Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Krampus Dance

After doing the rounds of a few earnest and convivial holiday parties in Ann Arbor last Saturday night, I struck out for Ypsilanti's Krampus Ball. From the demon jingle babies in the windows of the Dreamland Theater upon arrival, it was clear this would be a change of pace... 

So many people were doing so much work to make the Krampus magic. Steadfast radio personality Mark Maynard manned the keg, ceaselessly filling cups with cold amber ale. The dj's flung confetti intermittently on the dancers, while feverishly consulting about what tunes to play and pointing the strobe where it most needed to go. The puppeteer climbed up and ensured his characters were dancing to the beat, working both hands as his associates lovingly fed him speared sausage chunks on toothpicks so as not to interrupt the dance of those tiny creatures. 

There had clearly been hours of prep work in some of the costumes, from the elaborate makeup with chiaroscuro effects drawn on the naked torso of the most terrifying and regal Krampus, to the blood smeared dentist elf from rudolf like you have never seen him...

Then again there was the work of WEARING these no doubt unbearably hot and sweaty getups, especially a carpet-like goat costume, or the taped together crutches and stilts of the largest Krampus, whose embrace i won't soon forget. On the dance floor as during the parade he made me feel like beauty, with her beast who lumbered painstakingly, purposefully through the crowds. 

All of this was a labor of love, that had no apparent qualms about being  obvious, messy, collective, boisterous, creative, and self consciously counter-commercial-christmas-culture. It was a night of play but also work, together, to resurrect and celebrate the spirits of christmas that cannot inhabit the bourgeois mantle or hearth; that are anathema  to expensive parcels arranged under glowing trees in grand foyers with the clink of ice cubes that signals the single malt has begun. PBR cans littered the countertops and arms of chairs, and were handed out merrily more or less regardless of participants' ability to pay (thank you, Ypsilanti!). Debauchery never seemed so democratic. 

Switches were wielded with delight, as were dry ice, balloons, beautiful strange puppets,strobes, curtains  (and yes, you can pay attention to the man behind the curtain). The final implements emerged during the parade at the end, which featured electric base and lit torches that brought bar-goers into the streets, woke sleeping dogs and brought residents to their windows (see footage, here). 

The torches, far from being a symbol of those coming to inflict terror and torture on those who might be magical--or even just different-- instead took their place alongside the brightly colored lit wreaths on each lamp post of Michigan Avenue. They marked this season's rituals and helped all of us move through the darkness of these times, together.

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