Well, my parents were right yet again. There would come a time in my adult life when I "return" to my roots and embrace my Chinese background via the arts. They've been telling me this since I was a teenager growing up in Texas but I always pupu-plattered their notion in favor of Madonna, James Dean, River Phoenix, and going to the mall. Come on, it's Texas. It's the land of conformity and blonde, buxom cowgirl babes. A Chinese girl did not fit in. I was always extremely self-conscious when the family went out to eat at any non-Asian restaurants in Texas. And it didn't help that we would go to trucker diners off the side of the interstate highway cause that was what we could afford. We would be the only non-white people dining there, and I'm not being paranoid when I say there were sideways glances thrown our way many a times. They weren't hostile or anything, but it wasn't just benign curiosity either. Definitely not a friendly vibe. It trained us to speak Chinese quietly so we didn't garner any more unwanted attention to the fact that we were not like everyone else. Ninety percent of my friends from high school were Vietnamese. There is a huge Vietnamese population in DFW. Anyway not to be all Joy Luck Club-y, this was why I left Texas as soon as high school was over. So when my parents (one from a family of medicine and nursing background, and the other literature and Chinese history background) would predict my eventual return to my background, I naturally rejected them. Mind you, this is before every white guy wants to date an Asian. This was before YM Magazine gave you tips on what foundation color to use for any skin type past pale or dark. This was before feng shui is thrown around the household vocabulary. This was a time when the Wal-Mart intercom still announced, "Lost three year old Oriental Boy is looking for his mom". But this past weekend proved to me again that my parents know me better than I know myself.
Shien Lee's Dances of Vice: Shanghai Foxtrot show at Le Poisson Rouge. Everyone knows who Shien is. If you don't, you can not call yourself a nightlife performer in NYC. She's one of the biggest party event promoters creating such magnificently themed parties such as Dada Revue, Tango del Diablo, Liberty Belle, Le Sacre du Printemps, the list goes on. Her events are widely covered by the press, and she was also voted as one of the Most Stylish New Yorkers by Time Out NY. Can you tell how much I admire her and her aesthetic vision yet? I was thrilled to be asked to be in her Shanghai Foxtrot show, because in the last couple of years, I've become obsessed with old Shanghai culture and with the history of early Chinese nightclub performers in San Francisco such as Noel Toy and other figures from the documentary "Forbidden City, USA". I already have a few burlesque acts to old Chinese and/or Japanese music from the 20s-40s so Shien's show was the perfect fit. I did one of my oldest acts, the black fan dance to the Japanese cover of "St. Louis Blues" and a newer act to "Quizas, Quizas, Quizas" from Wong Kar Wai's "In the Mood of Love" soundtrack. I also had the pleasure to meet Maggie Moon a superb tap dancer and a pair of very sexy and talented male tango dancers, Anton and Jody. Everyone were a pleasure to be around backstage and funny stories were shared. What I loved most about her show is that her fans make an effort to dress up according to the theme. Many people in the audience had on era-specific attire. Men had on tails, suspenders, hats. Women wore fascinators, jewels, gloves. One tall woman had on this gorgeous ivory-colored silk gown with her hair slicked back complete with dark eye-makeup and red lips. Even Caprice, our resident-in-house burlesque friend, who is usually a blonde had transformed her do to a short black bob. The lighting was beautiful creating an atmosphere that was worlds apart from the collegiate gibberish outside on Bleecker street. Shien's 6-piece band accompanied her as she sang two sets of Old Shanghai Chinese classics from 1920s, 30s and 40s. I own many of the original songs and I subject Michael to listening to them at home. Many of these songs I remember hearing at my grandparent's house in Taiwan. Some of them are just a lingering faint memory at the tip of your tongue. To hear these classics live and sung with skill, talent, and authentic gestures true to how the Chinese sirens of the time performed them was a truly transcendental and sublime experience. "Happy" is not enough. I was elated. You can find out more about Shien's Shanghai Foxtrot event and music at: http://www.myspace.com/shanghaifoxtrot.
If you interested in learning even more about early Chinese cabaret/burlesque performers in SF, check out Calvin Fong's incredible scrapbook here!
Sunday morning I had an early call time to be in a music video for Kyle Rapp's song with Talib Kweli. I wish I could tell you more, but I don't really know much more! The shoot was on the basketball courts near Pier i Cafe on 68th Street and Riverside. They wanted the gritty basketball court as background cause it looked gansta. Hahaha. Kyle casted for an Asian or Black burlesque dancer, and my friend Jewel Elizabeth recommended me. Kyle's goal is to cross-pollinate burlesque and hiphop. I brought a few options for his partner Megan to pick from. Megan is the bassist of the very popular all-girl tribute band Lez Zepplin There was no place to change so I borrowed the bike rental guy's trailer to change into a red corset ensemble. It was fun walking through the basketball courtyard in that outfit! I used my fans in the clip. The song is called "International Traveler" which will be out in a couple of months, I was told. I am #69. Be on the lookout!
I jettied home after the video shoot to meet Sara Howe, a British photographer who is in town working on a new series of burlesque performers at home. I met her through Joe the Shark who recommended me. I couldn't say no to her project because it was at home and I was already in costume and makeup. She's a tiny little thing. Very nice and easy to work with. We shot in the living room using natural light which was more intimidating for me. We shot my red Dusk til Dawn costume and my "Black Lodge" costume from Twin Peaks. It was terribly hot Sunday but Sara knocked it out like a pro.
I'm going to Toronto for the weekend + a few days and I'm so excited! Michael is taking me to Kitchener Blues Festival and show me around his hometown Toronto. I'll be meeting up with Minx Arcana and hopefully Chris Mysterion will have a show or two for me to check out while I'm up in the great north. I can't wait to have this little break...
Tonight I'm at Mary Cyn's "Original Cyn" Show at Lucky13 Saloon in Park Slope doing my Hello Kitty act for the local metal heads! Show is at 10pm. I hope to see some of my friends who live near there! Oh, the show is free because real metal is free.
And a little vintage Chinese clip to share with you via my blogger friend Durian Dave's Soft Film blog. This clip features Diana Chang, quite the voluptuous babe! There are more vintage Chinese clips on the hosting site.