It was only four years ago that she first told the world to “just dance,” but at this point, Lady Gaga’s claimed a permanent position in the gay icon pantheon. But while you’ll have a hard time finding a Pride party that doesn’t throw “Bad Romance” into the mix, how many of them will feature avant-garde performance art inspired by Yoko Ono and Marina Abramovi?
Ecce Homo’s The Monstrous Ball at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (a warm-up to next year’s Of a Monstrous Child: A Gaga Musical) transforms the facility into a shrine for Gaga and some of the diverse artists and personalities who may have influenced her.
“I’m trying to tap into the spirit of club nights like Nag Nag Nag, Kinky Gerlinky, Taboo and Disco 2000, where art, music and fashion all combined into something unique, with each element feeding off the other,” says Alistair Newton, Ecce Homo’s artistic director. And that means you’ll be seeing a bunch of the city’s more recognizable queer nightlife personalities, but they won’t be lip-synching to “Telephone.”
Fay Slift will be channelling the spirit of gonzo fashion icon Leigh Bowery, while Nina Arsenault and Tyson James will recreate seminal works of performance art: Marina Abramovi’s The Artist Is Present and Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, respectively.
In The Artist Is Present, Arsenault will sit silently while audience members are invited to sit across from her and make eye contact. “Many people are so afraid to make eye contact and hold it,” Arsenault says. “What happens when two strangers meet each other’s gaze and attempt to be transparent?”
James will also face the audience one-on-one, but with a key difference. “The only thing I can really say about taking on Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece is how nervous I am to be around strangers with scissors,” James jokes about the work, in which the audience cuts off the performer’s clothing. Like Gaga, Ono has always had ties to both the art world and pop music. And, as Newton reminds us, “Gaga has performed with Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band, which makes a kind of sublime sense to me.”
Of course, for every queer who has to sing along to “Born This Way,” there’s another who thinks Gaga’s just ripping off Madonna. And Fay Slift thinks they should knock it off. “She is a kinder and gentler person than Madonna ever was,” says Slift. “We need more young people like Gaga, who is informed, who refuses to remain complacent.”
James agrees wholeheartedly. “Her Little Monsters are the queer youth living in the Prairies of Canada who have never been told to ‘express themselves.’ They don’t have the references our community does, and Lady Gaga was the first person to tell them they were beautiful just the way they were born.”
Queers have a long history of mixing art with dance parties, and The Monstrous Ball almost works as a crash course on the subject. “I hope the patrons at The Monstrous Ball will arrive with curious minds,” Newton says. “And fierce style.”