After sharing his art around the world, former Juneau resident Seneca Harper returned home last month for a series of performances with his trio Mod Carousel. Last year the group got over 5 million hits on Youtube for a parody of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines.
Through elaborate costumes and tightly choreographed routines, the men of Mod Carousel tell a story onstage to explore the lines of gender and sexuality through a newly emerging art.In the Rockwell Ballroom Seneca Harper counts off the opening numbers to Beyoncé’s dance hit “Single Ladies.”
The Boylesque group Mod Carousel is rehearsing for an upcoming performance. This is the Seattle-based Boylesque troupe’s 5th trip to Alaska the dancers are preparing material never before seen in Juneau. During practice, Harper and his dancing counterpart look pretty normal in jeans and v-neck t-shirts, but come Saturday night they will be almost unrecognizable. Wearing only rhinestone emblazoned leotards, heels and wigs, they will answer to the screams of a packed Juneau audience.
But before Harper lit up the stage as his current persona, the Luminous Pariah, he starred in JDHS theatre productions like the Wizard of Oz.
“One really great thing about growing up in Juneau is it’s a really small town but there are a surprising amount of arts that come here and are cultivated here,” Harper says.
After high school, Harper moved to Seattle to study professionally at the Cornish College of the Arts. But during a break from school, Harper discovered Burlesque and started Mod Carousel in 2009. Joining him were twin brothers and professional dancers who go by their stage names Paris Original and Trojan Original.
Onstage the three combine elements of comedy and cabaret to create routines that vary as widely as their stars: the traditional masculinity of Trojan Original, the exaggeratedly effeminate Paris Original, and the Luminous Pariah who embodies both the masculine and feminine.
While they may wear frills and fake eyelashes onstage, these guys aren’t pretending to be women. Boylesque uses dance and strip tease to explore the boundaries of gender and sexuality.
In contrast to drag where the performer typically cross dresses to develop a new character onstage, Harper says Mod Carousel is different.
“What I present onstage is more of a persona. It’s a shiny shellacked version of who I am. I never really fit into that box either of well, this is masculine and this is super feminine. Either you’re a macho go-go boy or you’re a drag queen with the padded hips and fake boobs and it feels so unnatural to me. I feel that there’s this spectrum between hyper masculine and ultra-feminine and I lie naturally in the middle of that spectrum. And that’s what I decided to present onstage,” says Harper.
And sometimes that presentation includes the Luminous Pariah pumping up the crowd to Macklemore’s song “Thrift Shop” in a faux fur coat, sailor hat and bejeweled speedo.
After a recent show a crowd was gathering on the sidewalks outside of Rockwell recounting what they had just experienced. Ben Lyman was one of the men who attended the show that night.
“I just saw some really amazing Boylesque. It’s interpretive dance and a story told through a more risqué sort of dance –some people connote it with strip tease, but it’s different it’s a lot more artful and sometimes you put your clothes on rather than taking them off ,” says Ben Lyman.
Harper says he crafts his shows to be more than just entertainment.
“And my goal with doing that is to not only promote the fact that yes indeed does this exist but to hope that there’s other people out there and see that and go, ‘Oh yeah I feel that way too and that makes me more comfortable with who I am,’ ” Harper says.
Paris Original cites the group’s ability to tell a range of stories onstage, giving people some of what they might expect from a show like this “and even some things people didn’t know they wanted to look at,” says Paris Original.