Until The Last Star Falls From The Night

Written by Jordan Galloway on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


Wherever Kayvon Zand goes, spectacle seems to follow. The Highline
Ballroom banned him after a particularly titillating show last summer; a skimpy
costume got him booted from Barneys during fall’s Fashion Night Out; and live
performances heavy on fake blood and fire draw crowds at some of the city’s
best-known venues. Still, the 24-year-old singer and performer isn’t
quite sure what all the fuss is about.

“I don’t go
into these situations trying to cause a riot,” Zand says. “I’m not trying by
any means to get in trouble to get attention. If anything, everything that I’ve
found attractive in New York in a sense [is] dying, so I feel like it’s my
responsibility to keep that alive.”

Zand’s latest attempt at resuscitation is his role as
Helicon in Caligula Maximus, a rowdy
romp of a show at the House of Yes in Williamsburg. Loosely based on the 1979
film
Caligula, which film critic
Roger Ebert called “sickening, utterly worthless, shameful trash” when he
reviewed it in 1980, it starred Peter O’Toole, Malcolm McDowell and Helen
Mirren, and became a kitsch example of the era’s decadence in all its camp and
dildo decorations. This staged interpretation, written by Alfred Preisser and
Randy Weiner, exists at the intersection of nightclub and circus. Acrobatic
troupe Lady Circus and celebrities of the city’s underground scene, including
burlesque performer Stormy Leather and Jamin Ruhren—better known as drag queen
Acid Betty— join Zand on stage in this debauched disco of a musical.

“It being a ’70s-themed show, which is really what it is,
it’s interesting bring my energy to that,” Zand says, seated cross-legged on a
red velvet couch before a performance at the House of Yes. “It’s a really
interesting dichotomy. I am playing another character, but I’m playing it
through my eyes. I knew nothing about the film or the storyline until I read
the script. Originally one of the owners of The Box [Weiner], who is also one
of the writers of the show, approached me to play Caligula’s role. Then I met
with the director [Jen Bender], who said, ‘You have this dark side to you, this
captivating aura, why don’t you take all of that and put it into playing
Helicon?’”

Zand’s dark side has been directing him for quite some time.
Raised in Wilmington, N.C., by his Persian family, Zand left town at 17 on “the
first ticket I could… like a bat from hell” to model in Europe. However, it
wasn’t until arriving in New York in 2007 that Zand says he felt at home and
finally able to express himself fully; a theme he finds reflective in the
experimental nature of Caligula Maximus.

“I’m always attracted to underground and freedom of
expression. That’s always something that’s important to me, and the show is
that way. It’s got nudity, and obviously a show like this wouldn’t fly on
Broadway or an uptight type of environment, so that was really cool to me that
it allowed room for creativity without limit.” So much so that Zand was allowed
to heavily influence Helicon’s costumes, he explains. It would be hard not to
take his advice; the guy’s got style. At the moment, Zand is wearing a
rhinestone headdress atop his onyx pompadour, a necklace of black gemstones and
gun metal cascading down his bare chest, barely grazing the top of his black
demi-corset. He pauses occasionally during the interview to readjust a
calf-length, hooded black coat draped over his shoulders, and even without the
studded ankle boots he’s wearing, he’s tall and broad in stature, though he
emanates an air of androgyny thanks to crimson lips and feather false
eyelashes.

“The outfits I wear are all creations I’ve made along with
Anna Evans, who’s my partner. I provided all my own pieces. Every day, Kayvon
is hair done, makeup, extravagant clothing or no clothing. In my home it’s the
same way with my girlfriend and I. I call us a lesbian couple because I wear
more make-up than she does.” This lifestyle includes three dogs, four white
doves and a pet piranha alongside racks of costumes and clothing in a
two-bedroom apartment in Alphabet City.

“My life as an artist isn’t separated from my personal life,
and that’s why sometimes I call myself a lifestyle artist, because it’s not a
persona. This,” says Zand, running a hand across his bare chest and corset, “is
definitely more Kayvon channeling Helicon. But [it’s] definitely something I’ve
worn out to go get coffee.”

Zand, who’s used to overseeing an entire performance from
start to finish, including building his own sets, says being part of someone
else’s project has required an adjustment period. “At first it was a bit of a
challenge, more so from the musical standpoint,” he says, referring to an
element of Caligula Maximus that
requires him to rap. “I told them the only way I would rap is if I was a
bi-polar motherfucker, so they said, ‘Be a bi-polar motherfucker.’” The advice
seemed to work, as shortly after taking the stage, Zand revealed his new-found
rap skills while pelvic-thrusting a spear at the crowd and breaking character
to compliment the décolletage of a few onlookers. “Your bosoms are lovely.”

Zand is an admirer of dark art, with inspirations as varied
as Tim Burton, Rachmaninoff, Alfred Hitchcock and Marilyn Manson—not to mention
Queen Elizabeth I and Henry VIII. “For me, darkness isn’t just about being
violent. Intelligence is very important. I relate to people who carry
themselves with some type of class, and I definitely got that from Helicon’s
character. I drew a lot of inspiration from watching old Disney movies [and
characters] like Maleficent.”

Zand describes his own live show Disgraceland as the birth of his performance art, and as “if
Marilyn Manson were to impregnate Elvis Presley, this would be their love
child.”

It was an underground effort Zand performed at places such
as Webster Hall, Greenhouse and Don Hill’s during the past year, but one Zand
says he won’t reprise. Only a handful of handmade CDs exist of its music.
However, playing Helicon means Zand’s stepped down his live performance
schedule over the past few months. For now, he’s concentrating on Caligula
Maximus
, which runs through April 17, and
working on music for a new live show titled
Black Diamond, which he says will be inspired by the 1980s and is
a follow-up to
Disgraceland that
Zand expects to debut this summer. “Last year I scared the shit out of
everyone. This year I want to make everyone dance and fuck.”

Caligula Maximus, through April 17, The House of Yes, 342 Maujer St. (betw.
Waterbury St. & Morgan Ave.), Brooklyn; $20.

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