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Watch Josephine Baker do the original Charleston, 1927
11:30 am


Josephine Baker

We have a tendency to perceive long-since-passed pop culture crazes as “tame,” especially in our current, Miley Cyrus-infected times. The Charleston definitely falls victim to that misconception. Beyond the knee-cross, hand-switch move that has become short-hand for old fogies, most people don’t even know what the dance actually looks like. So I insist you watch this Josephine Baker number from the 1927 silent film, La Sirène des Tropiques, which features the dance in an amazing, grandiose routine. It may be her first film appearance (release dates for others are debated), but it is her first acting role.

Though Baker’s talent was never as celebrated in her home country as it was in France, she was beloved for far more than dancing topless in a banana tutu. The consummate entertainer, she could go from glamour-puss to comedienne, from a sweet smile to a smoldering gaze. Her acting was captivating, her singing voice sweet, and she remains, to this day, one of the most bombastic, athletic, and creative dancers ever to grace the stage.

Baker’s title card comes in at 1:50, but it’s worth watching the chorus line number that proceeds her, which provides a dramatic contrast to Baker’s fresh, new moves and unorthodox grace. Don’t get me wrong—I love a chorus line, but the great Josephine Baker blows them right out of the water.

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Nijinsky with a mohawk: The edgy collaborations of punk ballet dancer Michael Clark and The Fall

Although he and his dance troupe have performed choreography set to the music of Wire, Glenn Branca, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Brian Eno, Igor Stravinsky and others, it is his work with The Fall that the work of Scottish dancer and choreographer Michael Clark will always be the most closely associated with.

The classically-trained Clark has said that hearing the manic, rubbery, jagged-edged relentlessly repetitious music of Manchester’s post-punk bard Mark E. Smith was a sort of clarion call for him as a young man to start doing his own work—if punk bands could do their thing, then that same ethos and attitude (and shock value) could go into creating a new form of modern ballet. Clark’s vision of ballet happened to incorporate Leigh Bowery wielding a chainsaw, syringes strapped to his dancers and sets festooned with fried egg trees . Clark seemed touched by the gods. His angular, asymmetrical, yet bizarrely graceful form of movement caused a sensation in the dance world. He was Nijinksy with a mohawk.

Michael Clark as Caliban in Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books

The Fall and Clark’s company appeared together on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1984 in a provocative performance of “Lay of the Land” that saw Clark prancing around in a Bodymap leotard that exposed his ass cheeks to the nation as the group made a mighty roar behind him.

They collaborated more formally in 1988 when The Fall provided the live soundtrack for Clark’s ballet “I Am Curious, Orange” at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London (The Fall’s LP was called I Am Kurious Oranj). Some tantalizing looks at what that production was like come from Cerith Wyn Evans videos for “Wrong Place, Right Time” and “New Big Prinz,” which were apparently shot at a rehearsal.

Below, “New Big Prinz”

More after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Watch 1950s stag film queen Candy Barr dance in captivating, little-seen footage
05:47 am


stag film
Candy Barr
strip tease

Candy Barr
I never want to make too many assumptions about our readers or their workplaces, but I think it’s only fair to give y’all a warning: this is a stag film, and therefore probably not appropriate for most office environments.

That being said, you have to see Candy Barr dance. She’s positively hypnotic, with a seemingly instinctual control of her own body. Although her skills were certainly enough to earn her a place in pop culture history, she’s famous for far more than her serpentine shimmy.

“Candy” was born Juanita Dale Slusher in small-town Texas. Her childhood wracked by trauma (the death of her mother at age 9, and sexual abuse from both a neighbor and a babysitter), she ran away at 13 to Dallas. She was married at 14, but the union ended when he went to jail (he was supposedly a safe-cracker).

The next few years of Candy’s life yield conflicting accounts. It’s known that she worked as a cigarette girl, and eventually an exotic dancer, but sources vary on whether she worked as a prostitute or not. She did, however, appear the early “smoker,” Smart Alec at the age of 16. Broke and hungry, Candy (who was still Juanita at the time) made the film under extreme stress and coercion, regretting it for the rest of her life.

Candy’s life should not be reduced to tragedy. Shortly after the release of Smart Alec, she got a well-paying job at a strip club, adopted her moniker, and established her trademark cow-girl routine—complete with cowboy hat and boots, holstered cap six-shooters, and not much else. Though she shot her violent second husband (non-fatally), it was a marijuana possession charge that actually threatened Candy—a fifteen year sentence for four-fifths of an ounce. (Oh, Texas…)

The case dragged on with appeal after appeal, and Candy’s star rose all the while. She went form city to city, made fantastic money, was hired by Fox studios to choreograph Joan Collins for the movie Seven Thieves. She also dated gangster Mickey Cohen. Smitten, Cohen wanted to marry her, and as the appeals of her case began to wind down and the threat of imprisonment loomed closer, he sent Barr and her young daughter to Mexico. Candy, never one to hide, eventually returned to the states and broke it off with Cohen.

Shortly after, she married Jack Sahakian, hairdresser to the stars—the same hairdresser, incidentally, that Cohen arranged to dye her hair so that she could live incognito in Mexico. A few months later, she lost her final appeal and was sentenced to fifteen years. She spent over three years in jail before being paroled. Perhaps agog at the obviously overly punitive sentencing of a “scandalous woman,”  Texas Governor, John Connally, pardoned her in 1968, and she resumed her very successful career.

In 1972, she published, A Gentle Mind . . . Confused. a collection of 56 poems she wrote while in prison, revealing a rich internal monologue and a deft utility of words belying a woman who dropped out of school at thirteen. An excerpt.

“Hate the world that strikes you down,
A warped lesson quickly learned.
Rebellion, a universal sound,
Nobody cares, no one’s concerned.

Fatigued by unyielding strife,
Self-pity consoles the abused,
And the bludgeoning of daily life,
Leaves a gentle mind . . . confused.”

From my perspective (that of a failed ballerina), Candy Barr stands out among her stag film peers, first and foremost, as a natural dancer. I mean, Bettie Page was darling and charismatic, of course, but like a lot of stag film dancers, she was known more for her charms than her craft. After retiring, Barr moved back to the small town of her birth, living comfortably and quietly, choosing not to bank off her cult status. She always said the male attention was never really the thrill for her; she just wanted to dance. 

The Wall Breakers

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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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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