Every inch a lady

INSECT ASIDE | Michelle Matlock forms part of a romantic triangle in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Ovo.’

All abuzz over Michelle Matlock, the lady-loving ladybug of ‘Ovo’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Michelle Matlock is the female romantic interest in the Cirque du Soleil show Ovo — a role that, Hairspray aside, rarely befalls bigger girls. And girls of color? And openly gay? Well, she’s basically the only one. Like, ever.

“I think it’s pretty special,” she says from a break in performing under the grand chapiteau in Frisco. “Not only for me being a big girl but a black girl. You don’t see us being a love interest  much — even though I’m a bug.”

Yeah, did we leave that part out?

Matlock plays the giddy, delightful ladybug, wooed by a handsome housefly to the dismay of the other members of her garden of tight-knit insects. About 10 different acrobatic acts perform in the show, but Matlock is one of the story anchors, a clown who has her own share of tumbles, pratfalls and jumps.

Clowning might seem a far cry from Matlock’s classic training at the National Shakespeare Academy in New York, but she doesn’t see it that way.

“My base is theater, but over the last five, six years, clowning has dominated my career,” she says. “It’s actually a culmination of everything I learned [at the conservatory]. I used almost everything I’d ever experienced to help create the role. I had intensive clowning [there], and we had ballet and modern dance — a well-rounded program. I just never thought that seven weeks would actually be the kind of work I’d be doing the rest of my career.”

Not the entirety of her career, though. Matlock is also the creator of a one-woman play called The Mammy Project, about stereotypes of black woman, especially ones of size. The idea came about when Matlock was asked to audition to be the face of Aunt Jemima pancake mix. The play begins with the first woman to create Aunt Jemima, back during the 1893 World’s Fair, and goes up through Hattie McDaniel’s performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind and Matlock’s own experiences. It’s one reason Matlock is so pleased that she could create the Ladybug as a romantic figure.

And create the role she did. She auditioned for Cirque du Soleil in 2004 after several years’ experience clowning in other circuses, but while the audition went well, they didn’t have a part for her at the time. “But we have some shows in the works,” they told her.

More than four years later, in November 2008, she became part of the team that created Ovo. She’s been touring with the show ever since and just signed to stay with it through 2011.

That schedule has taken its toll on her relationship with her girlfriend, who has remained in New York (she also works in theater).

“It’s been difficult, especially at the beginning, maintaining a long-distance relationship,” she says. “Fortunately, we’ve gotten over that. It has been nice for us. And now that I’m signed through 2011, she might come and join me on tour. She is a stage manager and very organized. She might work for Cirque. And then it’ll be another challenge: Working together.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Egg-cellent

GRAVITY BE DAMNED | The slack-wire act, left, and the spider contortionist are some of the feats of physical skill in ‘Ovo,’ a thrilling big-top circus extravaganza.

Ovo, Cirque du Soleil’s new insect-themed cavalcade of jaw-dropping wonders, is reason to drive to Frisco

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

The opening of Ovo, the new Cirque du Soleil touring production, sounds like an attack of locusts, which is sort of the point. The concept of the show is A Bug’s Life, set to abstract music and eye-popping feats of physicality.

As a concept, it works terrifically. Cirque shows traditionally have themes that establish the look, but don’t really tell a story. None of it matters — it’s just a pretext for the juggling and high-wire acts. But here, there really is a romance between a ladybug and a housefly, played out with clownish bravado. And even better, the acts seem to tie into their characters.

That’s due in large, large part to the gorgeous costumes, which are as colorful and varied as the microcosmos of the insect world itself. (And, let’s say it, sexy.) The design mirrors what the acts are supposed to do: Crickets with extended haunches bounce off walks faster than a meadow on a warm summer night; a spider — the slack-wire gymnast, all of 95 pounds, clad in a skin-tight exoskeleton — scurries across a strand of his web, doing handstands and rolling on a unicycle; fleas flick their bodies nimbly through the air as if the dog show just got to town.

All in all, there are about 10 acts in the two-and-a-half hour production under la grand chapiteau in the parking lot of the Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco. It’s been a long time since Cirque came to North Texas; it’s worth the drive to check it out.

The awesomeness is difficult to describe — or to put in context. After the parade of characters, the main event kicks off with a small display: A firefly who contorts while balanced on his h

and. It sounds simple, even ordinary, but the skill involved astonishes you. Then out come a crew of waif Asian girls who juggle — balls, ottomans, each other — on their feet, passing human bodies around as effortlessly as a salt shaker at the family dinner. It takes the spool juggler — basically, a yo-yo artist extraordinaire — to drop a few to realize these are, in fact, humans who make mistakes. The illusion is that effective.

There’s something for almost every taste, from the elegant aerial ribbon flight of the butterflies to the oh-my muscularity of the trapeze-swinging beetles to the silly, wild dancing of the inchworm. I don’t remember the circus being this fun — or this sexy — when I was a kid. Here’s to progress.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.


—  John Wright

Weekly Best Bets

Saturday 01.29

Guess that’s why they call it the blues
While KERA is holding their pledge drive, KNON is trying to raise money of their own. The station, home to Lambda Weekly and The Jesse Garcia Show, hosts its 12th Annual Bluesfest with a hefty lineup. But really, you haven’t lived until you see R&B legend and Dallas native Bobby Patterson throw it down old school style. That’ll change your life.
DEETS: Poor David’s Pub, 1313 S. Lamar St. Through Sunday. 3 p.m. $10. KNON.org.

Sunday 01.30

Talk about ‘Ovo’ the top
In Cirque du Soleil’s new show Ovo, they create a colorful ecosystem of insects. Only these bugs do crazy acrobatics and contortions. Only Cirque can think so out of the box to make a “world of biodiversity” centered around a mysterious egg and a love story between a ladybug and neighborhood bug.
DEETS: Dr. Pepper Arena, 2601 Avenue of the Stars, Frisco. Through Feb. 27. $45-$250. CirqueDuSoleil.com

Tuesday 02.01

‘Faces’ in the crowd
Photographer Jorge Rivas’ Faces of Life was such a hit at last year’s Pride that the campaign is being relaunched during ilume Gallerie’s Super Week. With new photos and an exclusive jewelry line, the gallery extends its hours so everyone can take a peek and sign up for their own photo session.
DEETS: ilume Gallerie, 4123 Cedar Springs Road. Through Saturday. FacesofLifeProject.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

500 days of Samir

Male dancer Samir breaks the chains of Cirque du Soleil to blossom as ‘the guy’ with Bellydance Superstars

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Samir
GRACE LAND | Samir adds a different flair to bellydancing as Bellydance Superstars’ first and only male dancer.

BELLYDANCE SUPERSTARS
Palladium Ballroom, 1135 S. Lamar St. Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. $20–$39.
BellydanceSuperstars.com

…………………………..

Going by a single name is a ballsy move that usually works more in favor of women: Madonna and Cher. Pink. Charo.

Then throw in Bono. There’s always one guy willing to go against the grain.

Samir is no singer; he’s a dancer. But the solo moniker isn’t the only thing about him that defies convention. He also seeks to prove that a dance traditionally performed by women has room for at least one guy. Samir is part of the harem of Bellydance Superstars, which is in Dallas this week. Just don’t box him into the male label — or even gay. He sees himself in a more primal fashion.

“I don’t identify as a male dancer or female dancer,” he says. “I’m more like a creature and I never had people criticize that. That’s what’s unique about it because audiences are confused and I think they like that.”

Samir is the first male dancer onstage for the Bellydance Superstars show, but it’s also one of the first times in his professional life that he’s felt like his art is blossoming. He first burst onto the public scene as part of Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. That experience looked great on his resume, but Samir wasn’t thrilled come curtain time each night.

“To get to Cirque, I felt something was different,” he says. “It was totally new for me but I was also never a backup dancer. For three years, I basically went out every night to just do these beautiful poses.”

For Samir, Cirque was a grueling process that left little for the Tajikistan-born dancer to be inspired by. He could recognize the art and technique that went with the show, but he says it was not a place for people who create.

“I found myself killing my talent and my time,” he says. “It was just a regular job doing the same thing every night. It was good exposure, being in Vegas at the Bellagio, but Cirque is only for dancers who are retired. They can enjoy their life there until they go to heaven.”

Samir discovered early that this wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Regardless of his excitement, the marriage was doomed from the moment he signed the contract.

“They told me all the good things, but changed it once I started,” he says. “The rehearsal part was all love and sex but the honeymoon ended right after I signed with them.

He applauds Bellydance Superstars producer and creative director Miles Copeland for stepping away from the norm to see the dance as an art. The show gives him the creative outlet he has been searching for.

“[Copeland] doesn’t want to keep you locked away,” he says. “Here you can show your stuff and if he likes it enough, it will be in the show. He respects your talent and that make me want to give more. I feel great here.”

Unlike Cirque, this show offers Samir a family of like-minded individuals — not a mishmash of athletes and artists. For him, everybody here talks the same language and has become one family. Plus, the touring has allowed him to see more of the world. The different places, people and even different dressing rooms each night are a longshot from his former routine.

Samir’s desire for creation is in his blood. Both his parents were involved in the arts: his mother a famous folk dancer, his father a musician. Samir has been dancing since he was 2 and had already tasted fame when he traveled the country with his parents. He fits in naturally to the whirlwind of touring and bringing bellydancing to the masses — even if his audiences are aficionados more than curious onlookers.

“The show is all about bellydancing and Indian and Oriental tradition dance. Only people who are into it and understand it usually come to see the show. But I hope some new people will see how beautiful it is,” he says.

Samir is coy about a few things. He won’t reveal his age but says he’s young enough to finish the tour. However, once the tour wraps up (for now) in February 2011, he teases about his next career move.

“It’s going to be a big surprise,” he says with a likely smile. “Contact me in a year.”

Just like a bellydancer to coyly leave one veil hanging.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 8, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Body art

Gay dancer Rob Laqui finds therapy in the fantasy of MOMIX’s ‘Botanica’

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

‘Botanica’ turns nature into art through dance with cast member Rob Laqui, below.
AU NATUREL | ‘Botanica’ turns nature into art through dance with cast member Rob Laqui, below.

MOMIX: BOTANICA
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora St.
Sept. 10–11. 8 p.m. $19–$125.
TITAS.org

According to Rob Laqui, he’s pretty easy to spot. In MOMIX’s Botanica, amid the vast imagery created by the cast, you’ll know it when you see him onstage. And it’s not because he has an inflated sense of ego.

“I’m the only Filipino guy!” he laughs.

Laqui is soft-spoken but with a sense of humor that’s part dry, part snappy. He also has a flair for the poetic. As a gay man, he can see why the community might be fascinating by MOMIX, which brings its latest show to the Winspear Opera House this week, courtesy of TITAS.

“In my experience and in my opinion, there is this certain soft masculinity there,” he says. “I think everyone responds to the beauty of the images of this show but especially the LGBT community. We like pretty things! But also, gays have a certain sensitivity to that [beauty].”

Laqui is starting his seventh season with MOMIX — quite a run for a man who started out as a musical theater major in college. Moving to New York City from Minnesota, he planned a career on the stage acting and singing, but something clicked in him that made him decide traditional theater wasn’t exactly his thing. He began working on body movement that played into some of his characters and slowly surfaced into his interests.  Then he saw MOMIX perform.

“I remember thinking that it was just awesome and I wanted to work with that,” he says.

His dream came true.

Rob Laqui
Rob Laqui

He describes MOMIX as “Cirque du Soleil Lite,” but with a wink and a nod: In the same vein, but minus ethereal acrobatics and eerie clowns.

Ultimately, though, Laqui considers the troupe illusionists.

“I will describe it as modern dance, but with us, the audience will look at our movements and then it takes a second for them to wrap their mind around what they are seeing, “ he says. The eclecticism of the movements into images and shapes, is more than dancing; it’s a challenge.

In Botanica, the show lives up to its name. Choreographed by Moses Pendleton, the cast creates a world of nature by moving their bodies into different kinds of natural imagery be it flowers or creatures or both.  Pendleton paints these pictures with each dancer serving as his brushstroke — a role Laqui cherishes for its art and his sanity.

“Dance allows me to go to these places where I can be fierce or cruel even thought I’m super nice in person,” he says. “That’s the beauty of it.

Every dancer has the capacity to encompass every emotion. It’s our job to communicate that. That’s why I do it. It’s the cheapest form of therapy.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas