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.
As their Facebook event page declares: “calling all drag queens, drag kings, performance artists, burlesque performers, singers, musicians and undecided.” This event is for anyone who has talent and wants to share it with the world, or in this case with Brooklyn. This is the second installment of the 9 weeks event, an “open competition to all of Brooklyn” which features new contestants and every round takes place at a different Brooklyn location and includes cash prizes. This time the contestants feature Rify Royalty, Mat Kastella, Rachel Ratchet, Sandi Beaches and Jackie Reloaded. Your host for the night is the mother of Brooklyn drag Merrie Cherry. Whenever I’m in the BK and I hear the word drag Merrie is the first person I wanna see. Come strut your stuff and make some money, Mr(s) Williamsburg wants you.
Gert is a 20 year old boy from Tallinn, Estonia. He is a high school student, eventually he wants to do something related with fashion. “I love fashion, it’s my life.” I believe him, he’s a very stylish guy. Even though Gert knew he liked guys when he was 13-14 years old, he just recently came out as gay back in January when he posted the following on his Facebook wall: “Well. Yeah, I’m gay. Who cares? I’m still a person? I have the exact same rights as you.” He told me that his sister came out of the closet first, then he did… When he was young he “was very much like a girl, I loved to play with Barbies, I was in the company of girls during school…and my sister was like a boy and she loved playing with cars…” We think that’s just adorable!
As I was chatting with Gert, he pointed out that he was a “special person” because he was born deaf. “My family are all deaf too. He adds, “I can’t hear music or when people talk to each other, I can only hear noise, I can feel vibrations and I can read lips slowly.” So, when Gert goes out to dance “I feel the rhythm of the music, but I do not understand the words…” I found this fascinating and surprising, I couldn’t stop asking him questions about being deaf.
The first thing that he does when he wakes up is make “the best coffee,” he usually grinds the beans, then he uses a coffee press. His prefect date would be “going to the beach or to an outdoor cafe.” He likes guys who are more mature than him, sweet, considerate, smart and stylish — this boy has standards, as he should. When it’s time for Gert to go to bed he wears shorts or just underwear. “I’d love to be naked, though, somehow I dont have a private room…” Gert’s future plans are to go abroad and to travel to the ‘fashion capitals,’ Estonia is such a small country and will always be home, but there’s not many activities to do.”
He used his Samsung phone to take some selfies for us, he took most of them in his high school, in the classroom and in the bathroom, then he got home and into bed where he got even more comfortable. He looks very sweet wearing a GAYLETTER t-shirt — he insisted he wanted the fit to be oversized, I have to agree with him, it suits him very well.
Obama, Shante you stay. Putin, Sashay away.
War Drags You Out is an awesome new art project created by an artist known only as Saint Hoax, that challenges notions of leadership, performance and gender. The artist came up with the idea after “watching a drag show for the first time last May, I was fascinated by drag art. I then linked the concept of faux queens to political and religious leaders. I always perceived leaders as performers, as if they are in their own continuous drag show.”
The portraits of world leaders in drag have caused quite a stir online, especially the ones of Osama Bin Laden and Egypt’s King Abdullah, “I just wanted to extract the idea of getting dressed and becoming someone else for the show and linking it to leaders,” Saint Hoax said. “I pick men that work so hard on creating some sort of ‘public image’ and end up neglecting the people they’re assigned to lead.”
After watching last night’s episode of Drag Race, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the world would be a better off if it was run by real drag queens, instead of clowns we currently have in place.
Devin Wallace illustrates the night's best moments.
What can we say about the Oscars that hasn’t been said by every other two-bit blog and website in the last 18 hours? We enjoyed the show, it was probably the funniest Oscars since Chris Rock hosted 5 years ago. Ellen DeGeneres was a great host. I know some people think differently, but they’re stoopid. This is one of the hardest gigs on TV and Ellen pulled it off brilliantly. She was quick on her feet, silly, and many times hilarious. The pizza delivery guy was by far the highlight of the night. Seeing all those A-listers chowing down on a slice of greasy pepperoni pizza was just great (although Leonardo DiCaprio did himself no favors by refusing a slice: you too good for pizza hey Romeo!?)
We asked our friend Devin Wallace to illustrate some of the highlights of the night. He did a wonderful job, as always.
Check ‘em out.
Ellen in her Wizard of Oz outfit.
Liza with a ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…(someone poke her, she seems to have nodded off again).
Brad and Angie making out. Ewww, pizza breath.
Leo looking old as fuck.
Jared Leto may have won an Academy Award for his role in The Dallas Buyers Club, but his hair was the real night’s winner.
So pretty, oh so pretty.
Lupita Nyong’o. Pretty in Prada blue.
By far the best speech of the night. She is so adorable.
Cate Blanchett tells us the world is round.
Matthew McCounghey thanks god and hardly anyone claps. Guess this ain’t the Grammy’s.
Matt Lambert directs a psychosexual short film
Having a mind-numbingly boring workday and/or completely, irrevocably stoned out of your mind? Then feast your eyes on the psychosexual fever dream that is MEAT, a new short film by queer film visionary (and GAYLETTER fave) Matt Lambert. The LA-raised, Berlin-based artist directed the film as promotion for an upcoming 240-hour long (!) experimental theater piece happening at Berlin’s Schaubühne theater in April.
The theater production, directed by Swedish artist Thomas Bo Nilsson and part of the Festival of International New Drama, draws from the story of Luka Magnotta (infamous escort/porn star/cannibalistic serial killer) to create a dialogue between sexual identity and the more sordid corners of the Internet. Lambert’s film does an A+ job of capturing that claustrophobically digital atmosphere in just under four and a half minutes, during which a bleach blonde twink gyrates to a stuttering electronic track in front of a camera at an Internet café. It’s like watching those seamy Cam4-type sites, only filmed in much better lighting. Needless to say, we’re into it.
Nilsson’s theater piece will be live streamed starting on April 3. Check out Lambert’s short film below:
You may have noticed our campaign to bring awareness to the homophobic laws passed by the Russian government during the Sochi Winter Olympics #gayforsochi. Thousands of people created their own images through our site, but there is still a long way to go. It’s our goal to keep doing whatever we can to bring attention to human rights abuses going on over there. Which is why we want to bring your attention to a new film that’s currently looking for crowdfunding. The film is called Stand and is an “investigative ﬁlm that goes to the heart of the anti-gay propaganda laws passed in Russia in June 2013. Oscillating between a thriller and a love story, Stand focuses on a current event: the criminal groups that schedule fake dates for young homosexuals, only to then attack and humiliate them. The ﬁlm probes into the meaning of human rights and sexual freedoms, and how ﬁnding liberty is possible in an oppressive regime.” The film is all shot, and from the clip they have on the campaign site, it looks pretty good. Now they just need funds to edit, color correct and mix the sound. Let’s all do what we can to help them finish. The more light we shine on the darkness going on in Russia the greater chance we have of changing things.
Our official guide to NYC's Oscars viewing events
A few fun facts about the Academy: of the 6000 members 94% are white, 77% are male, only 14% are under the age of 50 and the average age is 62. So there are a few things I’m not into about this crowd, and somehow they decide who wins the film industry’s biggest awards. But who cares — it’s Oscar night: the perfect excuse to get drunk with strangers and yell at the television. (At least until the following night when Rupaul’s Drag Race is on).
The Oscars are usually pretty gay, but they’ve really outdone themselves in 2014. Bette Midler, Karen O and Idina Menzel are performing, Judy Garland’s daughters are singing a tribute to The Wizard of Oz and Ellen Degeneres is hosting. Without further ado, here are our nominees for New York’s finest Oscars viewing parties.
NYC nightlife legend and self-proclaimed “hardest working middle-aged man in show business” Murray Hill is back to host his annual Oscar night extravaganza. Prepare for Hollywood’s night of nights to be completely destroyed by Murray’s caustic wit, hilarious commentary and spot-on celebrity impressions. There’ll also be trivia, fake red carpets, guest stars and competitions for best dressed, worst dressed and most drunk. We’ll be pissed if we don’t win at least one of those.
$25 (plus $12 drink minimum), 7:30PM, Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St. NY, NY.
“Whose careers will be made? Whose dreams will be dashed? Who cares! It’s the Oscars and you love it!” Get comfortable in Chelsea Cinemas as the oddly green-obsessed drag queen Hedda Lettuce hosts this commercial-free broadcast of the Academy Awards. All proceeds go to support future Riedel Dance Theater productions, plus you get unlimited popcorn and soda. Not sure what the alcohol situation is, so sneak in a hip flask just in case.
$21, 7:00PM, Chelsea Cinemas, 260 West 23rd St. NY, NY.
Don’t diss Stonewall — you wouldn’t be publicly holding hands with your boyfriend or teeing up Grindr orgies if it weren’t for this West Village institution. If you haven’t been before, and even if you have, Oscars night is your perfect excuse. The action kicks off at 6.30PM with the Red Carpet broadcast, performances by Chocolatina and Lavinia Draper, and our two favorite words: drink specials. After the award show there’ll be trivia, prizes and more performances. Did we mention best dressed wins a bar tab? You better turn it out.
FREE, 6:30PM, Stonewall Inn, 53 Christopher St. NY, NY.
Are you one of those annoying people that knows everything about movies? Here’s your chance to show off — Le Poisson Rouge have made Oscar night into a competition for their guests, with a multimedia trivia show throughout the broadcast. Drink up and nerd out!
$10 advance/$15 on the day, 5:30PM, Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleeker St. NY, NY.
We love wine and we love Brooklyn, so it figures this is one of our favorite NYC spots for dinner. Pop in on Oscar night where, for the fourth year running, Brooklyn Winery will be hosting their screening party in the Atrium and Parlor rooms. There’ll be delicious share platters and a special Oscars cocktail — but you’ll need to get in early if you want a seat.
FREE, 7:00PM, Brooklyn Winery, 213 North 8th St. BK, NY.
Think of yourself as a classy lady? This is where you’ll want to be: lording it high over all the Midtown plebs in New York’s “most glamorous” rooftop bar (don’t worry, there’ll be heating). Your $25 buys you panoramic city views, a big screen broadcast, food throughout the night and a goddam open bar. Get into it — but only wear your fanciest clothes. This is Midtown, bitch.
$25, 7:00PM, 230 Fifth, 230 Fifth Ave. NY, NY.
One of our favorite cinemas for a midnight movie is celebrating the Oscars on their big screen. You’ll get to yell at the screen in the comfort of Nitehawk’s lounges, while being served tableside food and beverages. But you better hurry up and put down your $25, these tickets will go fast.
$25, 6:30PM, Nitehawk Cinemas, 136 Metropolitan Ave. BK, NY.
They say eating is cheating, and while those red carpet bitches haven’t eaten in weeks to slip into their couture, we know you’ve spent winter sitting on your ass in a snuggie eating constantly just to get through the polar vortex. Continue that theme with KTCHN’s five course prix fixe menu! They’re paying tribute to the first ever Oscars in 1929, with the menu inspired by what was served on that very night, 86 years ago.
$75, 7:00PM, KTCHN, 508 West 42nd St. NY, NY.
Got buzzed at Sunday brunch and just want to keep rolling? Posh Bar in Hell’s Kitchen will keep you liquored up until their Oscars broadcast, with happy hour starting at the civilized hour of 3:00PM. They’ll have DJs, $3 beers and then at 11:00PM they’ll serve free pizza, that should help you get it together before work on Monday. How considerate.
FREE, 7:00PM, Posh Bar, 405 West 51st St. NY, NY.
I’ve never done boxing in my life. I mean I am not really afraid of being knocked over but I am terrified of any glove going close to my nose and breaking it. We mentioned this class a few months back when it first started and we heard so many great things from our friends, it’s now time we finally give it a try. I’m gonna repeat this quote from Vance Garrett (one of the organizers of this class) “Gay guys are usually intimidated by boxing… no one has ever been hit in the face in this class... and it’s the most intense workout I’ve ever done…” Thanks for the affirmation that I can do this class with no problem. Vance adds that “absolute beginners are welcome” at Velvet Gloves - Gentleman's Boxing. I heard you Vance, we are coming, Tom and I will be there! Make sure you arrive promptly, because at 3:00PM it’s “wrapping hands” time. I don’t even have a boxing outfit, but I think I can wear something similar to the image above and look cute while I try to learn how to punch correctly...
Diane Von Furstenberg is a funny lady. I don't really consider her a great designer, but she's an entertaining, even inspiring personality. She has lived a seemingly blessed life: married to a prince, a star of Studio 54, and now a billionaire who's built an international business around a god damn clingy dress. I recently visited the exhibition 'Wrap 40: Celebrating the dress that started it all,' at LACMA in Los Angeles and took a few pics. I was impressed by the show, it's real splashy. They pulled no punches displaying over 100 dresses, along with Warhol's prints of Diane and photos of her by Chuck Close and many other artists.