Hawaiian Warrior Raven O on Turning 50

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Raven O, best known for his gig as the main MC and choreographer at The Box, is turning 50. I have shoes that are 50 years old so I understand the magnitude of the day and all that it takes to get there. Raven O is marvelous. He is talented and unpredictable and well…delicious. He can turn on a dime from the sweet and innocent imp to the monster we keep bottled up inside. I have caught his act a zillion times on stage or on a street corner or a coffee shop. He is always on. He is the consummate downtown performance artist. You can catch him at The Box, 5 nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday. Some say The Box isn’t what it used to be… what is?…except Raven. I like The Box better now. It’s worn-in and true, like an old leather jacket. It has less to prove and therefore seems more natural, less forced, and not necessarily for the slumming swells that played there way too much for my satisfaction years ago. It’s fun now, especially late at night when it gets real sexy. The Box has always been sexy and I lay a lot of that at Raven’s door. I caught up with the maestro and talked up about the past, present, and future, which includes a celebration at the Lounge at Elmo, 156 7th Avenue between 19th and 20th Street this coming Sunday, June 10th. I think you got to know him but he makes everyone feel like that, doesn’t he?

Turning 50 is a good time to reflect back and to look forward with purpose…it’s like standing on some big hill. Tell me what you see looking back and forward, spiritually, not a list of your accomplishments and goals.
My parents raised me to be fearless, never a follower, and always reminded me to be myself and be honest, above all things. I think that being fearless…being the "Hawaiian Warrior" in me…got me through incredibly tough times in my past which included homelessness, drug addiction, and constant rejection from the mainstream-show-business types. I also feel fearless on stage which has helped my career. Looking forward, I believe that all religion is bullshit and I don’t think about "spirituality." I’m a naturalist. I listen with my heart and try to let my instincts guide me. I’ve learned that if I think too much, I fuck shit up – so I fucked up a lot in my past. I’m much more confident these days in my choices and hope to get through the next 50 years without getting jaded or pessimistic about life.

That last question covers a lot of ground.. let’s talk about how you got here. You’ve certainly followed a road less traveled to the beat of a different drummer. Give us a CliffsNotes version of your career.
I started performing as a child in Hawaii. One of my first paying gigs at 18 was as a male stripper in a women’s only club in Waikiki. I was practically raped every night on stage…crazy bitches! I loved it. Got to New York by winning a dance contest. Limelight was my first job as a go-go dancer…that was awesome! I was a Cat Club dancer. Don Hill gave me that job. RIP Don, great man. Did everything from dancing in contemporary dance companies to singing in hardcore bands to performing in drag shows and acting in feature films. Was homeless sleeping on the streets, a hustler, a drug addict. Did “Bard’O” for 10 years (a cabaret show). Went to Vegas with Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity, and I’m now at The Box NYC and in London.

I caught you at The Box a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t the same but it had a different energy – still a sexy energy. How do you balance the art of what you and yours do there with the plain old shock and awe?
The Box is six years old but I try to always approach it like its opening night. It’s always about "sexy,” not shock. I’m turning 50 but I’m still very much a sexual animal. I would honestly say that I look at everything I do as a performer first on a sexual level and then the rest follows. I have no education in theater and I know very little about literature and art but I feel that’s a plus for me because I have to just go with my talent, instincts, and years of experience. 

When I caught your one-man show about a year ago, I and of course everyone around me were taken by your humble-pie manners and old-world gentlemanly approach to the sleaziest of subjects. Under it all you seethe and boil and are charged with a hard energy to control. This has affected you throughout. Without the bad-boy imp inside and its demands on you, could you be happy and how do you control that monster these days?
Hahaha Steven, you know me so well. I don’t know if I could be happy without that boiling energy. I think it’s that "warrior" part of me. I control it by accepting it as part of my nature and I just try to not hurt people and myself. Being in love has been the greatest blessing. I’m still a hard ass and can go off, but my fuse has gotten much longer as I’ve grow older. Also, it takes much longer for my body to heal from "incidents," like when I started a bar room brawl in Tokyo.

What are you planning and scheming now, and what challenges you?
Honestly Steven, I have no fucking idea! Haha. Fifty years old and I don’t know what’s coming next. That’s what keeps me going…the unknown…that’s the challenge. I do love living on the edge I guess.

Is Lucent Dossier the Future of Los Angeles Nightlife?

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I think I stumbled onto something big. Except I’m two years late. And it’s so esoteric there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it. It starts off with a flyer. Once you’re committed, you get an e-mail with a street address. Once at the address, a shuttle picks you up and takes you to a warehouse space in downtown LA. For the rest of the night, you’re exposed to a wild event full of freaks, hippies, goths, and everything in between dancing, socializing, and engaging in a number of cabaret/dance/aerial performances. There’s a lot of make-up and costumes, wigs and props. It’s a twisted experience with a nod to the Victorian era and Burning Man. It’s Marie Antoinette gone wrong, Cirque Du Soleil on acid, but also the best thing that ever happened to L.A. nightlife. As producer/perform Dayna Riesgo likes to call it: "It’s a fully immersive experience where vaudeville meets the future dressed as a Victorian Mad Max warrior." Enter: Lucent Dossier.

Lucent Dossier has been around for almost ten years, producing stage performances of the cabaret variety, traveling around the world, and even entertaining the thousands at Burning Man every year with trippy stylings and, sure, a pinch of crazy. They put together their first large-scale Experience event as an underground party two years ago. It was so successful that they threw another one only two months later, which was busted by the cops. With a proper license, they unfurled their world once again this past weekend. Pre-sale tickets to the show sold out within hours with a maximum occupancy of 470, so they tacked on an extra night, which also sold out. So it only begged the question: what the hell happens at Lucent Dossier?

I arrived around 10 PM, when show time started, with my friend Cat. The warehouse space was as expected—industrial with concrete walls, exposed pipes and beams—but tricked out with laser stage lights and design touches that revisited the mid-1800s. A laundry line of lingerie hung along the beams, a twiggy iron chandelier piece racked high above the dance floor, glittery curtains draped, a loft-style second floor with surprises to come. It was unabashedly theatrical.

lucent dossier

But it’s not the first thing you notice. Cat and I were completely underdressed for the occasion. It was a costume party, or felt like it. There was a lot of fish netting with bare asses, corsets and ballerina slippers, bejeweled and painted faces (thanks to the "Transformation Station" in the corner), top hats and furry vests, feather head dresses, velvet, silver, leather, stilettos, 1920s-style suits, teddies, capes magicians wear, and cloaks that vampires wear. The place was full of theater geeks, neo-ravers, goths, hippies, and what I would like to think was combination of all. Often, we didn’t know the difference between the patrons and the performers, who were also decked out in similar, outrageous period pieces that one would otherwise never wear to, like, The Abbey. Even still, there were "normal" dressers, like skinny-jeaned hipsters, a handful of Asians in J. Crew, a bunch of gays in flannel, sorority girls in high-heels, jocks on MDMA, and real estate brokers with business cards. And somehow it worked. It was a melting pot of scenesters who just let go and be themselves, whoever they might be.

The performances were top-notch with almost a dozen choreographed dance numbers, cabaret, aerialists on rings, and performance art—some comical, some intense. Every ten minutes or so, the dance floor would break apart for these vignettes; then the patrons would gather again when the short show was over. Music ranged from swing to dub step and, again, it just worked. It’s the type of act bars and lounges are trying to deliver in Los Angeles, like the speak-easy style of Pour Vous, a fancy lounge that offers aerialist shows a few times a night. Or even the new Emerson Theatre by SBH, with the cabaret theme weaved into the entire set-up. Lucent Dossier has managed to take all these elements and do it better. A lot better. There was something interesting here, something that felt future-forward and not relying on the past in a gimmicky sort or way. Lucent Dossier was an idea, a statement, a movement. At one point, the host said, "Ladies and gentlemen, everything is a fantasy." And if fantasy is the future, then they’re on the right track.

lucent dossier

Cat and I left just after midnight, when more shuttle vans were arriving with late-night revelers dressed to the goth nines, and we knew we were going to miss the best part. Turns out they concocted a human sundae: a claw-foot tub full of people. "Lucent Dossier would never work in New York," she told me when we were dropped off at my car. And she’s right. Only in L.A., but the L.A. of the future, which is, thanks to Lucent Dossier, now. 

Skrillex Will Be Doing a Cirque du Soleil Residency

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As Vulture so hilariously tells us, "No, this is not a Mad Lib." Yes, young prince of thumping electro music and asymmetrical coiffures, Skrillex will be starting a residency with Cirque du Soleil. The Canadian entertainment company, self-described as a "dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment," based in Montreal is now opening a new dance club in Vegas. For the new venture, they’ve recruited a host of DJs to design specific shows and of course, Skrillex fits the bill on that one. On the topic, he said, "It’s not about having acrobats for my set. For me, personally, the objective is to have something based around your music and something you want to dance to, not something you want to stare at the whole time."

Okay cool, I’ll start my trapeze warm-up and dusk off some contortionist hulu-hooping for now while listeing to Cirque du Soliel’s best show, Alegria.