Rites of spring: Annual ‘ritual cabaret’ fest returns to seashore

Butoh by the beach: The Butoh Rockettes will join more than 20 other live performance groups at the Ritual Cabaret Festival on April 5–7 in Coney Island.
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They’re creating opening ceremonies for the Coney Island season.

An annual three-day bonanza of all original live performances will return to the People’s Playground on April 5, inviting locals to experience a broad array of strange and stellar acts by the seashore, according to the event’s producer.

“We want the audience to step into and engage in a one-of-a-kind, offbeat ceremony,” said Gabriele Schafer.

The Coney Island Ritual Cabaret Festival will open on Friday night with a ceremony on the sand, featuring a champagne toast and music courtesy of the Funkrust Brass Band. Ticket holders will then join a procession that leads them into Coney Island USA’s Sideshows by the Seashore stage. What follows will be a wide variety of acts, including burlesque, puppeteers, sideshow performers, musicians, magicians, and exhibitions featuring the obscure Japanese dance form butoh.

The cabaret convention began as the Coney Island Butoh and Theater Festival in 2016, celebrating the strange and intentionally ill-defined form of movement that developed in post-war Japan, where the only constant anybody can agree on is change, according to Schafer. She noted that, in the spirit of butoh, the event has evolved to include a vast spectrum of performance genres.

“Everybody agrees that butoh is about transformation, and this year’s theme is specifically transforma­tion,” said Schafer. “We’ve reached out to all different types of artists and genres, and asking them ‘Is it possible to invent a new genre?’ ”

Festival performers may or may not reinvent the wheel this weekend, but they have each been asked to bring an original, 15-minute-long act to the event, ensuring viewers an all-original treat of seven shows each night, Schafer said.

“We’re asking the performers to deconstruct what they normally do, and to think ‘sacred entertainm­ent,’ ” said the producer. “We don’t want to see your normal act.”

Get your performance art fix at Coney Island USA [1208 Surf Ave. between W. 12th Street and Surf Avenue in Coney Island,] April 5 at 7:15 p.m., April 6 at 8 p.m., and April 7 at 4 p.m. $15.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Posted 12:00 am, April 3, 2019
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