Posts Tagged ‘machine dazzle’

Culture Vulture/Photo Diary: Taylor Mac in Philadelphia

June 5, 2018

Andy and I took the bus down to Philly for Part I of Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music.”

Taylor Mac is a tall bald performance artist with a phenomenal voice, an activist’s engagement with the politics of the day, and a drag queen’s ability to work the crowd. The show, which judy (Taylor Mac’s pronoun of choice) built in three-hour increments and premiered in all its glory at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn in 2015, is a queer history of the United States in song. This gig, produced by Pomegranate Arts for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, is the first time Taylor Mac has performed the show in two all-day chunks. Mac refers to the show as a “radical faerie realness ritual sacrifice.” The loose concept is that every decade gets an hour, and the band starts with 24 members, one of whom peels off every hour until there’s only Taylor Mac onstage. Besides the musicians, there are random guest artists and a squadron of body-positive gender-queer helpers known as Dandy Minions (I spotted among them my friend Chris Bartlett, moonlighting from his high-powered job as executive director of Philly’s William Way Center). But the key collaborators are musical director Matt Ray, who arranged all 246 songs in the show, and Machine Dazzle, who created all the costumes including a different staggeringly creative outfit for each of Taylor Mac’s 24 hours.

We’d seen one three-hour segment (1956-1986) at St. Ann’s, which contained songs we knew. The early decades turned out to be a hodgepodge of familiar songs queered for Taylor Mac’s purposes and obscurities dug up to illustrate judy’s intersectional historical revision. The show opened with “Amazing Grace,” for which a woman in the audience was selected to come onstage and receive a blessing from the audience. It occasioned the first of many times Taylor Mac said, “This is going to go on a lot longer than you’re going to want it to.”

A conceptual show this long is bound to be padded and stretched thin in spots, and it was. There was the hour of drinking songs. There was the hour the audience spent blindfolded doing sensory perception exercises that required intimate interaction with your neighbors. Apples, beer, and ping pong balls were freely distributed. Large swaths of the show involved audience members dragged onstage to perform crucial tasks. Most of it was fun and engaging, but the real highlight of the first 12 hours came around the 9th hour when Taylor Mac rescued Gilbert and Sullivan from cultural appropriation jail by performing The Mikado on Mars, through vocoders, mostly to a reggae beat, with the crucial role of Yum-Yum played by a game young guy from the audience following instructions through a headset. It was one of the craziest and most fun things I’ve seen in the theater in years.

                                     that’s Matt Ray at the keyboard

                      that’s Machine Dazzle on the right in checkered stockings

The 12-hour show wrapped up an hour early, to no one’s complaint, since it was a pretty intense day. We’ll be back next Saturday for the second half of the show. We got to hang out later with our friends Nick and Jimmy.

We met Jimmy’s adorable ancient kitty Scarlett, and after brunch walked through the sidewalk art fair in Rittenhouse Square. I admired some stone sculptures by Paul E. Braun.

And I was impressed by the Basquiat-esque paintings on wood by Senegalese artist Michel Delgado.

Performance diary: Justin Bond’s RE:GALLI BLONDE at the Kitchen

November 1, 2010

October 27 – Keith Hennessy flew in for a couple of days, mostly to see Ishmael Houston-Jones’s piece Them at PS 122, but he got in Wednesday night early enough for us to see Justin Bond and the House of Whimsy perform their show Re:Galli Blonde (A Sissy Fix) at the Kitchen. The piece was inspired by a chapter from Randy Conner’s invaluable scholarly book Blossom of Bone: Reclaiming the Connections between Homoeroticism and the Sacred about the galli, the tribe of eunuch priests who devoted themselves to worshipping the Roman goddess Cybele in the four or five centuries B.C.E. The galli were forebears of the South Asian hijra or the Native American berdache and other populations of two-spirit individuals who served as gatekeepers between male and female, this world and the other world. “They were considered gender variant in both appearance and behavior, and they appear to have engaged in same-sex eroticism,” says Conner, who goes on to describe that appearance and behavior in great detail, some of which was detectable in the performance.
There was a Cybele figure, played by Justin Bond, with two attendants in lion headdresses (above), and there were numerous references to the galli’s animal totem, the rooster. (Gallus means rooster, and even in 5th century B.C.E. Rome the association of rooster/cock/phallus was already in currency.) But as a whole Re:Galli Blonde was as tortured and incoherent as its title. It was framed as a pagan ritual. As the audience arrived, there were radical faeries drumming (below) and drag queens circulating through the house as Cybele sat on her throne waiting for her disciples to gather in a circle before her to re-enact the Queen of Heaven’s descent to the underworld to comfort her recently widowed sister Ereshkigal (played by tranny superstar Glenn Marla in a spangly red dress). This descent was the loose framework for a series of vaudevillean songs, dances, and drag numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place at Trannyshack, the legendary weekly punk-rock drag cabaret that ran for years at San Francisco’s Stud bar, or at a faerie gathering. Somehow Cybele got mashed up with Kathryn Kuhlman, a Midwestern evangelist and faith healer who had a national TV show in the 1960’s and 70s called “I Believe in Miracles.” And the Queen of Heaven story somehow became a creation myth about how gays came to be despised. When the Queen of Heaven’s male escort refused to kiss Ereshkigal, she delivered a blistering curse. To heal from this curse, Bond as Kuhlman/Cybele lined up the cast and had them say how they had been personally affected by homophobia/femmephobia/ transphobia. No matter how lame, vague, or naïve their testimonials were, they each received a pat affirmation (“You are beautiful, powerful, magical”) and pronounced healed. Seriously? It’s that easy?
I could see how Justin Bond was working several layers of spiritual and theatrical mythology, following in the high-heel footprints of Jack Smith, Ethyl Eichelberger, and the Cockettes. I was pretty appalled, though, at how shallow, simple-minded, un-ironic, unfunny, and unsexy the whole thing was, although to be fair it’s not like the forebears’ work was uniformly brilliant, deep and hilarious. The performances were surprisingly amateurish, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing — but I will say I’ve seen sharper performances and more historically/politically/spiritually astute acts thrown together in an afternoon for a “no-talent show” at Short Mountain Sanctuary. I suppose the best thing to be said about Re:Galli Blonde is that it gave the incredibly talented Machine Dazzle another occasion to create a set of spectacular costumes and it spurred me to go back and re-read the chapter in Conner’s book, which is full of fascinating crazy details. For example: “In Greco-Roman iconography, the finger and the penis are often interchangeable symbols. Moreover, the finger in perpetual motion is a Greek sign signifying digital or penile stimulation of the anus, referred to as ‘siphnianizing,’ as the inhabitants of Siphnos were thought o be especially fond of anal eroticism…To inscribe the name [of a loved one] on a finger suggested that the youth willingly yielded to anal eroticism.”

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