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Posts Tagged ‘Vaudeville’

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus

Ringmistress Philomena and Kinko the Clown of Bindlestiff Family Cirkus via Facebook

Bindlestiff (BIN-dl-stif) noun. A hobo who carries a bundle of bedding and other possessions. From English bindle (bundle) + stiff (tramp).

Tonight through Sunday, the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus is bringing their cabaret show – a mix of vaudeville, circus, Wild West, burlesque, and sideshow – to the Brooklyn Lyceum. The variety arts troupe founded by Stephanie Monseu (Ringmistress Philomena) and Keith Nelson (Kinko the Clown) is celebrating their 20th anniversary season.

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, 1996. Photo via Facebook

Over the past few weeks, they’ve been posting photos from the family album on their Facebook timeline, beginning with this old-timey snapshot from 1996 with some of the many performers who’ve been with the Cirkus. It’s also a reminder of the many venues where we’ve seen the troupe perform, from Coney Island to Rhode Island, from the Bindlestiff’s Palace of Variety on 42nd Street to a Spiegeltent. For a calendar of upcoming events through the spring and summer, visit http://www.bindlestiff.org.

20th Annual Bindlestiff Family Cirkus Cabaret, March 13-16, 8pm shows are 18+. $20 advance / $25 door / $10 discount for anyone in circus makeup. Family matinees for all ages on March 15 and 16 at 3pm. $12 / 4 for $40. Info: 1-877-BINDLES. Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 4th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11215.

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Princess Rajah was a $1000-per-week headliner on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit in the early 1900s who got her start as a cooch dancer in Coney Island in the 1890s. Her Arabian Chair Dance, seen in this 1904 film, as well as her Cleopatra Dance, were described in rave reviews as entirely unlike anything shown on the stage. The dance was filmed by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company on May 23, 1904, at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Princess Rajah was a featured act in the “Mysterious Asia” concession on the Pike.

“In her Chair dance, the Princess amazes by her strength, particularly her strength of jaw. Taking between her teeth a substantial looking chair, she swirls and swings through a dance that would be intricate and difficult enough were her head entirely free,” according to a 1915 review in the Boston Daily Globe. “Never does her hand touch the chair, and the feats she performs with it are almost incredible.”

Princess Rajah

In 1909, Broadway impresario William Hammerstein “discovered” the Cleopatra Dancer at Huber’s Museum on 14th Street. “I had the greatest surprise of my career when I discovered that a genuine artist was being hidden away in a dime museum,” he told the New York Times. “In fact I am at a loss for words to describe this Cleopatra dance. She does not depend upon the undraped figure to reveal her art but uses a peculiar kind of Oriental costume that is a marvel in itself. She uses real snakes, too.”

Two weeks later the Princess, whose real name was Rose Ferran, made her vaudeville debut as the star attraction at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theater on 42nd Street. Heavyweight champ Jack Johnson was also on the bill and was reported to have leaped onto the stage and sucked the venom from her veins when a snake bit her. It sounds like an inspired bit of press agentry but in later descriptions of the Cleopatra Dance, Princess Rajah is said to clutch the snake to her bosom and allow it to bite her when she comes upon a statue of her dead lover Marc Anthony. Then follows a death fall down a flight of stairs that is a thriller, according to reviews. Alas, the Cleopatra dance is not preserved on film.

Princess Rajah

Princess Rajah greets visitors at Akoun’s Beautiful Orient and Streets of Cairo at the Jamestown Exposition in 1907. Photo via Norfolk Public Library

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