Very fun time was had by all as the Corps de Napoleon rolled along Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie, welcoming for the first time the Disco Amigos, on Sunday (Feb. 27). Here some of the crowd highlights from that particular section of the parade. (Spoiler alert: Everyone was dazzled and dance-ready.)
Krewe of Nyx is now considered a super-krewe, and the members pretty much proved the point with their “Dancing the Night Away” parade that rolled through Uptown and into the CBD on Wednesday night (Feb. 22), owning the night as well as its preceding, so-called rival, the Ancient Druids.
There’s really no need to rehash Druids, which, while not nearly as offensive as in previous years, still continued its clunky deliver of its version of satire — which included a rather transphobic appraisal of Caitlyn Jenner. (This appeared to pull a page from satire better suited for a 2016 parade, but Druids has rarely been known to keep up with the times.)
Regardless, Nyx rolled behind, saving the best for last. I wasn’t wowed by the parade theme or some of the float execution, but others on social media theorized that Nyx’s emergence has also surprised in quality its most commonly referred-to all-female peer, Muses. You be the judge on this one.
Well, he had it coming. And with at least one float, you could make the argument he came close.
The tiny Krewe of ’tit Rex was big on satirizing our golden new president, Donald J. Trump — the “J” apparently stands for “Jesus Effing Christ a Lot of People Don’t Like Me Down There” — in a parade held Saturday (Feb. 18) and starting on St. Roch Avenue. The parade itself in some ways feels like it’s out-grown itself. The overflow of humanity makes it difficult to appreciate the intricately lit and designed shoebox-size floats, with amateur and professional photographers and videographers jockeying for position alone the sidewalk of the neutral ground.
But in skewering the new president (and many others), the krewe proved once again that big things come in small packages.
Carnival season is upon us, and I thought this was a good opportunity to discuss some of the more intriguing aspects of Carnival culture with some of its most notable figures. Because that’s a lot of ground to cover, I hope to dedicate the next two shows on this subject. That starts off with today’s guests. Joining us:
Dr. Kim Vaz-Deville, associate dean of the college of arts and sciences at Xavier University and author of the 2013 book, “The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the Mardi Gras Tradition.”
Virginia Saussy, marketing consultant and charter member of the Krewe of Muses, whose landmark debut in the early 2000s helped spark a massive influx of women participating in Carnival on a more formalized structure.
Wayne Philips, Curator of Costumes & Textiles and Curator of Carnival Collections at the Louisiana State Museum. Wayne’s here to discuss an upcoming exhibit at the Presbytere celebrating women’s Carnival krewes (and that’s just this week!). So you can call today’s show our “Estrogen Fueled Carnival Episode.”
SEGMENT ONE: KIM VAZ DEVILLE, AUTHOR, “THE BABY DOLLS” I was really excited to welcome our first guest. Kim Vaz-Deville, Ph.D. is professor of education and the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Xavier University of Louisiana. Her book, The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition was published by Louisiana State University Press in 2013 and was the basis for a major installation, “They Call Baby Doll: A Mardi Gras Tradition” at the Louisiana State Museum’s Presbytere unit in 2013. It is the 2016 selection of the Young Leadership Council of New Orleans’ One Book One New Orleans. Vaz-Deville guest-curated with Ron Bechet, Department Head and Victor H. Labat Endowed Professor of Art Painting, Drawing, and Community Art at Xavier University of Louisiana, an art exhibit titled “Contemporary Artists Respond to the New Orleans Baby Dolls” which showed work about and inspired by the tradition in Spring, 2015 at the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art in New Orleans. Normally photographed on the streets of New Orleans during the ritual times of Mardi Gras, St. Joseph’s night and Super Sunday, photographer Phillip Colwart invited maskers to take stage portraits. Vaz-Deville curated these in a photography exhibit, “Philip Colwart’s Studio Portraits of the Baby Dolls of New Orleans”, on view 2015-2016 at the Shreve Memorial Public Library, in Shreveport, LA.
SEGMENT TWO: VIRGINIA SAUSSY, KREWE OF MUSES Virginia Saussy has been a part of one of the most fascinating developments in Carnival culture in the past two decades. The emergence of the Krewe of Muses on the parade routes back in 2001 signaled the beginning of a massive influx of women into more formalized Carnival activity even though the first female Carnival krewe rolled 100 years ago. (More on that later in the show.) We now have Muses, and Nyx, and the predominantly African-American krewe Femme Fatale, and of course myriad marching and dancing troupes as we previously discussed. Virginia Saussy, a marketing consultant who’s an original member of the krewe, is here today to talk about how Muses helped alter the Carnival scene, and what we might expect from female krewes.
SEGMENT THREE: WAYNE PHILLIPS, LOUISIANA STATE MUSEUM Finally, welcomed Wayne Phillips, who has served as the Curator of Costumes & Textiles and Curator of Carnival Collections at the Louisiana State Museum since 1998. Wayne is responsible for a collection of over 30,000 artifacts, including historic and contemporary clothing, accessories, and textiles of all kinds, as well as an encyclopedic collection of artifacts documenting all aspects of Louisiana Carnival celebrations statewide. Wayne has made strides in expanding the State Museum’s holdings documenting the LGBTQ community in Louisiana, with particular interest in gay Carnival krewes. In 2014, Wayne served on the Steering Committee that founded the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, and he serves on the board of directors for the organization today. For this segment, Wayne discussed an upcoming exhibition at the Presbytere focusing on women and Carnival, tied to the 100th anniversary of the Krewe of Iris.
I want to remind everyone that if you like what you hear on “PopSmart NOLA,” we’re here every Saturday from 3-4 p.m. on WHIV (102.3 FM). You can listen to the archived, podcast version of the show on my SoundCloud account, “dlsnola.” Also, you can visit the website at popsmartnola.com, and like our Facebook page. You can also follow us on Instagram at “@popsmartnola” and I’m yammering away on Twitter at @dlsnola504.
Also, if you like our show, we’d love your support in the form of underwriting; email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
Thanks again for joining us. I want to remind everyone to keep the intelligent discussion going. Happy Carnival, y’all.
If we can use this to benefit somebody, it’s worth it,” said the 55-year-old Banks, director of the Dryades YMCA School of Commerce. “It’s not about us. It all comes back to that basic idea of wanting to help people.”
Both Bankses make service and helping others a part of both their professional and personal lives. That includes his work with Zulu and New Orleans politics — totems of which permeate their modest residence. Keepsakes from Zulu balls and the Democratic National Convention share space on the walls, so I thought you might get a kick out of those images almost as much as the story itself.
LadyBEAST’s revamping of the Mardi Gras-timed circus show, “Vaude D’Gras,” took over the old Bywater Happyland Theater house on Sunday (Feb. 7) with a rousing ensemble performance that included acts by burlesque performer GoGo McGregor, opera-singing clown Guglielmo, knife-thrower Madame Daggers, whip-cracking/gun-slinging Clay Mazing, aerialist Sarah Stardust, and LadyBEAST herself.
They all performed to the music of the Vaude D’Gras Band, including Sarah Jacques.
While last year’s theme had a kind of post-apocalyptic vibe, this year’s show was sort of pre-apocalyptic — the notion being that vaudeville was being threatened by increasingly modern forms of entertainment (movies, TV, the Internet), and it’s up to the troupe to up its game to keep the customers coming on in. On this chilly Sunday night, the disheveled Happyland Theater, once a home for vaudeville and then movies in Bywater, seemed an apt setting. Almost the entire interior was a study in patchwork coverage, from the flooring to the side walls to the shutters that lined the back wall of the unused balcony. Artisans pushed trinkets, including vintage hats, and most of the modest-size audience showed up in period attire. With no heat available, it indeed felt like the lights were about to go out on vaudeville, but for the efforts of this rag-tag troupe. (If only the one woman sitting near me, with her vintage coat and floral headdress, could have gotten more into the spirit of the proceedings and not texted on her phone half the time.)
Guglielmo, as he’s done in the past, proves a genial emcee, growling and barking his lines. He and Clay Mazing make for a fun comedic duo, especially in the introduction, with Clay Mazing constantly winking at the audience using period references (“Can I bum a fag”?) to underscore how times, and language, have changed.
They’re in constant survival mode with the “show,” especially troubled by the diva/star GoGoMcGregor, who is restless with vaudeville and wants to gain her fame on the silver screen. She spends much of the show serving as the cynical counterpoint to LadyBEAST, who as aerialist and escape artist seeks to preserve all that’s good about vaudeville.
Much as it was with Cirque Copine’s “In Wonderland” at One Eyed Jacks, it’s when LadyBEAST and Sarah Stardust take flight that “Vaude D’Gras” does the same; their aerial performances, together and separately, turn the shabby Happyland into a little palace of magic. While it’s perhaps best to leave the details vague, LadyBEAST’s escape trick at the show’s end is also a moment to behold, if for no other reason the degree of difficulty.
Similarly, the troupe’s greatest strength is when everyone’s onstage creating mayhem; while some individual performances are good but not often great, their collective energy, spirt and humor thrives in ensemble delivery. GoGo McGregor especially excels in these moments; though she’s one of the city’s most popular burlesque performers, and delivered a solid fan dance here, she’s an even better comic talent and wise-cracker, getting her bitch on with every single member of the cast. (Watching them break character with her one-liners is a particular thrill.)
Guglielmo is similarly versatile, whether he’s emceeing or singing arias or performing familiar sideshow stunts such as getting a tattoo on his ass and then a nipple pierced. This was a highlight of last year’s show. (Afterward, he combined the two by performing the Neopolitan classic “O sole mio” before morphing into Elvis and transitioning it seamlessly into “It’s Now or Never.”) The capper was a double busting of a cinder block on his stomach along with GoGo McGregor (with LadyBEAST and Clay Mazing doing the honors.)
Clay Mazing possesses a similar charm, even when not every one of his whip-cracking tricks hits the mark. My only real wish was to have seen a little more of the knife-throwing antics of Madame Daggers, who spent most of her time playing violin with the excellent Vaude D’Gras Band (led by Sarah Jacques, who also performs in the Cirque Copine band.)
“Vaude D’Gras” could use a little tightening of the performances, but it remains a glorious celebration of both the circus-arts talent in the city and the chemistry and spirit of an ensemble that plays well together and off one another. Monday night is the last chance to see them before, like Carnival itself, it vanishes for another year.
Thursday (Feb. 4) presented a formidable night of Mardi Gras parade-going for New Orleanians just trying to get through the week and into the final weekend of Carnival, with not only three parades rolling but the third one, the all-female super-krewe Muses, rolling long and slow on the Uptown route.
That’s a fancy way of saying that, propping up a tired 4-year-old, we had to bail in the early stages of an interesting Muses parade, which included a rather cryptic satire of the Confederate statue controversy among its subjects. Satire also filtered into the Chaos parade (theme: “Chaos Theory”), with the usual pokes at political correctness and leaders global, national and local. (That President Obama float, well, let’s just say it’ll be nice to not see him set in questionable poses on Carnival floats after next year.)
And yes, we learned later in the evening that Muses celebrity monarch and part-time New Orleans resident Solange lost her wedding ring on the route, sparking a public call to action to help the soul singer find it ASAP.
That said, I’m curious to know what readers thought of those parade floats, especially those referring to the Confederate statues. Spot-on? Off the mark? Let me know in the comments. Until then, enjoy the photos.
We watched the parade squeeze through Dauphine Street (at Marigny), and it was amazing how difficult it became getting in position; the crowds were sometimes three-deep, and often had to be moved back a bit like crowds are when marching bands walk in the larger krewe parades.
Chewbacchus clearly thrives on a chaotic but creative energy, thanks in part to co-founder Ryan Ballard, who’s staged offseason events for the krewe that help keep it in the public eye and generate increased interest (and membership). But on Saturday, what also was clear was that there soon will be no sci-fi fantasy stone unturned given the myriad floats and signs and puns and characters all done up and made up. It was also fun to see “NCIS: New Orleans” cast members Rob Kercovich and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell parading with several crew members from the show.
NOTE: Apologies for the tepid quality of the photos, due to, cough cough, “technical issues.”
Each year, it seems, the ’tit Rex parade grows in every sense except the number and size of the floats themselves. This year seemed particularly jammed, especially at the staging area Saturday (Jan. 30) down the middle of the St. Roch Avenue neutral ground, with photographers jockeying with onlookers for ground-level position and a peek at the shoebox-size floats.
As I noted in my New Orleans Advocate preview, the krewe, in its eighth year, has become host to some of the city’s most creative people — a grouping of writers, artists, musicians and other performers. With membership capped and float number limited to 20, the krewe hopes to maintain the modest scope and tone of its parade, but it’s going to be a challenge, at least when viewed from the crowd. Also complicating the whole attendance thing is the explosion in size of the krewe that follows in the same neighborhood: the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, whose massive parade now features 1,500 members (up from 1,000 in 2015) and several more marchers. It was a crazy scene in Faubourg Marigny, and some theorize that more people show up early for Chewbacchus and also get a peek at ‘tit Rex.
It will be interesting to see how the two parades will move forward for next year’s Carnival. But as these photos show, from the staging area, there’s still beauty in the little things.