Low Life City

September 7, 2008

Inspired by the book Low Life: The Lures and Snares of Old New York, Low Life City celebrates New York’s seamy underside.

For the past decade, it has been held on the Lower East Side (the setting for the book), and recreates the forms of entertainment enjoyed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the neighborhood’s notorious criminals, drunkards, prostitutes, losers, thieves, gangsters, beggars, swindlers and reformers.

This year’s edition of Low Life City was held in Tompkins Square Park. Bowery boys, Irish tenors, saloon singers, burlesque dancers, Victorian ladies and street urchins perform with modern sensibilities and great good humor. The cast included Hattie Hathaway, Joey Arias, Basil Twist, Dirty Martini, Pinchbottom Burlesque, the Vangeline Theater, the Duelling Bankheads, World Famous *BOB*, Adam Joseph, the Pixie Harlots, Heather Litteer and Tigger.

Although the organizers bill Low Life City as “not recommended for children!” there were quite a few very young faces in the crowd. The kids enjoyed the music, dancing, puppets, feathers and sequins while the bawdy humor and naughty political references went right over their little heads.

Amber Ray at Low Life

Heather Litteer at Low Life

Changing the cards

Duelling Bankheads campaign

Joey Arias with glass of absinthe

Joey Arias at Low Life

Pinchbottom Burlesque at Low Life

Vangeline Theatre


Acid Betty and Ephiphany in a “sister act”

Acid Betty

Adam Joseph as the Irish Tenor

Dirty Martini with her fan

Tigger and the evils of the bottle

Delirium Tremens unzips

Delirium Tremens in her scanties

Voltaire singing about evil devil songs

Poison Eve with chickens on her hands

Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante
Low Life City
Amber Ray
Dirty Martini
Miss Delirium Tremens
Joey Arias
MySpace: Adam Joseph
MySpace: Hattie Hathaway
MySpace: Pinchbottom Burlesque
MySpace: Tigger
MySpace: World Famous *Bob*

Faces of DanceAfrica

May 25, 2008

Some people attend the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s annual DanceAfrica festival because they are enjoy the dancing. Others go for the music, films, or the food and crafts that are sold in the African marketplace that is temporarily erected for the duration of the event.

But me, I go to see the people.

They come here to greet summer, to celebrate art and culture, to form a colorful, diverse international community. They come to have a good time, and their excitement and exuberance is contagious. It is, I think, just about impossible to spend time at DanceAfrica without breaking into a grin.

smiley photo
Mother and daughter

Friends shopping in the African Village

Girl with red punch on her nose

Girl drinking red punch

Good friends

Pair in purple

Black like Jesus

Man and his best friend



Author with his first book

NYPD on duty

DanceAfrica at 30
Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)
Wikipedia: DanceAfrica
Wikipedia: Brooklyn Academy of Music

Bill Shannon’s Window

September 20, 2007

This summer’s massive River to River Festival is in its final days. The last dance program of the season, Window, is being presented on Lower Broadway all this week at lunchtime.

Created by Bill Shannon, Windows is presented to two audiences simultaneously: pedestrians on the street and viewers observing through the windows of a nearby skyscraper.

The Step Fienz, a crew of breakdancers, accompany Shannon (also known as “the Crutchmaster”), as he performs on a skateboard and crutches, weaving in and out of traffic, flipping and spinning, startling drivers and engaging passers-by with his grace, athleticism and humor.

Those who entered the lofty viewing space  (located in an ordinary business office) were able to see live video closeups of the action below and listen to recorded music mixed with Shannon’s comments and street noise. The same music is played outside, but only on the dancers’ earpieces. 

Passers-by can’t hear the music, see the audience gathered at the office windows (unless they look up and squint), or view the cameras positioned above. As a result, most of the people on the street don’t realize they are witnessing (and participating in) a carefully-planned performance. The spontaneous interactions between the unsuspecting pedestrians and the dancers are, in and of themselves, vital parts of the show.

The crutch and skateboard, while important elements of the dance, are not simply used for dramatic effect. Shannon’s dance technique—known as the Shannon Technique—is one he invented out of necessity. Born with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease (a rare hip deformity), the dancer and choreographer has spent most of his life on crutches.

He has traveled and performed around the world, won numerous awards for his work and choreographed Cirque de Soleil’s production, Varekai. A documentary about Shannon, entitled Crutch, is scheduled to premiere at film festivals this fall.

An audience gathers at the window
An audience gathers at the window

Shannon skates around traffic

He is joined by another skateboarder

He lies on the sidewalk

Maneuvering with his crutches
Maneuvering with his crutches

Pedestrians walk by
Pedestrians walk by

A good samaritan stops to help
A good samaritan stops to assist

She “helps” him stand

Then wants to discuss religion
Then wants to discuss religion

More dancers join in
More dancers join in

The Step Fienz in action
The Step Fienz in action

Darting through the crowd
Darting through the crowd

Another attempted conversation
Another attempted conversation

Shannon aloft
Shannon aloft

The finale

The company takes a bow
The company takes a bow

Bill Shannon
MySpace: Crutch
Village Voice: ‘Crutchmaster’ Takes Dance to the Next Level
Cirque du Soleil: Bill Shannon
Time Signature Productions: The Step Fienz
DJ Excess
MySpace: DJ Excess
River to River Festival
LMCC Sitelines: Window
The New Yorker: Window

New York Burlesque Festival

September 1, 2007

Advertised as “4 Days and Nights of Glitter and Glamour in Gotham,” the New York Burlesque Festival takes place over four days at several locations around Manhattan.

Tonight I attended the festival’s Saturday Spectacular hosted by New York showbiz legend Mister Murray Hill. The evening featured about 40 acts with names like Gwendoline Lamour, Panty Raid, Lux la Croix, Peekaboo Pointe, Vivienne Vavoom and the Peach Tartes.

If you haven’t seen a burlesque performance, you might anticipate something similar to the raunchy grind-and-grab found in go-go bars and so-called “gentlemen’s clubs.” But in fact, modern-day burlesque is a form of entertainment that combines glamour, dance, performance art, a tad of titillation and more than a touch of humor and its practitioners attract equal numbers of male and female fans.

Most of the women onstage resembled WWII-era pin-up girls come to life, dressed in elbow-length gloves, tightly-laced corsets, veiled hats, fluffy boas, slinky satin, yards of rhinestones and towering heels. They flirted, teased, waved feathery fans, twirled their tassles, dusted themselves with enormous powder puffs and shimmied until their fringes flew.

Each act on the bill put its own twist on the form: Miss Saturn danced with hula hoops, Gravity Plays Favorites did intricate acrobatic moves on a pole, Diamond Back Annie was inspired by the rock group Kiss, Lux La Croix portrayed a lawn jockey and Imogen Kelly (using a French accent) was a witty Marie Antoinette.

Mr. Murray Hill
Mr. Murray Hill

Mr. Murray Hill helps replace a lost pasty

Tassles twirling

With red sequins

Diamond Back Annie

Diamond Back Annie

Using feathered fans


With red feathers

New York Burlesque Festival
Backstage Blog: 5th New York Burlesque Festival
Mr. Murray Hill
Angie Pontani
Amber Ray
MySpace: Bastard Keith
Belladonnas De Lux
Big Apple Burlesque
Miss Delirium Tremens
MySpace: Diamondback Annie
Gravity Plays Favorites
Gwendoline Lamour
Lux La Croix
Panty Raid
Peach Tartes
Peekaboo Pointe
Miss Saturn
MySpace: Tigger
Vivienne Vavoom
MySpace: World Famous *Bob*
NY Post: Vavoom Town
NY Magazine: The Return of Burlesque in NYC
Riverfront Times: Gravity Plays Favorites
Secrets in Lace
Thirsty Girl Productions

Howl on the Road

August 11, 2007

After a couple of years’ absence, the Howl Festival is back. The event, named in honor of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem about love, madness and death, is designed as a celebration of art created in Greenwich Village and the East Village.

This year, the ultimate downtown festival has taken a detour uptown to participate in Lincoln Center Out of Doors: Summer of Love: Celebrating the Spirit of the ‘60s.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” gathering in San Francisco—a defining moment of the era …. For its own “Summer of Love” 2007, Lincoln Center Out of Doors offers music, dance, street theater, and family events highlighted by artists and styles of the period.

Held on Josie Robertson Plaza, the celebration included art, music, dance, puppetry and even a fashion show. Participants dressed as hippies sang, danced and distributed flowers, incense and love beads. 

Three interactive art installations added to the experience: Block Busting by George Spencer, Howling and Other Justifiable Actions by Terry S. Handy, and Wink by Jan Lynn Sokota.

In early September, the complete, full-blown Howl Festival will return to its home turf downtown, in and around Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.

Minds! New loves!
Mad generation!
down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river!
They saw it all!
the wild eyes! the holy yells!
They bade farewell!
They jumped off the roof to solitude!
carrying flowers!
Down to the river! into the street!
Allen Ginsberg, Howl

From Howling and Other Justifiable Actions by Terry S. Handy

From Howling and Other Justifiable Actions by Terry S. Handy

From Howling and Other Justifiable Actions by Terry S. Handy

Wink by Jan Lynn Sokota

Hippie chicks

The self-described “Goth Ethel Merman”


Hungry Marching Band

Block Busting by George Spencer


Monsieur Pierre (Todd Shaffer)

Paper peace dress

Channeling the spirit of Janis Joplin

Flower child

The Federation of East Village Artists
Howl Festival
Terry Hardy
Jan Lynn Sokota
Hungry March Band
Wikipedia: Bob Holman
East Village Dance Project
Howl at Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center Out of Doors
Josie Robertson Plaza
Footnote to Howl
Wikipedia: Howl
NY Times: Special section on Allen Ginsberg
Literary History: Allen Ginsberg
The Beat Page: Allen Ginsberg
Lawrence Ferlinghetti on Howl’s 45th anniversary
Lawrence Ferlinghetti on Howl & Banned Books (click under his photo)
GOH Productions
Bonnie Sue Stein
Village Voice: Ed Woodham
Martha Tornay

Dance of the Gypsies

August 1, 2007

In addition to the Sand Sculpting Contest, last week’s celebration at Coney Island featured a performance by a group billed as (I believe) the World Wide Gypsies.

Clad in bright, flowing silks, adorned with countless jewels, bangles and spangles, three women swayed and whirled on the sunlit Boardwalk.

When the moustachioed violinist launched into Ochi Chyornye (also written as Ochi Tchornya or Ochi Chernye), the lead dancer sang along.

Ochi chyornye, ochi zhguchie
Ochi strastnye i prekrasnye
Kak lyublyu ya vas, kak boyus’ ya vas
Znat’ uvidel vas ya ne v dobryj chas

Dark eyes, burning eyes
Frightful and beautiful eyes
I love you so, I fear you so
For sure I’ve seen you at a sinister hour

Passers-by were captivated by the romantic melody, the flamboyant costumes and the laughing, dancing gypsys.

Swirling their skirts
Swirling their skirts

Playing Ochi Chyornye

The gypsy sings of love & suffering
The gypsy sings of love & suffering

Captivating a passerby

Dancing with the Boardwalk boys
Dancing with the Boardwalk boys

A few belly dance moves
Doing a few belly dance moves

A lively mazurka
Dancing to a lively mazurka

Twirling gypsy dancer

Bay News: Fairy tales still thrive in Coney Island
NY1: Sand Sculptors Complete
Astella Development Corporation
New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
Wikipedia: Ochi Chyornye

Whose Broads Stripes

July 27, 2007

One of the most imposing buildings on Wall Street, Federal Hall was the original home of the United States Congress, Supreme Court, and Executive Branch offices. It was here that George Washington first took the oath of office.

Today, while Wall Streeters despaired over a slump in the stock market, the steps of the Federal Hall were the site of Lawrence Goldhuber’s Whose Broads Stripes.

No signs, announcements or explanations preceded the performance, so the tourists who crowded around the building, snapping each other’s photos, were shocked when guitarist Geoff Gersh launched into Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner and two showgirls dressed in red and white sequined gowns began to dance with feathered fans.

After a few minutes of shimmying in the sunlight, they went back up the steps and held aloft protest signs. The music changed to a recording of Pink Floyd’s Money, the dancers dropped the signs, descended and flung phoney $50 bills into the air. 

As the audience dove to grab the funny money, the glamour girls seemed to notice a middle-aged businessman sitting on the steps with the rest of the lunchtime crowd. They pulled the laughingly protesting man to his feet, and he awkwardly, gamely attempted to join them in their dance.

Then, suddenly, they covered him with their fans. From behind the feathers, the man’s jacket flew into the air. Then his tie. And then … when the women lowered the fluffy white fans, the stuffy businessman was gone, replaced by a dancing, strutting superhero.

Geoff Gersh
Geoff Gersh in front of Federal Hall

Geoff Gersh
Geoff Gersh & his guitar

The showgirls appear

Dancing on the steps

Displaying signs asking for peace and love

Throwing fake $50 bills to the crowd

Spotting a businessman beneath the statue of Washington

The businessman awkwardly joins in the dance

They hide the businessman behind their fans

He emerges as a superhero

The superhero & showgirls shake & shimmy together

The end!

Lawrence Goldhuber/BIGMANARTS
Geoff Gersh
Lower Manhattan Cultural Council: Sitelines
River to River Festival
Pink Floyd
Jimi Hendrix
Federal Hall National Memorial

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