scantily clad. It felt like home and it felt otherworldly.

The devious smiles of the cigarette girls and the burlesquers acknowledging but not addressing the audience from on stage while they warmed up and primped – was a sight to behold. And then the magic came in the most shocking but not surprising way.

“Guten Abend,” began one of the many mistresses of the cabaret whose genres were all over the map and back again, utilizing live video performance, ballet, modern dance, contemporary dance, tap dance, puppetry, circus arts, tango, pole dancing, opera, flamenco, marionettes, live music, kabuki, Cyr wheel, pop performance, and many other mediums. Oh! And some striptease.

Taking the classic German fairytale and melding it into the modern world with traditional sensibilities without a speck of fault is almost impossible to believe, even with so many momentary suspensions of. There can only be one complaint about Company XIV’s Snow White : overkill.

The twists and turns are irrebuttable in their presentation, leaving the audience almost dizzy from how much is fit into the show. There are many intellectual bombs thrown on stage but not just for the hell of it – each and every iota is a well-focused form of exquisite expression. At the risk of being trite, it would have been nice to have reverted back to the art form’s pioneers and dumbed it down a little. There were a few very raw and a bit naughty parts that shined through, almost a taunt more than a tease, which could have been expounded as not to forget where we came from.

“Yeah, but when do I get to take off my clothes?” one of my favorite girls used to say to me incessantly when I was working with The Peekaboo Revue before I left for Berlin in 2011. While I appreciated her zealousness to bare all in so many ways (almost as much as the audience), it was a lesson learned for the both of us. The visual appeal has to be balanced with the artistic.

Her name was Melissa Bang-Bang (a moniker derivative of a certain gimmick she evoked with her backside) and after Snow White I approached the stage to personally thank the show’s brightest star who played the queen, aforementioned Laura Careless, who had the least amount of tricks up her sleeve and managed to steal the show with her provocative reprieve.

Bang Bang

“You renewed my passion for the art form. I used to work in burlesque and one of my favorite girls just died a little over a month ago. You remind me of her a lot, you have the same spirit about you on stage,” I gushed and received a blush.

The company ended its season on so many high notes and now Austin McCormick is on to produce work for the Metropolitan Opera. Be sure to catch Company XIV when they get revved up again. Their shows typically sell-out, so plan ahead!

 

 

 

 

NEW BLOG POST: “Love Feast”

Check out the newest entry for Center on the Aisle that I wrote:

“Perhaps it was because it was just a few days after Valentine’s Day and we were all watching a play about love and the lengths one will go through to achieve it. Maybe I needed to be closer to someone or anyone and the obvious attractiveness of the cast with their hip outfits and provocative instrument playing was helping in the worst way. Perchance I didn’t want to feel anything when the lyric that came during the culmination of the play came over and over and over again nonstop: “What is Love?” the actors sang in a bittersweet tone…”

 

Read More Here

NEW BLOG POST: “Off Broadway”

Here’s a snippet of my newest article for Center on the Aisle

“The performance started off with several recognizable classics, engaging the audience in a swaying assonance. There was a welcoming comfort to the expository portion of the start along with the introduction of the band: Tommy Faragher (Musical Director and Piano), John Putnam (Guitar), Paul Socolow (Bass), Sam Merrick (Drums). Mr. Young went in and out of hiding behind his sunglasses – and in doing so he coyly played with the audience but his phenomenal voice, intrinsic in its varying capacities, remained and held us all captive. Sing-alongs came and went, as did perfunctory applause at the beginning of bits due to the recognizable, sparse but poignant standing ovations, abrupt interruptions by way of unruly cheering – and then something happened.”

You can see the full text here.

Self = Portraits…part seven

Full circle or triangle or quadrilateral? I am not sure there was any sort of linear movement in this longwinded rite of passage full of astounding obstacles that led me back to start off where I wanted to end up in the beginning.

Self = Portraits…part one
Self = Portraits…part two
Self = Portraits…part three
Self = Portraits…part four
Self = Portraits…part five
Self = Portraits…part six

66. Baggage

This was the very first video I made when I returned to the United States of America in December 2014, just two weeks before Christmas.

67. Armor

Frail, broken – if not damaged, I was more guarded and protected than I had ever been but at the same time I was willing to wear my vulnerability on my sleeve. By a twist of fate, I had to shed my freedom when I returned to USA and cover up all the messiness of being able to be myself in Europe. I was “home” in familiar territory and it was time to go to work. I went back to the same temp agency and started working in an office. This plight is shown here, along with the simple fact that I had to let go of my passion and start censoring myself for social graces. What lies beneath is what got me into trouble in the first place.

 

68. Früher

Sometimes in order to move forward we need to go backwards a little bit and look at the history of our time in order to not make the same mistakes. Amiss an abundance of reverse culture shock, this film came about when I needed a change – as so many of my shaving videos in this series involve some depiction of mine wanting to reinvent myself by altering my physical appearance.  I was experiencing extreme PTSD as well as reverse culture shock. I missed all the good and bad of Germany, as well as the USA. This was my way of handling it.

69.  Quit

This is somewhat a sequel to “Smoke” – one of the very first films of the series that I made in the same location. The location was the “back alley” of a friend’s apartment where I stayed during my 6 months back in the USA before I left to go back to Berlin. This time, the situation was way different. I knew at this point that I was going to want/need to go to New York – there were too many demons in Philadelphia and I was facing a lot of strife with the seemingly dissolving support system I had there. I was starting to realize the pith of the relationships I had with people before left and all of the annals of 3 years away from them was building up to a lot of misunderstandings. The lyrics of this particular soundtrack are phenomenally adjacent to what I was experiencing.

70. Again

One of the biggest challenges in life as aforementioned is confronting change in order to avoid similar mistakes that one has made in the past while maintaining who you are as a individual. There are nuances of personality that involve genetics, environment and/or nurture versus nature. No matter how desperately we try to break certain unhealthy patterns or behaviors (see: vicious cycle) – there is some comfort in the familiar.

 

71. Empty

A visual outcry of sorts in regards to the ongoing daunting task of being a veritable bag lady. The place to hang the hat cliché was an obvious nod to the unrelenting bouts of homelessness I’ve endured – my belongings always on my person and no personal place with which to put them.

72. Dream

There is a Juliana Hatfield song entitled “Hotels” in which she says, “Welcome me when I need a home.” This clause encompasses so much of my work in this series. When I came back to the USA there was a big change in the music I was allowed to use due to intellectual property rights (the reason I stopped posting my work on youtube). I learned how to circumvent this issue for the most part by using classical/vintage music tracks or internet only release selections like heard in so many of these films. Juliana Hatfield occasionally releases music via the internet, accepting donations, in order to avoid all the Capitalistic sociopolitical drama of the music industry. It works out famously because it correlates to my philosophy in terms of free reign (I’ve recently been advised to restrict my work because it has been downloaded and uploaded to porn sites for money – I’m more flattered than offended). So this film was me finding access to the rungs of a corporate ladder. I was on my way to the proposed good old American version of success. I was in contention for a very big job and endured an intense interview process that landed me in a hotel and wondering what my life will become.

73.  Bridge

Another stint in a hotel and another blatant reverse strip tease burlesque satirical ditty, the namesake of this piece is multifaceted per usual. I do have company in this film and he is a European who had no problem with me making the film in his presence. He was my bridge to the culture that I miss so much – and refueled my waning passion to create.

74. Banana 3

The third installment of what started this whole process came perfunctorily. “Banana” was the very first video in the series, made in between my 3 month stint and my 3 year stint in Berlin – when I knew I was going, I had found a job and a reasonable way to survive through temporary apartment rentals, and I had a love interest or two to keep me busy (besides the city itself). It was also the first serious art work that I showed at a festival for Art Connect Berlin who I began working for throughout my time in Berlin in varying capacities, mostly as a writer for their blog. There is also a second, “Banana 2“, and in “Banana 3” I wanted to again use the original song by PJ Harvey entitled “The Desperate Kingdom of Love” for obvious reasons. I couldn’t use the original song so I dubbed in a recording of myself playing it.

75. Myself

There have been so many spaces, spaces that have belonged to others. “I just want a bookshelf again,” I tell my friends when I explain how harrowing this destitution is. For the first time in a long time I had my own room (via AirBnB) that was all mine: no roommates, no arrangements, no situations. Just me. I felt the freest I had in a long time.

———

To view some or all of the entire series, see the full album on Vimeo:
Self = Portraits by Louis DeVaughn Nelson

 

 

Love of Love

“It’s you,” was my obvious turn of phrase when I saw her. I was belting out something not quite a statement or declaration. It was an exclamation with a point.

Even in her exhaustion, she was a beauty to behold. She had that radiant and alluring classic fifties pinup girl look. Her sweat and primp-tortured hair was somehow still perfectly in place. It was a rich hickory color, tight and bouffant all at once. Her eyes were bulbous and inviting like a bewitching vintage doll to match her porcelain skin. The blush and lips candy red, and she looked good enough to eat while she clumsily gulped from her bottle of water as she schlepped her dance bag on her back.

I was waiting for the A train back to go uptown when I saw her as I was thinking about all those “…and another hundred people…” platform thoughts. I had already decided that she was my muse, or rather that she decided for me – because more than anyone and anything around, again she really stood out.

Her name is Kristin Piro, and she is entertainment personified.

She is the Dance Captain of the now running and open-ended show Trip of Love showing at Stage 42. Conceived, directed and choreographed by Joffery and American Ballet Theater alumni, James Walski, Piro was part of the original cast who developed and presented the world premiere of the sixties sociopolitical dance theater extravaganza. Drawing from some of the most recognizable music hits of the decade, the show is a tribute not only to the era, but to the old Broadway revue-style gems that used to be common fare on The White Way decades ago.

It is fascinating to see what happens when you put together an award-winning production staff, a ballet master and a relatively “emerging artist” cast. The costumes and stage design boast the wow spectacle that is indicative of a Broadway show while the choreography is unfathomable in its complexity and intensity. Those elements alone make for a visually striking display, but the performance suffered because of it.

The actors and dancers were barely allowed a moment to do what they do best because everything was so placed. From the bright and brilliant (and ridiculously expensive looking) props to each battement and pas de bouree, there was a 5-6-7-8 for everything and you could see the pained look on the performers faces – insecure about and distracted by perfection that was obviously demanded by the veteran ballerina.

Trip of Love is quite a trip as duly noted by my neighbors in the theatre. To one side I had a couple who had went through similar experiences commented within the context of the show (see: Make Love Not War) and the woman squeezed her man’s hand between tears from time to time. On the other side of me I had two seemingly sisters who were debating about which singer had the best voice, a hard argument to win indeed as all of the cast were strong.

I kept waiting for something to happen, and what happened every time was when Kristin Piro entered the stage. She had that va-va-voom and expertly captured (or stole) those moments to shine away from the glitz the glamor and the enormous amount of beautiful choreography. A wink, a nod, a bump, a smile, a shimmy – these were those nuances that were missing from the overall performance, and these little connections to the audience were barely afforded to us because of the exorbitant spectacle.

“It was really hard to watch the rest of the show when you were dancing,” I blushed. Piro thanked me and I asked her a few questions about the performances as New York played its rushing song in the background.

She told me that the cast is different almost every night so they have to re-stage everything (which explained some of the spacing issues I noticed in one or two numbers) within hours of opening curtain. She loves the show and obviously she loves what she does. It’s needles like this that are found in the haystack of the White Way that makes theater great and worthwhile. Piro took us back to a time with her brilliant characterization and consummate stage presence. Let’s hope that there is more of her in the future.

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Trip of Love
Created, Directed and Choreographed by James Walski
Presented by Makoto Deguchi, Hiroki Kozawa, and Masu H. Masuyama
In Association with:
Debi Coleman, Takeo Nakanishi and Kunihiko Ukifune
Featuring: Joey Caleveri, David Elder, Kelly Felthous, Dionne Figgins, Austin Miller, Tara Palsha, Kristin Piro, Laurie Wells
Stage 42 – 422 West 42nd Street (Between 9th & 10th)
Tickets: $35.00+ @ www.tripoflove.com

Color Me Bountiful

I’ve been talking about Consumer Psychology and Business 101 a lot lately primarily in referencing much of the work that I do in social media, satire, and the arts.

I love a good conversation that utilizes all the jargon involved with what was and is now considered to be the essential tools of effective marketing. I’ve always been a fan of how art integrates itself into so many modes of experience.

psycholoyg-color-infograhpic

 

I’m fascinated by the way that color effects the brain. There are so many facets to this phenomenon and I highly recommend that anyone doing any outward facing work takes these principles into consideration.

chart

 

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All References Via:

http://visualimpactsystems.com/the-psychology-of-color/