By Sabina Mollot
A Stuyvesant Town burlesque dancer and producer — and longtime fan of Prince — will be shimmying and shaking in remembrance of the singer in a two-night show called “Quintessential: The Purple Rain Edition.”
Una Aya Osato, who sometimes performs under the name ExHOTic Other and fronts a troupe called BrASS (Brown Radical Ass) Burlesque, said, “We wanted to do a show where we would go through the entire album of ‘Purple Rain.’ So it went from being a celebration to being a tribute, but it’s got more weight to it now.”
In the press release touting the event, the performers put it thusly.
“Remember that album that you played so much it became a part of your very soul, that album that shifted your perspective forever?”
Osato is part of the production team and a dancer for this show. The organizers, who will also emcee the event and perform, are Aurora BoobRealis and The Incredible, Edible, Akynos.
They are also members of BrASS, a troupe that features dancers who are women of color, and all three are “humungous” Prince fans, Osato said.
However, she noted, his untimely passing in April was not the reason for the show. It was actually something that’s been in the making over a year now, and was Aurora BoobRealis’ idea.
BoobRealis, whose real name is DawN Crandell, said she’s been obsessed with the singer and songwriter since 1980, first seeing him in concert while in the fourth grade and that year dressing up like him for Halloween.
A couple of years ago she decided she wanted to do a series of burlesque shows based around iconic albums, which for her, meant Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
“’Purple Rain’ had to be the album,” she said. “He’s probably the biggest influence of my life.”
Crandell, born to a white mother and black father, grew up upstate in a mostly white community. So it was singers like Prince and Neneh Cherry as well as actress Lisa Bonet who made her realize “it was okay that I didn’t look like everybody else.”
She added, “As a tween and experiencing things happening in your body and you start to learn about your sexuality and sensuality, I learned that s**t from Prince.”
She added that Prince, in his lyrics, always struck her as being “gender-fluid” and hinted at bisexuality.
For Osato, Prince’s appeal was for similar reasons. Osato is of Japanese descent and identifies as queer — a term she prefers over gay. While Prince was known to be heterosexual, Osato said she appreciated the androgynous fashion and performance style the star became known for.
“He was such a genius, the way he challenged music and gender and was always pushing the envelope beyond what we could imagine.”
Through burlesque, Osato said she tries to do the same. “We use burlesque to push our imaginations and have our sexuality pushed to the forefront.”
Akynos, who didn’t want her real name published, also said she loved Prince for those reasons.
“It was just the way he was unapologetic about his sexual energy,” she said. “It inspired me to become the sexually open and liberated performer that I am. That’s what turned me on about him.”
And, she added, the man had sex appeal. “He was so pretty and yet so masculine.”
Ironically, despite his being a gay icon, in 2008, Prince was accused of being homophobic after he was asked about his thoughts on social issues, including gay marriage in an interview with The New Yorker.
Prince, a Jehovah’s Witness, was then quoted as saying, as he tapped a Bible, “God came to Earth and saw people sticking it wherever and doing it with whatever, and he just cleared it all out. He was, like, ‘Enough.’”
Other news reports indicated his silence on the subject in later interviews.
Asked about the controversy, Crandell said she wasn’t one to put the dead on a pedestal, and has heard stories from people who knew him “who have bizarre stories (about Prince.) He was a mysterious person.”
But, she added, for her his legacy would continue to be about the music.
“If it gave you the energy to get through a hard day, those things are so important,” she said. “At the same time I would not put an icon as being past human. He was a brilliant artist. Now he’s gone and I mourn that he’s no longer creating.”
Osato, meanwhile, said she didn’t believe he was homophobic.
“I can’t believe that to be true,” she said. “I feel like everything about him was queer.”
For “Quintessial,” Osato predicts that the passion felt by the performers for Prince will be mirrored in the audience of the show.
“In general, people who love Prince really love him and will bring all their excitement and energy with them. It’s going to be a performance on and off the stage.”
Osato will be dancing to the song, “I Would Die for You,” in which she’ll be taking on the persona of Mother Earth.
“The narrative is very important,” she said. “I’m thinking about how Mother Earth would die for all of us, but with humor and sensuality, too.”
BrASS is working alongside Big Hair Productions to produce the show. Performers include Miss Southern Comfort, Miss Frankie Eleanor, Ooh LaLoba, Private Tails and Sister Selva (Osato’s sister and fellow BrASS founding member). Ashton Cruz a.k.a. Chlamydia Monroe will be hosting.
Performances take place on Thursday, June 2 and 3 at 8 p.m. at The Kraine Theater (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery). Tickets ($30; $40 front row VIP) may be purchased in advance at http://www.horsetrade.info.