Mother's Courage

New York

Left: Dancers in Jeremy Wade's performance. Middle: Wayne Koestenbaum. Right: A scene from David Quinn's fashion show.

The second and final performance of Robert Melee’s Talent Show last Thursday at The Kitchen drew a sold-out crowd. (At the last minute colorful pillows were thrown on the floor in front, kindergarten-style, for additional seating). The homage to current downtown performance ran the queer gamut from the haute-foppish pretension of Wayne Koestenbaum’s poetry reading (“But relatedness—Winnicott, Klein?—shines in her eyes”) to the pure gender-bending ridiculousness of Julie Atlas Muz’s anatomically perverse “Mr. Pussy,” which eschewed vagina dentata in favor of the relatively ineffectual vagina mustachio (Muz styles her “down there” as a crooning mariachi). The Melee-designed set—tinsel, Christmas bows, pastel linoleum, and faux wood paneling—garnered its own round of applause and was quickly incorporated into the performances via Melee’s ritual “marbleizing” (in pastel house paint that matched the decor) of his disrobed and heavily made-up mother. At any talent show there’s the disconcerting moment when productive play rubs up against actual skill (the piano prodigy is scheduled after the singing bellies, etc.) and on this night that moment arrived with drag act Shasta Cola. Her tightly choreographed, Chelsea-friendly act (she performs at The Barracuda, a gay bar on West 22nd Street), set to Destiny’s Child and avant rapper M.I.A., made use of an array of color guard props, from glittery toy rifles to hand-sewn flags, all handled with the gung ho expertise of a champion cheerleader.

For the most part, though, the acts followed in the “let’s put on a show” tradition of the New York underground, favoring enthusiasm over slick execution and embracing the dual aesthetic of the stumble and the sashay. The Dazzle Dancers’ bacchanal moved the greenroom onstage, where they dressed and performed spirit exercises before beginning their decidedly underrehearsed routine (which prominently featured campy slips and spills). Burlesque sensation Dirty Martini states in the program: “Dancing isn’t easy... I have no place to rehearse and if I’m lucky I take a class with Janet Panetta a couple times a week… These are the facts and it’s been this way since I moved here to be a dancer in the early ‘90s.” The talent show closed with an extended extravaganza of costume and fashion designer David Quinn’s summer collections. Making use of all the performers, the fashion show’s musical numbers channeled John Waters’s beehive nostalgia in a stunning spectacle that reached its camp apex with Cher’s “Half Breed.”

Left: A scene from David Quinn's fashion show. Middle: The talent show cast makes a curtain call. Right: The Kitchen Executive Director and Chief Curator Debra Singer and Robert Melee.

When the lights came on and actors wandered offstage in dishabille, I jumped on the L train to get to the much-anticipated book-release party for Deitch Projects’ Live Through This: New York in the Year 2005. When I arrived at the Bedford stop I was greeted by several foreboding missed calls on my cellphone. “Not enough fire exits” was the word from those wandering (or biking or skating) away from North 1st Street. The police had shut down the event before it even really got going. Bummed scenesters hung around the shuttered venue while the scheduled bands and DJs carried drum kits, speakers, and turntables to awaiting cars.

The fallout from the-party-that-never-was spread across Williamsburg. I ran into performer and downtown icon Sophia Lamar and friends on Metropolitan Avenue on their way to the apartment of Live Through This-featured couple Grant Worth and Phiiliip. Flyer still in hand, Sophia had planned to debut her new single at the now-cancelled festivities. Upstairs at the gathering after-party (or perhaps just “party”), artist Dash Snow complained that he only played four records before the place was shut down. Calling the night a bust, I went to meet friends at Graham Avenue hangout Daddy’s, but I still couldn’t get away from the Deitch crowd: Artist Noah Lyon was going through Live Through This page by page with friends in the bar’s dim light. He showed me his picture in the book and complained that they’d used his work without his permission. After snapping his picture and asking him to write out his name, I returned to my booth to find “Doctor Ninja” scrawled on my steno pad. Apparently, as with many of the denizens of this scene, he’s not in it for name recognition. But is a decent party that doesn’t get shut down by the cops too much to ask for?

Michael Wang