The ABT dancer on Russia's most famous gay composer
Late last summer, Russian minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky told a news outlet that historic composer Peter Tchaikovsky, despite years of documented proof otherwise, was not a homosexual. While Tchaikovsky’s sexuality has little import over his epic oeuvre of music, he has long been understood by historians and Russians alike to be gay, and Medinsky’s claim functions as an attempt among many in recent months to rewrite history in service of Russia’s newly homophobic political agenda. There has been a decent amount of opposition to the controversial disavowal of the composer’s sexuality since, but none have quite as much resonance as Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart, a new theatrical concert coming to BAM this week.
Presented by Ensemble for the Romantic Century, the concert is a combination of music, theater, and dance that hones in on the composer’s uncanny relationship with his patroness, Madame von Meck, conducted solely through letters spanning an incredible fourteen years. One member of the production, however, holds a personal interest in the story of Tchaikovsky’s life: Daniel Mantei Keene, the openly gay and extraordinarily talented American Ballet Theatre member who serves as dance choreographer as well as dancer in the production. Although Mantei has been dancing for about twenty years, Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart is truly a reason for him to stand out, providing the audience with some gorgeous choreography (alongside some decent eye candy while he’s at it).
We got in touch with Daniel ahead of the production’s run at BAM’s new Fishman Space to ask a few questions about the concert, how he thinks it functions in conversation with Russia’s current political climate, and what it was like choreographing to one of the most famous gay composers of all time.
Where did you start your dance education? I started at a small ballet studio called Ozsoy School of Ballet in a Southern suburb of Dallas. My teacher, Ceyhun Ozsoy, is Turkish — he danced at Ankara National Ballet Company before moving to the states. When I started, the supercollider was being built nearby so there were lot of kids from all over — my family moved to Texas from Indonesia—my father is a mining engineer.
How did you get involved in this project? A board member at ERC, Susan Winokur, is also a patron at ABT. She contacted ABT in search of a dancer and choreographer for the show. I’ve done pieces on ABT for a choreography workshop and for a kids show at the Metropolitan Opera House — I’m very eager to choreograph more. I’m grateful that artistic staff at ABT directed this project to me.
Was Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart, produced as a direct response to Russia’s anti-gay legislation? I believe the show was written before the anti-gay legislation was passed, but the legislation gives Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart a greater relevance and power. It illustrates that, though some would try to deny it, great Russian heroes were and are homosexuals — challenging the notion that gays are lesser.
Who is your favorite choreographer and why? It’s hard to pick one! I love Jiri Kylian’s and Antony Tudor’s work. I feel like they take dance and make it relevant to everyone. Their work pushes the boundaries of the art form — they give power to dance, and they tell truths — which we all need.
What has been the most challenging role to play on stage? Again it’s hard to pick just one! There are many different kinds of challenges. There are roles that are so physically demanding that you are exhausted and you have that inner dialogue with yourself on stage: “I could just stop now.” You have to push through the pain, push through not being able to even feel your legs anymore. Then there are roles that are challenging because of the acting aspect. Then there are roles that are challenging emotionally. Sometimes the hardest thing is to perform 8 shows a week as townsperson number whatever — you can feel like you are just stage dressing or moving scenery.
Tchaikovsky’s ballets are arguably his most famous works. What was it like creating new choreography for such an eminent composer’s music? Did you ever find yourself drawing from the classic ballets or distancing yourself from them? I definitely want to try my hand at choreographing the full lengths — especially Tchaikovsky’s. There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to reworking these classics because there have been many great versions in the past. Sometimes it’s hard to get away from what one has already seen, but I try to do it in a way that is true to myself. I aim to emphasize awareness — which I feel is the hallmark of classicism. In dance this means an attention to alignment and coordination — aiming to strip away tension and affectation — and using purity and simplicity of line and movement to create a whole that is greater than the sum of each part. I find myself moving away from the trends of ballet today — trends like overwrought, busy movement, affectation, circus acts and the celebration of a freak-of-nature-ness. When I see dance, I want to feel an awareness, a heightened human-ness, a return to naturalism.
What has been the general response from Russian citizens regarding the production? Has there been any so far? I haven’t heard from any Russian citizens so far — I hope they come check out the show!
What do you hope audiences will take away from the story of Tchaikovsky’s life after seeing this production? I hope they gain a better understanding of Tchaikovsky and a greater appreciation for his music. I want the audience to take away the importance of art and its patronage. I would love if they would hear his music in a different way than they’ve heard it before. I think his music is so powerful it affects all of us emotionally — reminds us of our commonality. I hope the audience can feel the pain of being gay in a world that does not accept gays.
Tchaikovsky: None But the Lonely Heart opens March 3 and runs through March 9 at BAM. Buy your tickets here.
With Navaridas+Deutinger, Ferenc Fehér, Niv Sheinfeld & Oren Laor.
There’s a lot of information to disseminate so I’ll get to the point. There’s a FREE night of Israeli and European dance at the Abrons Arts Center on February 28th and March 1st at 8:00PM — you just have to reserve tickets. We’re told one piece by two hot Israeli men, Niv Sheinfeld and Oren Laor, “brings it with a hot duet that involves nude partnering.” I saw a clip — it was hot! In addition there’s a lecture/performance piece titled Your Majesties by Austria’s Navaridas+Deutinger whereby Obama‘s acceptance speech at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is recited to “revive a piece of World History and reveal the underlying absurd vagaries of the text.” Saw a clip — I agree. The last piece is by Ferenc Fehér titled Stix 66, an “ultimatum to simplicity.” I absolutely love that. Ferenc is a Hungarian dance artist who claims “it is not movement but rather the state of the dancer that influences the viewer.” I didn’t see a clip but strongly agree. Sounds like a riveting night of performance. Act fast to reserve your free tickets, and see you at the Abrons.
The show runs from February 28 through March 1 at 8:00PM, Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand St. NY, NY. For free ticket reservations click here.
Video by Jonathan Daniel Federico
Based on Herman Melville’s classic novella, and conceived by British composer Benjamin Britton, Billy Budd roars to life at BAM with an all male cast (yummmmm) supported by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The sublime production marks the centennial of Britten’s life and the first time Glyndebourne’s production has been performed outside the UK. “The tense and stifling atmosphere on board a British man of war during the Napoleonic Wars with discipline brutally enforced and danger of attack ever present is powerfully evoked in this production by director Michael Grandage.” In this somewhat claustrophobic and “wildly” homoerotic climate mutiny is always lingering in the air and unfortunately Billy Budd is falsely accused of trying to ignite one, hence the dramatic fulcrum of the story. Mark Padmore’s bold voice propels the role of Captain Vere to great heights while South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo suavely plays the handsome Billy Budd. I was particularly impressed by the immaculate production: the rib like set design of the ship by Christopher Oram, the boisterous Glyndebourne chorus and the booming orchestra. This production is a great introduction to opera if you’ve never been, especially since it’s in english, and a true gem for those that have.
We ran into Chris Tyler (who plays Vera in this new play) at the BNAs, he was wearing a lovely vintage floral dress. It was great to see him dressed like a proper lady — we’ve seen him in a lot of slutty teen looks. For those unfamiliar with Chris, he reminds us of Ja’mie — the new it girl in Brooklyn, he can sing, he can act, he can dance and he can talk shit about people like no one else. We asked him about the play and he told us it’s the first play Oscar Wilde ever wrote, which means hardly anyone’s ever seen it. Chris said it covers many of the themes that show up in Wilde’s future plays. Directed and designed by Stephen Gribben and Robert Ribar, it stars (along with Chris in drag as Vera) a whole cast of amazing young actors. The storyline for Vera; Or, The Nihilists revolves around a “young assassin’s struggle with love, rebellion, and political idealism.” Amazingly this is it’s first ever New York revival since its 1883 debut. It’s a great opportunity to see a piece of theatre history brought back to life by some exceptional young talent. We hope they don’t fuck it up. Click here for tickets.
The nightlife star on her awards show, her drag, and her Brooklyn.
Where others have a mind for boring desk jobs and business attire, Merrie Cherry has one for supreme nightlife creativity. In 2013 alone, the Brooklyn nightlife superstar started her own awards show to honor other prominent members of the nightlife scene (the Brooklyn Nightlife Awards), while also providing fantastic hosting duties for a handful of NYC’s best spots and giving us all a much needed breath of fresh air in her uniquely unconventional brand of drag. We were lucky enough to get a hold of her for an interview in anticipation of the BNAs this coming Sunday, wherein she dishes on her dream performer for the awards show, her favorite venue in NYC, and what her first drag outfit looked like (hint: it involved shoulder “pads”…).
When did you first put on makeup/a wig/a dress? I was 6 years young. My grandmother went to the grocery store and my mother was watching her stories. This was the perfect situation for me to get into trouble. I went into my mother’s closet and grabbed a purple leopard pattern dress, put on some of her lipstick, that did not match, and used what I now know were pads for periods, but then I used them as shoulder pads. I turned on the radio and danced it out.
How did the Brooklyn Nightlife Awards come about? I had been thinking for over a year that something needed to happen to shout out to the world that Brooklyn was a contender for a nightlife destination. I did not know what could be done until I went to a Glammy award show and found the perfect idea. I have such a sweet spot for Brooklyn. It is a place I call home and I really just wanted to do anything I could to rep my home.
Why do you think recognizing people whose lives and work revolve around nightlife is so important? I think an awards show for Best Data Entry Specialist would suck balls. These people are full of energy, style, and are all celebrities in their own way. Without them New York City would be a cesspool of button ups, slacks, and ponytails with bangs.
How have you seen the drag culture and nightlife scene in Brooklyn change over the past few years? When I moved to Brooklyn over four years ago, it seemed that the scene was more DJ-driven. I heard about drag shows produced by Colin Self and Backspace, but I never went until I became Merrie Cherry. I was happy to just got to a bar and dance with my friends. Nowadays, bars have people calling in to ask if there will be a show that night. The entertainment is much more expected now.
Are there any specific awards shows, local or mainstream, that you draw from for the BNAs? The Glammy’s produced by Cherry Jubilee in Manhattan was a huge influence. The biggest difference I wanted to make sure was highlighted at the BNAs was the voting process. Anyone can vote for the BNAs. I wanted everyone to feel as if their voice was being heard, because when it comes down to it the people that come to the events are the ones really keeping it going.
Do you have any frontrunners you want to see win this Sunday? For me it is not about the winners. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I am proud when I see a close friend of mine accept an award that their peers, friends, and fans awarded to them. It does become hard, because I know so many people in nightlife, especially in Brooklyn. I wish everyone luck and in the long run I feel everyone that gets to be apart of this crazy world is lucky, regardless if they were nominated or not. It sounds corny, but it is also true.
If you could enlist anyone to present and/or perform at the BNAs, who would it be? Peaches. I almost got her to present an award last year, but she ended up going to Berlin a few weeks before the event.
What celebrities/icons/queens/performers of the past influence your style of drag? Life is my influence. I just want to keep myself interested. I can be a beautiful woman one night and be a psychedelic flower in a t-shirt and sequin pants the next. My “drag” is all over the place, just like my personality.
What’s your favorite venue in Brooklyn? In the US? In Brooklyn, I would have to say Metropolitan Bar. The stage isn’t amazing, but I love being up there and looking out into the crowd and seeing faces that have completely altered my life. In the US, The Stud in San Francisco. I have performed there a few times for a party called Something hosted by David Glamamore and VivvyAnne ForeverMORE. The stage there gives me life. The best part is they have a mirror so you can look at yourself. What queen wouldn’t want that?
What has been the overall reaction toward the BNAs since they began last year? People love it. I have gotten a great amount of praise from veterans and newcomers alike. The only negative feedback that I have gotten is that it is a bit like a popularity contest. To those people I just say, “Maybe you will get nominated next year.”
How do you define your drag? I do not think it should be defined. Do what you do, how you do it, and when you do it. Forget everything else. Humans waste so much time trying to fit in boxes for other people. Live outside the box, it is so much more fun.
The Brooklyn Nightlife Awards happen this Sunday, February 9th at 9:00PM at Radio Bushwick. Tickets are $10 at the door.
A new Off-Broadway play about the tragic secrets of a family.
Meeting your new boyfriend’s family is never a particularly thrilling prospect. But at worst most of us have to deal with an awkward dinner, an inescapable holiday or maybe accidental drunkenness (yours or theirs). Spare a thought, then, for Peter in Jake Jeppson’s new play The Clearing, whose boyfriend’s family unravels before him amidst tragic secrets, fiery resentment and unhealthy brotherly love.
The boyfriend in question in Les (Brian McManamon), a nervous twentysomething, and their sweet courtship is revealed to us through a series of reverse-chronological scenes which open the play. We’re also given clues to a dark history between Les and his wildly emotional brother Chris (Brian P. Murphy), who have experienced some unspoken tragedy which bonded them together and left Chris with horrifying ghostly visions. In his growing relationship with Peter (Gene Gallerano), Les begins to detach himself from the needy familial triangle of Chris and their mother Ella (Allison Daugherty). Meanwhile Peter, perplexed by the strange behaviour of the family, begins to pry and finds himself caught up in the secret events involving “Daniel” some 18 years ago.
This brave play from Jeppson grapples with some interesting questions, and some that feel completely out of place (ie. the nature of prayer). The actors all have their moments, and the gay love story feels real and affecting. But the character you’ll fall for is the self-described “sad, old lady” Ella, portrayed with candour and courage (you’ll see why) by Allison Daugherty. There are some clever lines here, but dialogue is often delivered in a jarringly unnatural and hurried fashion, perhaps to add energy to a slow-burn story which ultimately outstays its welcome. Regardless, it’s always great to see new work Off-Broadway, and it’s certain to make you feel relieved (or perhaps terrified) about the next time you have to meet the family.
The Clearing plays until 9 February at Theatre at St. Clements. For more information and for tickets, click here.
Shane Shane is back with a show at The Club at La Mama filled with a “heady mix of original music, body positivity, absurd comedy, and scatalogical eroticism.” Shane Shane loves poppers that’s why he named the show after them: “it’s a play on the euphemism for Poppers, Liquid Incense...Poppers speak to the gay identity I most identify with...” However, he told me that this time he’s not going to be doing poppers himself during his performance — “I have taken hits of poppers while performing and while it gets very interesting for me onstage, I don’t think it’s quite so fascinating for the audience to watch me flush and giggle.” But no worries, the whole place is going to be on them “I’ll be smudging the theater with poppers and anyone who wants to is welcome to have a little huff…” This is the second time he’s done this show and he tells me that “this run is a little more polished, put together, and hopefully funnier,” it’s featuring two amazing performers, New Orleans’ Nicole Gruter and “legend of nightlife and theater,” Heather Litteer. Also joining him are Lucas Carey & Craig Cady (on Jan 17), Justin Sayre (on Jan 18) and Abdu Ali (on Jan 19). Just imagine all of those people on poppers — wonderful nonsense.
Chris Tyler is bringing his “performance party” TRL>>> Total Rejects Live to The Lounge at The Public Theater. It’s a very classy space, I went last week to see drag performer Christeene and thought the cocktails were overpriced, but whatever, you’re paying for the nice architecture I guess. Chris came over to tell me more about his TRL show as I snapped some polaroids of him. “I’m really into late 90’s early 2000’s pop culture. I watched TRL everyday after school so I could see all the music videos.” It’s a performance of 3 acts (each goes for 30 minutes), “it’s broken up so it feels like a party.” Chris has done this event before in Brooklyn, but this time he’s making it really grand “with real tech and light and sound, sort of like my all star TRL…” While he was planning this show he found this site that lists everything that happened on every single episode of the show. “It’s a super weird website. It’s that weird early 2000 internet garbage that never gets taken down.” This event features lots of people including Erin Markey, B0DYH1GH, Rebecca Patek, JanTina Parker, RobotMoon Juice, Molly Pope, and many others. He added that he has no idea what anyone will be doing except him, but he loves surprises,“I like it that way, it keeps things more frantic.” #YOLO
Welcome to Witch Camp bitches. In this wonderful show, performers Amber Martin (pictured left) and Nath Ann Carrera (right) take us to a magical Witch Camp “through drop-off, Learning Yurts, the pre-dawn camp favorite, Morning Horses/Blood Sacrifice,” and beyond, while ridding the room of chode intentions! We’re told to grab our “baggie full of hair and black latex glove and gather around the fireside for a battle cry against the patriarchal rape heads in this ONGOING inquisition!” I love these two with all my heart, they never fail to put on a good show and really, I’d go see them read a brochure on how to install a water heater. Luckily their show is way more interesting than that. Bring an open mind, your prettiest velvet cape and a snippet of hair from someone you despise, Nath Ann and Amber will take care of the rest. Click here for tickets.