A few days ago, I went to the Black Orpheus Music Box Mardi Gras Ball. I’m telling you about it here, in the hopes that you’ll check out other sure-to-be-fab events at Music Box Village. (And for the non-locals out there, if any event is describes as a “Mardi Gras ball,” feel free to wear something flashy/ridiculous. Sequins, headdresses and bright feathers are totally appropo.)
So many fantastic components came together to make this magical, shimmering spectacle…
- The venue. Music Box Village is an art installation-cum-sculpture garden of unconventional, large-scale instruments. The first version of the Village was created in 2011, by the founders of a post-Katrina artist support organization, Airlift, with the help of the now-legendary Brooklyn-based street artist, Callie Curry, aka Swoon (aw…warm fuzzy postcard from 2003, when I first began seeing her giant cut-outs around New York, and the Village Voice regularly pondered her true identity). Often MB Village hosts shows and events, some of which are free to the public. (The Village has a free art market tomorrow.) Generally it’s open (and free!) to play with the instruments from 11am-4pm, Thursdays through Sundays. And MB Village is always gorgeous when there’s a night event, because twinkly lights abound and the sculptures are all lit up. For its Black Orpheus event, there was a giant chandelier.
- Black Orpheus. This 1959 Oscar-winning film, set during Brazil’s Carnival, is based on the ancient Greek legend (the most well-known version is in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) of Orpheus and Eurydice. (The moral in a nutshell: impatience kills dreams.) The film is an immersion of movement, music and saturated color, even though Orpheus is an entitled jerk and all the characters are flat. Prettiness, setting and sensory stimulation are the point, not character development. (Watch the whole thing for free here.)
- The performances. Throughout the film, drama was heightened with booming audio additions from the MB Village instruments. And during the on-screen music and dancing scenes, members of Casa Samba! played and danced samba and capoeira IRL, weaving through the crowd. Casa Samba! performances are always an audio-visual feast—colors, limbs, sexed-up costumes and hot rhythms, in a mad blur… Sometimes the movie was paused for longer performances, with the dancers taking the dance floor in big group pieces. When Orfeo decides to rescue Eurydice, the Original Northside Skull & Bones Gang led the Casa Samba! performers around the Village, ushering Orfeo into the underworld. (Founded in 1819, this group traipses through Treme, waking up residents at dawn every Mardi Gras morning.)
- The dance party. After the film, it was a free-for-all dance party, with Casa Samba! members tugging everyone to the dance floor, a samba second-line through the Village, and later, a DJ playing Michael Jackson and other retro dance hits, while ballers (right?!) took the floor.
Often throughout this experience and particularly during the performance breaks, I felt an interior expansion of sorts—an overwhelming love for this city. So much that happens here would ONLY happen here. I am so lucky to be here, to constantly swim in sound, art, generosity and history, among beautiful, un-self-conscious people, who are willing to dress up, dance, sing, play and create. Who risk and fail and try again, and don’t judge themselves or others for the effort.
This is the kind of city where you can go out alone, on a cheesy made-for-commercializing-coupledom “holiday,” such as Valentine’s Day, sit next to a carpenter/jazz musician from a tiny fishing island in Maine (he has friends/works here in the winter), and hear about his past lives in Thailand and Kuwait. And dance later, alone or with other temporary new insta-friends, and then come home to a random chat with the life-long New Orleanian who lives in the duplex next door, while still wearing the amazing sequined capris she gave you earlier in the night. (Rub them one way and they’re silver, the other, they’re rainbow. Thanks Casie and Target’s kids’ department!)
And thanks, Music Box Village, for the care and planning you put into your events, and Casa Samba! and Skull & Bones Gang, for generally being awesome. Thanks, Stephen, for sharing your stories and hearing mine.
If you go…
Remember, Music Box Village (4557 N Rampart St., in Bywater) is outdoors and unpaved, so dress for the weather. If it’s a movie or a sit-down event, maybe bring a blanket, because there are some benches and bleachers, but not many. The parking lot is reserved for handicapped/elderly, so bike, ride-share or be prepared to find street parking. This shouldn’t be too difficult during a normal day, but it can be tough when there’s an event.