By Annie Muscat
A fantastic array of vibrant colors, glistening sequins, elaborate choreography, and eloquent politically-charged commentary. Where else could you be but Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns? Nestled in the heart of New York’s favorite gentrified neighborhood, Nightgowns appears monthly at National Sawdust in Williamsburg. It’s an understatement to call the performance a celebration of drag. Nightgowns serves as a wholehearted embrace of self-expression, an admiration for the art of drag, its abilities to transcend the gender binary and to create something beautiful and meaningful. This vision is embodied by Sasha Velour, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season Nine, who created and hosts the showcase along with her drag sister, Olive d’Nightlife.
Admittedly, I know very little about the drag community. From articles I’ve read and show excerpts I’ve watched, I realize there are issues such as racial biases within the community. Of course, this doesn’t exactly reflect the drag community itself, but rather the ingrained societal thought which is further propagated by a certain orange guy squatting in a white house. Despite this, the drag community is one of the most inclusive, accepting, and supportive subcultures I’ve ever seen.
I found myself at Nightgowns on a Monday in February. National Sawdust’s design itself contributed to the air of ingenuity. White geometric shapes of varying sizes and indented patterning adorned the walls and ceilings, and the room was bathed in hot pink light.
Olive d’Nightlife took the stage in cheetah print and she was larger than life, not only in stature, but in her presence, which exuded confidence and joy. After her gracious monologue welcoming everyone, Olive introduced Sasha in what was one of the most dramatic and highly anticipated entrances ever, but I expected nothing less. Sasha emerged in a skintight cheetah print bodysuit and blonde wig, looking supremely fierce (sorry to succumb to overused, mainstream terminology), and performed a captivating routine with her boyfriend, Johnny Velour, and fellow drag queen, Miz Jade.
As Sasha caught her breath and underwent a costume change after absolutely dominating the floor, Olive sang about self-acceptance to a piano ballad. She joked about consistently forgetting the words, but was nonetheless, very entertaining. Sasha was re-introduced once again, this time wearing a mermaid-style cheetah print dress, accentuating her phenomenal silhouette, and a matching pill-box hat with a billowing train and elongated feather. The two proposed a toast to sisterhood, clinking glasses of white wine and sipping from straws.
At this point, Sasha took her place at the side of the stage and delivered a profound and carefully worded speech about queerness, love, solidarity, and passion. Her language was simple yet every word carried such depth and authenticity. This sincerity was continued through the heartfelt lip-syncing acts of the following six performers.
Five drag queens and one drag king performed and during the intermission, there was a raffle for prizes with all of the proceeds going to the Trinity Place Shelter, a homeless shelter for LGBTQ+ youth in New York City.
In order of appearance, the talent was West Dakota, Maxxx Pleasure, Vivacious, Neon Calypso, Untitled Queen, Miz Jade, and Monet X Change. Each was alluring in their own way, yet certain artists definitely stood out.
Conceptually, I found Untitled Queen’s to be the most intriguing. She wore a dress made of yarn which was yanked at and partially unraveled near her heart and pelvis until the end of the song when she used a pair of scissors to cut herself free from the manipulative strings.
Neon Calypso slapped the audience in the face with her performance that she began by feverishly miming a monologue about the corruptive and relentless nature of capitalism. Then, in a bedazzled, dollar-sign leotard, the drag queen gave it her all to a remix of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money”. Splits were done. Money was thrown. And jaws surely dropped.
Monet X Change, who will be debuting on next season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, had the best look and outfit reveal. She stood in a sparkling red dress before a projection of fire. Eventually, she stripped herself of her feather collar and hoop skirt to uncover a skintight bodysuit in gradients of brilliant red, orange, yellow, and blue. She was reminiscent of a phoenix, reborn from flames.
Finally, after each performer had their time in the limelight, Sasha left the audience with one final number. She looked beyond elegant in a white, mermaid gown and radiant yellow gloves. Finger by finger, she removed each glove to uncover large, blue raindrops, which she violently plucked from her dress. It was a beautiful ending to an evening full of glamour, compassion, and all-around positive energy.
“Happy Days Are Here Again,” Sasha lip-synced. And in that moment, it felt as if she was right.