Monday, 17 June 2013

ARIKA 5: Hidden In Plain Sight reflections

Unpublished review of Fri/Sat afternoon events at ARIKA 5 for The Skinny

There's always going to be a certain amount of tension when street culture rubs up against highbrow academia, and it's a testament to the skill of Arika that they managed to programme their Hidden In Plain Sight mini-festival (mostly concerning vogue and drag culture) with as little as possible.


Hidden In Plain Sight kicks off on friday night at the Tramway with a dance performance called "20 Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church" a contemporary, semi-improvised piece that aims to fuse pre-post-modern, envelope pushing outlook of the early 60s Judson Dance Theatre with the spirit and ethos of Harlem's vogue balls, which were also beginning to develop in the early 60s. At times these two bedfellows can make a strange mix, and not all of the performances work that well in this context. But when they do work, boy are they good. My personal favourite is the drag performer Francois Chaignaud, a gifted singer/dancer/comedienne who manages to raise some belly laughs while looking and performing beautifully. There's a sense of chaos to 20 Looks, multiplied perhaps by a wonky microphone that keeps cutting out, but no matter how wild things get, they never get out-of-control. The sense of co-ordinated anarchy is wonderful, and makes up for the show's tonal disparities (and over 2 hour running time).

Pony Zion

After the Tramway we depart for Stereo on Renfield Lane, to attend the first ever club event that Arika have hosted. This is where it all comes together, where we can experience the music, style and dancing in its most natural home. DJs Vjuan Allure and Sprinkles rev up the crowd with a mixture of throbbing deep house and busy, percussive rhythms, and the music sets the stage brilliantly for two vogue performances by the legendary Pony Zion Garcon (above), and one beautiful and scary lip-sync by the brilliant boychild. Pony Zion is a founding member of the dance troupe Vogue Evolution, and a true "legend" on the dance scene, so to see him bring those incredible moves to a stage in a Glasgow basement is beautiful. Also 10s across the board for both the DJs, and it's personally very satisfying to see the Glasgow audience, who are well versed in house music history, soaking up Vjuan Allure's fresh "ballroom" style, a new take on house that has yet to infiltrate the mainstream but which makes the Glasgow crowd go wild.

 DJ Sprinkles

Saturday afternoon and I am back at the Tramway to attend to talks before I need to catch a train back to Manchester. The heat on this surprisingly glorious day is stifling. The first talk is a round table discussion featuring members of the collectives Ultra-Red and Vogue'ology, and the host Michael Robertson takes us through the history of this very unique culture. At times moving and funny, the talk is great, though I wish more time was given to the actual voguers than the white, middle-class academics, some of whose opinions seem frankly extraneous. Oh, that cultural tension again! The second talk is by Terre Theamlitz, aka DJ Sprinkles, and concerns identity. Theamlitz holding the stage on hir own makes for a more coherent talk than the first Vogue'ology, and I am gutted that I have to go before seeing Terre's actual performance that evening. 

All pics (except for the poster) by Michael James aka Alephnaught, an exceptional club photographer - follow him

Here's a video I shot of some of Pony's performance at Stereo, re-dubbed to Vjuan's "Kid Conga Rebounced": 

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