Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sizzling cabaret makes touchy subject for concerned neighbors

Toledo Dimon runs one of the last underground burlesque shows in Los Angeles, attracting artists, dancers and musicians from miles around. According to Adamm Gritlefeld, the owner of Adamm's Stained Glass next door, the "nighttime people" who come to see the Toledo Show on Sunday nights are far from benign.

Gritlefeld has owned his shop since 1972, and while Harvelle's, an old school jazz club at the Promenade in Santa Monica, has been around since 1933, the Toledo Show has only been around for 10 years or so with trouble stirring up intermittently.

"A couple months ago, about eight on a Sunday, I see a couple making love in the alley right behind my shop," said Gritlefeld.

Tamara Cline, a bartender at Harvelle's, has dealt with neighbors' complaints, but says that the patrons are mature and mellow, and that the art of the show is well worth the public relations efforts.

"We've comped drinks to local business owners," said Cline, "We're very friendly because we know this isn't an easy area to keep clean."

Dimon aims only to transport his audience to another place and time. Inside the bar, the lights are dim and red. The leather booths are worn but plush. The drinks are strong, and the show is scintillating. Dimon's band, The Cats, plays a style they call "acid funk" that sounds like it could come from any time in the last 70 years. Dimon croons unabashed lyrics about sex and temptation while he puffs on Swisher Sweets, clouding the bar with smoke.

The dancers, who call themselves "Toledo's Dames" are all highly trained jazz and ballet performers. He hand picked them and creates dance pieces for them that involve hanging from straps installed in the ceiling and performing precise footwork on top of the bar. Every surface of Harvelle's (including the tables and light fixtures) has been reinforced so that the Dames can use it as a prop. The technicality of the dancing is important, but the act is all about attitude.

"What attracts me are the theatrics-the storytelling in every piece that we do," said Dame Vanessa Carlisle.

Dimon has choreographed and danced for Sammy Davis Jr. and Janet Jackson. His biography (and just about every other publication that has covered his show) quotes a source who called him the "coolest cat working in Hollywood". His vocal act includes wildly shouted get-up-and-dance funk, spoken word (also known as "slam"), and smooth crooning to even smoother jazz. His band tailors their music to the Dames' dance act.

"I spent a long time in the dance world," said Dimon. "I love giving the girls what their brains need- dance is food to them and I know it when I see it."

While Dimon is focused on his art, however, Vic Montalbo at Epsteen & Associates across the street from Harvelle's is worried about his property.

"On Monday mornings I often see graffiti all over the window," said Montalbo. "I know that event goes on Sunday nights. I don't know what else to think."

There was no graffiti present on the clean brick wall or the windows, but Montalbo says that is because Epsteen's downstairs neighbors, Starbucks, are very nice about lending them cleaning supplies so that they can quickly do away with the mess.

Malik Johnson, who works the door most Sundays, says he sees his share of "drunk jerks," but no more than any other special event night. He does not think that the content of the Toledo Show contributes to delinquent behavior.

Ellier Dov seems to represent most of the crowd there- tailored suit, laid back attitude and well-spoken despite the two cocktails he had consumed before we spoke.

"This is the most artistic thing I can easily get to in L.A.," Dov said. "The show is different every single week. People come to see beautiful women and hear live music. I feel like I'm inside a speakeasy, and yes people get very drunk."

While some people may just be intoxicated and inconsiderate, there seems to be agreement among the performers, the staff and the crowd that there must be cooperation to make the neighbors feel respected so that the show can continue in peace. Dimon pours his heart into the authenticity of his show. He wants to bring in people who can appreciate that without letting the bawdy nature of it carry people to excess and stupidity.

With a twinkle in his soulful brown eyes and a flick of his Swisher, Dimon summed up his motivation in one breath.

"I'm just here to make beautiful, transformative art, baby," he said.

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