Black Party ’Rites XXXIII’: Turning Japanese
The 2012 Black Party won’t be your uncle’s Black Party. Nor will it be your older friend’s, or anything like the Black Party you went to two years ago. In fact, "Rites XXXIII," if producing organization the Saint-at-Large has its way, won’t be like any other party in history.
For decades, men have flocked into New York City from all over the world to celebrate the advent of spring by dancing through the night (and into the afternoon) on the city’s largest dance floor.
This year, once again, the Black Party will be held on the Saturday-into-Sunday closest to the Spring Equinox, March 24-25. And once again it will be held at the gargantuan Midtown Manhattan compound Roseland Ballroom.
But its date and time will be the only similarities to previous years’ events. Stephen Pevner, the impresario behind the party, and his staff at the Saint-at-Large spend a great deal of the year ensuring that the Black Party gives its attendees a memorable time - and this year they’re trying to amp up the party once again. It’s no easy trick, continually re-inventing the most notorious gay gathering in the world.
2012: Pacific Overtures
Over 5,000 people attend the Black Party. Ever since its previous incarnation at the legendary gay nightclub The Saint in Lower Manhattan’s East Village, the party has been a focal point on the calendar of gay men who love muscle, a truly underground vibe and serious dancing.
Over the past few years, the Saint-at-Large has taken its guests to Mexico ("Lucha Libre"), Germany ("Schwarzwald") and, two years ago, to Argentina. This year, Pevner & Co. looked east for inspiration. This year’s party will be a riff on the gangsta culture of East Asia, specifically the yakuza, Japan’s version of the Mafia. But, as per the producer’s artistic ambition, the party will transcend that specific reference to connote nothing less than "Asia, Asian traditions, an Asian underworld," in the words of the Saint-at-Large’s Mike Peyton.
As the party’s designer, Adam Koch is responsible for the overall look of the event. While he’s not giving too much away (and really, would you want him to?), he hints of a "gangland street party." Expect to see hanging lanterns, banners, and streamers - all the colorful, noisy flavor of a Chinese New Year, crossed with a Bruce Lee film.
"There are a couple of things that are always present when designing a Black Party," Koch said: "Dangerous and sexy." As inspiration, Koch looked at Anthony Mingella’s acclaimed sleek production of "Madama Butterfly," which has been playing at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House. He’s also been listening to another Puccini opera set in Asia, the opulent "Turandot." The opera references aren’t accidental.
"The Black Party is the opera of parties," Koch said. "Opera is oversized, so much bigger than life. The Black Party is, in every way, so big. The design and expression of the theme has to reflect that. Any Black Party has to be apocalyptic. And hot, hot, hot!" Koch compared the arc of the whole night-into-day of the Black Party to an opera in three acts - a notion that makes perfect sense.
The first act is the set-up, meeting the characters, setting down the plot basics. The second act is when the main themes are brought to the fore. And the last act involves conflict streaming into a resolution.
In the same way, Koch plans to change the visual texture of Roseland throughout the evening. Early the colors will be red-hot. Later, the décor will be a lot more eclectic. At the end, for the Morning Music segment, expect anime springtime.
What Koch is to the look of the party, Melanie Armer is to the feel. Two decades producing theatrical events of all kinds informs her role as the party’s director. "I create and develop visions" is how she describes her work. She and her staff will "create the big picture brought in by Stephen" Pevner, she said. The tribal nature of the yakuza and of the East Asian underground in general works in well with the Black Party’s tribal vibe.
Keeping It Sexy
Although it is hard to imagine what can possibly top last year’s aerialists in flagrante delicto (OK, OK, they were doing it while flying through the air high above the dance floor), Armer promises some surprises.
The one thing that, she added, will not happen is the DJ slowing down (or worse, stopping) the music, lights flooding onto the stage, commotion - in other words, nothing that will interrupt the flow of the music and the dance floor.
There will be set pieces and other bits of drama that will, Armer hopes, enhance the party experience. But they will be sufficiently enigmatic for people to read into them their own interpretations. And don’t think for one second that Armer doesn’t know the most basic theme of the party.
"Keep it sexy. That’s the best part!" she enthused. So yes, there will be the "Strange Live Acts" that have helped to contribute to making this party the most legendary such event in the world.
But Armer also understands that all of those thousands of people on the dance floor are part of the show as well. "I never underestimate the quality of the attendees at the Black Party," she said. "People who come are celebrating the tribe. We work with that, not against it."