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Holy Watusi, Batman! The Bay Area Batman-themed nightclub from the mid-1960s
02:31 pm


Sly and the Family Stone

Wayne Manor
From the start of 1966 to the late spring of 1967 (if not longer), a period coinciding with the run of the groovy Batman TV show we all know and love, one of the hottest nightclubs in the Bay Area was a Batman-themed joint called Wayne Manor in Sunnyvale. According to the Chicken on a Unicycle website (love the name), “The club was decorated like the Bat Cave, and dancers were dressed like Bat Girl or Catwoman.” LIFE Magazine mentioned Wayne Manor in its March 11, 1966 cover story on the Batman-mania sweeping the nation.

The owner of the club was named Joe Lewis, and after attempting to run the nightclub as a South Bay branch of LA’s Whiskey à Go Go, took the advice of his 11-year-old son Garth—an addict of the DC comic books—and went with the Batman theme for the venue. Some have presented the two events as a mere lucky coincidence for Lewis, but I’m skeptical—the Batman series debuted on January 11, 1966, and the music listings on the Chicken on a Unicycle website go back only as far as February 1966—smells like good old-fashioned opportunism to me.
Wayne Manor
The (Fremont) Argus, Feb. 16, 1966
Musical acts would usually book for an entire week at a time. The roster of performers included such notable musical acts as The Music Machine (who played there in Oct. 1966), Dobie Gray (Dec. 1966), and—this will blow your mind—Sly and the Family Stone (a week covering the end of March and the start of April 1967 and virtually every day in May 1967).

Chicken on a Unicycle has an exhaustive collection of ephemera about the club, although most of the images are frustratingly small. However, it’s still very valuable in persuading people (me, for instance) that this actually happened.

There isn’t any video of Wayne Manor on YouTube (why would there be?), so instead we offer you all 14 window cameos from the original TV series:

via Messy Nessy Chic

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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The all-singing, all-dancing contortionist Ross Sisters will blow your mind
09:07 am


Ross Sisters

It’s next to impossible not to use Upworthy-sprach in the title for something like this, so please bear with me and meet The Ross Sisters—Vicki, Dixie and Betsy—an all-singing, all dancing trio of contortionist siblings who were most famous in the 1940s. Among the amazing talents of the extremely flexible Rosses, they were able to touch their ass cheeks to the back of their heads.

“Solid Potato Salad” has already been an Internet sensation once (if not many more times), but the quality here is the best I’ve seen of this astonishing performance. They’re just singing for the first minute. Beyond that, there’s nothing to say but hit play.

Thank you kindly, Michael Simmons of Los Angeles, CA!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘John Travolto’: Italy’s very own FAKE John Travolta!
02:56 pm


John Travolta
John Travolto

The Face with Two Left Feet
In 1977 Saturday Night Fever came out and the Bee Gees and John Travolta ruled the world. Probably the most intriguing and risible effort to cash in on Travolta-mania was Neri Parenti’s 1979 Italian movie John Travolto ... Da Un Insolito Destino (the title is a pun; in addition to including John Travolta’s name almost exactly, it translates to something like “John Overwhelmed ... by an Unusual Destiny”). The movie, released in the U.S. on DVD as The Face with Two Left Feet, pulls off a neat trick: ripping off John Travolta by concocting a plot that’s all about ripping off John Travolta.

The ace up Neri’s sleeve was Giuseppe Spezia, an Italian actor who indeed resembled Travolta—one commentator is convinced that Spezia underwent plastic surgery to supply the needed trademark Travolta dimple on his chin, and I’m in no position to disagree. The movie also featured an actress who would later garner world renown for different reasons—the female lead was Ilona Staller, AKA “Cicciolina,” the X-rated actress who would marry Jeff Koons and get herself elected to the Italian parliament.
John Travolto da un insolito destino
As far as I can figure out the plot of this movie, Spezia plays “Gianni,” a hotel cook who’s a bit of a sad sack; he sits in the disco while all the sexy people get it on on the dance floor. The DJ of the establishment, hilariously called “John’s Fever,” is played by La Cicciolina. His co-workers notice that he looks so much like Travolta that he might be able to parlay that resemblance into success at the disco. There is the inevitable makeover (which is awesome), and then he returns to assume his rightful place as the king of John’s Fever. I think there is also a side plot in which rumors spread that John Travolta himself is in town or something.
A coworker uses a magic marker to convince Gianni of the possibilities that await him
Here’s the makeover scene, which is silly and campy and everything you would imagine such a thing to be. The tone reminds me a bit of La Cage aux Folles, which had come out a year earlier.

Here’s the climactic scene in which Gianni recapitulates the legendary dance scene of Saturday Night Fever. The pre-closing credits bit where the entire cast assembles on a fountain and ostentatiously either does or does not wink at the camera to signal the end of the movie is a perfection all its own. Both of these scenes are well worth watching, but you can buy the full movie too.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Danse Macabre’: The twitch of death

The multiple award-winning 2008 short film Danse Macabre is the work of visual effects director Pedro Pires and the celebrated Canadian theatrical artist Robert Lepage. In it, a death sets the stage for a dark choreography:

For a period of time, while we believe it to be perfectly still, lifeless flesh responds, stirs and contorts in a final macabre ballet.

Are these spasms merely erratic motions or do they echo the chaotic twists and turns of a past life?

The original idea and the choreography are by AnneBruce Falconer. Pedro Pires and Robert Lepage have collaborated on a new feature length film, Triptyque, based on Lepage’s ambitious theatrical project Lipsynch.

Nothing particularly lurid here, still you might not want to watch this where you work…

Thank you, Christian Rivera!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Do the Jellyfish: The 1960s dance-craze that never was
11:57 am


Neil Sedaka
The Jellyfish

Sting Of Death is a Z-grade monster flick directed by Florida schlockmeister William Grefe. It’s good campy fun for fans of such things (of which I am one) and features a never was dance-craze dance called “The Jellyfish” sung by Neil Sedaka to a ska-like beat.

Monkey, don’t be a donkey.
It’s nothing like the Monkey.
It’s isn’t funky or anything that’s junky.
It’s something swella!”
The jilla-jalla-jellyfish!”

Turn it up and dance the Jellyfish!



Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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How the 1% twerk (NSFW)
08:48 am



The 1% be twerkin’ it up in style to “Butthoven’s 5th Symphony.”

In actuality, this is burlesque performer Michelle L’amour who has amazing capabilities with her buttcheeks. I mean, amazing!


Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Prince meets The Joffrey Ballet
06:58 am


Joffrey Ballet

Billboards, Joffrey Ballet
As an unabashedly “elite” pursuit, ballet has often struggled to find audience. Similar to opera only more so, ballet people have frequently obsessed about how to attract new demographic groups to its art. In 1993 the ballet world witnessed a fascinating experiment in crossing over: partnering with his Purple Badness himself, Prince—or, as he was known at that time, [unpronounceable glyph]—to create Billboards, mounted by the esteemed Joffrey Ballet. The legacy of Billboards is mixed, to say the least.

The Joffrey Ballet, founded in New York by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, has generally represented the more experimental end of the ballet spectrum. They were unafraid to commission works from figures from modern dance such as Alvin Ailey or Twyla Tharp. At some point, Prince caught some of the Joffrey Ballet’s “mixed rep,” and was so inspired that he pledged to compose some music for the troupe to perform to. Whether that actually happened is not entirely clear—the resultant 1993 ballet relies almost entirely on preexisting music, with the exception of a 10-minute orchestral version of “Thunder,” off of his 1992 album Diamonds and Pearls,which Prince did compose.
A still from the Joffrey Ballet’s 1993 work Billboards
Prince permitted the use of his catalog without asking for royalties. Billboards is a four-part piece, each part choreographed by a different person: Laura Dean, Charles Moulton, Margot Sappington, and Peter Pucci. Billboards raids liberally from Purple Rain, using the title track, “Baby I’m a Star,” “Computer Blue,” and “The Beautiful Ones,” as well as scattered picks off of Sign O’ the Times, Batman, Graffiti Bridge, Diamonds and Pearls, and Parade.

Here’s the breakdown of the pieces in Billboards and the songs they used:

I: Sometimes It Snows in April (choreographed by Laura Dean)
“Sometimes It Snows in April”
“Trust” / “Baby I’m a Star” 

II: Thunder (choreographed by Charles Moulton)
“Purple Rain”

III: Slide (choreographed by Margo Sappington)
“Computer Blue”
“I Wanna Melt with U” 
“The Beautiful Ones”
“Release It” / “Computer Blue” (Reprise)   

IV: Willing & Able (choreographed by Peter Pucci)
“For You” 
“The Question of U”
“Willing and Able” / “Gett Off”

Billboards premiered on January 27, 1993, at the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, Iowa. In November the piece moved to New York—where the critical reception was not altogether forgiving.

The first sentence of Anna Kisselgoff’s review in the New York Times of November 28, 1993, is “If only it had been better.” She continued:

“Billboards” is nonetheless an attempt to expand upon the company’s pioneering rock ballets of the past. ...

“Billboards” does not have the coherence and choreographic power of these works, but, like them, it sums up an era of pop esthetics. Similarly, its importance lies in an ability to interpret American youth culture to a mainstream dance audience—which should not be confused with its other goal of attracting new, young audiences.

“Billboards” could not have been done in the 1960’s; it evokes MTV with its frontal assault on the audience through loud sound and clever changes in lighting (by Howell Binkley). The choreography deliberately includes a great deal of posturing; there are also the coded gestures common to voguing, the dance style born in gay minority clubs and derived from fashion-model poses. ...

Rather than just exploit the varied range of Prince’s rhythms, they comment on the music and by extension, the rock scene as a whole.

Working from a 1990’s safe-sex perspective, the choreographers ignore Prince’s calls for salvation through sex. MTV’s crotch-grabbing comes in for considerable parody. The naughtiness is tame: “Billboards” is a family show.

In the end, “Billboards” is only as good as its choreography, and here Ms. Dean, in the first section, “Sometimes It Snows in April,” is the clear winner. Prince’s ambiguous ballad about a dead friend is treated abstractly but lyrically by the choreographer, as the male and female dancers slink into diagonals, repeating turns and plies. New movement phrases overlap with the old. Individuals pair up for slow and amplified ballet lifts (the women are on toe).

Tobi Tobias in New York magazine was considerably harsher:

There have always been two Joffrey Ballets. One of them loves history. … The other company pays the bills.

Absent from the city for well over two years, … the Joffrey returned—for seven performances at [the Brooklyn Academy of Music]—with a single offering: the evening-length Billboards, to largely stupefying songs from Prince, its four sections choreographed separately. … It will find its audience, no doubt, but there will be few balletomanes in it. Indeed, one of the most horrifying things about this display is the murderous contempt it harbors for traditional dance values….

What else is wrong with Billboards? The choreography goes along with the premises of the music like so much visual accompaniment. Instead of providing a distanced irony or, at the very least, comment, it pretends to be part of Prince’s synthetically hip and orgiastic world and fails wretchedly; it looks like something resurrected from the sixties. Dean’s “Sometimes It Snows in April” is the only piece hurtling toward the junkyard of abandoned virtue that gives our old friends rhythm and pattern a backward glance. Still, it’s simplistic even for Dean and, as usual, opportunistic, incorporating her original trademarks, uninflected repetition and whirling; ballet conventions she annexed subsequently, working for the Establishment; and, to suit the present circumstances, her take on jazz movement, which is embarrassingly trite.

Margo Sappington’s “Slide” is the most viable entry, though I wouldn’t call it dancing. It’s a presentation in images of the teenage male’s romantic fantasies. A bunch of aw-shucks jocks from a past decade (the fifties that preceded Oh! Calcutta!?) conjure up a trio of sweetly lethal dreamboats for some inconclusive fooling around. Real choreography is irrelevant to the piece, which is essentially an amalgam of picturesque behavior and an effective set.

The show was a massive financial success, but just two years later the Joffrey Ballet found itself experiencing financial difficulties. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Dance by Debra Craine and Judith Mackrell, “In 1995 the Joffrey was suffering a financial crisis and had to relocate from New York to Chicago.”
Here’s an Australian TV piece about Billboards:

Here is a bit of Peter Pucci’s section of Billboards, “Willing & Able”:

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Wonder Woman and Sailor Moon had a massive vogue throwdown in Stockholm
06:44 am


Wonder Woman
Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon and Wonder Woman
A few assertions about this video.

This video is designed to puzzle stodgy old people—I include myself in that group. This video has everything that appeals to youth in it, and nothing that makes sense to old people. We have finally attained maximum youthiosity.

This video is mildly NSFW unless you work in an anime production shop.

If this video is any indication, vogueing is one part breakdancing and one part being a spaz.

The world sorely needs more dancing competitions that involve cosplay.

The only word that adequately describes this video is “COMMITMENT.”

(via Lost at E Minor)

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘Circus Polka’: Stravinsky’s ballet for elephants, 1942
06:05 am


Igor Stravinsky
George Balanchine

George Balanchine with elephant
George Balanchine mollifying a temperamental ballet dancer

If there’s one thing New York City lacks nowadays, it’s ballets by major composers with elephants in them….

Cast your mind back more than seventy years ago. It’s Thursday, April 9, 1942. The country is at war. You’re in New York, and you have a free evening at your disposal. What to do?

Here are a few suggestions. If you’d like to see a movie, there’s a brand new comedy called My Favorite Blonde starring that wonderful young comedian Bob Hope. But perhaps you’re in the mood for live performance. Let’s see…. At the Imperial Theatre on West 45th Street you can catch the new Cole Porter musical Let’s Face It! starring Danny Kaye and Eve Arden, or over at the Majestic Theatre a block down on 44th, there’s always George Gershwin’s masterpiece Porgy and Bess.

Or wait—what am I thinking!? There’s no way you’re not going to want to attend the world premiere of the elephant polka choreographed by George Balanchine and composed by Igor Stravinsky, right? That happens tonight at Madison Square Garden on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th, let’s get a move on before it sells out! (Yes, that’s where MSG was located between 1925 and 1968.)

This actually happened. The “father of American ballet” and arguably the most innovative composer of the pre-WW2 period really did partner up to write a performance for fifty elephants (with fifty ballerinas on top of them) for the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. The resultant work was called “Circus Polka: For a Young Elephant.” The elephants, all fifty of them, wore pink tutus.

Not too surprisingly, the crowd loved it.
Balanchine and Stravinsky, 1957
Balanchine and Stravinsky in 1957, possibly discussing a tarantella arranged for panda bears.

According to Stephen Walsh’s entertaining account in Stravinsky: The Second Exile: France and America, 1934-1971, here’s how it all went down:

[H]e was telephoned from New York by Balanchine, who had been approached by Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus to choreograph a polka for the circus elephants, and wanted Stravinsky to compose the music. Stravinsky told him that he could not write even a short piece before March. . . . All the same he certainly tinkered with the idea long before that. He noticed that by an odd coincidence there were polka rhythms everywhere in the Danses concertantes, and at about Christmastime he started sketching ideas for the elephant piece while still working on the ending of the Danses. Then, as soon as that work was finished, he rapidly composed the Circus Polka as a piano solo and completed the draft score by the 5th of February. The point about this, for him, slightly unusual way of working was that Ringling would need a score for a circus band, and for the first time in his life Stravinsky did not feel equal to the task. So he approached the best-known Hollywood arranger of the day, Robert Russell Bennett, and Bennett recommended a young composer called David Raskin—a pupil of Schoenberg, as it turned out, and already an experienced filmwriter—who duly orchestrated the polka for the bizarre combination of wind and percussion instruments (including Hammond organ) that Ringling had assembled for their circus performances.

As a piece of barefaced opportunism, the Circus Polka was hard to beat. A few years later Stravinsky gratefully accepted a Canadian interviewer’s suggestion that the piece was a musical equivalent of the circus paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec, but at the time he was mainly concerned to write it as quickly as possible for the biggest fee Balanchine could get him. Later still, he reconstructed the original phone conversation in terms of an imaginary aesthetic discrimination. “I wonder if you’d like to do a little ballet with me, a polka perhaps,” Balanchine is supposed to have said. “For whom?” “For some elephants.” “How old?” “Very young.” (After a pause) “All right. If they are very young elephants, I will do it.” As for the music, the piece galumphs amusingly enough through vestiges of rhythmic ideas from the Danses concertantes reimagined for pachyderms, with an unexpected nod at one point toward Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and ending with a heavily underlined and quotation-marked parody of the same Schubert march that he had merely hinted at in the Janssen score.

In fact the ballet—which Stravinsky never saw—was danced, when the circus opened at New York’s Madison Square Garden on the 9th of April, by fifty elephants in pink tutus, all apparently of mature age, like the fifty girls who sat atop them. At their head, lovely Vera Zorina rode in on Old Modoc, the chief and oldest elephant.

As carefully as if La Zorina were spun glass—which she is!—
the giant deposited her in the center of the forest of elephants,
and when she had completed her exquisite pirouetting upon
the sawdust picked her up and carried her away. But not
before she had handed [Modoc] a huge bunch of American
Beauties, which he promptly coiled up in his trunk like
a commuter filing his copy of
The New York Sun under
his arm to read after dinner.


Fortunately there was no stampede except at the box office, and though the Ringlings never revived the piece after the first season, the publicity it attracted served them well until, after less than two months, the band was paid off because of a pay dispute, and the circus continued with gramophone recordings, which of course precluded the Stravinsky ballet.

Here’s some of the music:

And here’s a brief documentary clip about the elephant ballet, which is still pretty diverting even though it’s entirely in Russian:

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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The best thing EVER: Workers rights flash mob breaks out in Wal-Mart
11:03 am

Class War

pro union

Boy are they ready!

This is a moment of true greatness, the best thing you’ll see all day. This shit takes flight:

September 5th, 2013, Raleigh, NC - As Walmart workers petition managers to reinstate employees who have been unfairly treated, a flash mob breaks out.

I wish I’d have witnessed this in person, but it’s thrilling just to see it on YouTube. The participants must have felt fantastic afterwards.

The deer-in-the-headlights looks the managers have on their mugs is priceless!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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