From the outside, it looked like just another two-story brick building, hunkered between a hardware store and a deli on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. People were drinking at Allswell or Mugs down the street, unaware that behind the grey metal door of this building, Ursula, daughter of Poseidon, had descended, bringing with her sultry sirens, belly dancing mermaids, bioluminescent poi creatures, and all sorts of singing sailors and seafarers.
As some people continued to drink at Allswell, others entered into Ursula’s kingdom inside the unassuming building—where merman hoop artists and aerialists in glowing fishnets performed within feet of the crowd, where musicians played on a stage just a step away from the audience, where the currency was seashells and the air almost smelled salty if you used your imagination.
Ursula was in fact the nightlife queen Sophia Urista, and the two-day kingdom inside the aerial loft known as The Brooklyn AirSpace was the brainchild of Dakota Kim, a Brooklyn-based events producer, and Shalva Wise, one of the AirSpace’s three co-founders. Recently, Greenpointers caught up with Dakota to ask the important questions.
(all photographs by Sam Polcer)
Greenpointers: Where are you from?
Dakota Kim: I grew up in Illinois, Arizona, and southern California so it’s kind of a mix. I went to Vassar, which is two hours north of here, and then naturally gravitated to here. I started producing events within a year of getting here, at first Bushwick loft parties and events like that. I also started promoting indie rock and interned for Oh My Rockness.
GPers: Do you live in Brooklyn?
DK: I moved here in 2003, and I have lived in Ditmas Park, then Williamsburg, then Clinton Hill, then the Navy Yard, then Bed-Stuy, then Williamsburg again, then Greenpoint, then Bushwick, then Greenpoint again.
GPers: Oh, my… I hope those weren’t all walk-ups.
DK: They were all like on the fourth floor. [laughs] It was great.
GPers: What’s your background when it comes to choreography and dance?
DK: I took modern dance at Vassar, but I was by far one of the worst in my class. I’m just obsessed with performance artists. I started watching performance artists in Rififi in the East Village in 2002 or 2003. The main DJ, Jess Marquis, just passed away. It was a really great place for avant garde burlesque performances. I think the first event I did was a benefit for a charity, and I was raising money for the charity. It was really fun, and I liked doing the event so I thought, “Why don’t I keep doing this?”
GPers: How did you get the idea to do the theme of this show? Why underwater?
DK: Originally, we were inspired by the Mermaid Parade and Brooklyn being so amazing and full of colorful costumes. I actually produced this event to be closer to the Mermaid Parade, but Brooklyn AirSpace was occupied then and so this is when we could get it. I also used to have this production company called Brooklyn Underwater, and everything was underwater-themed, including the logo. And, there also used to be an amazing performance venue called the Coral Room in New York. Julie Atlas would don a fin in a huge tank in a night club. You’d be sipping your drink and there was a mermaid swimming around in a tank behind you.
GPers: How long did it take to put everything together, from rehearsal time to the final, two weekend performances?
DK: Oh, my goodness. That’s actually a good question. I think our initial phone conversation was three months ago, and then from there we got really excited to work together with Shalva Wise, to pull our different worlds in. She’s an aerialist, and she knows more people in that world than I do. She brought all these aerial performers into the fold, and then I brought all the burlesque performers into the fold. Together, we figured out where we would put everything and then bought Sophia in to host as Ursula.
GPers: How did you find out about Sophia Urista?
DK: She’s well-known in the scene, and she had been performing and hosting at Duane Park, which is one of the premiere burlesque venues and a beautiful bar and restaurant spot, and also at The Box. I knew who she was, but Shalva is good friends with her.
GPers: There was an amazing variety of performers. How did you pull everyone together and what was the hardest part of working with so many people?
DK: It was really hard. For one thing, not everyone could be there all at the same time for one single rehearsal so everyone had to stop in there at different points. That was kind of stressful. Then, just trying to figure out what would work best and trying to figure out what could handle different tones: Sophia is really funny, Randy’s act is more serious with the Cyr wheel. It was hard to figure out if that would all work together.
Also, we didn’t get the lighting quite the way that we wanted it to be. It was difficult to work with the space because it was so big, and we couldn’t change everything that we wanted to because it was their space. Shalva works there, but they are leasing the space from the landlord. We also ordered a stage from a company that came full of splinters and staples, so the barefoot performers couldn’t use it and we ended up just using it for the bands. But, we had such a great staff of workers and volunteers, and I loved everyone involved in the production. I had such a great feeling of productivity and pride in the performers.
GPers: How did you get connected to Brooklyn AirSpace?
DK: I literally just got connected by messaging them online, saying, “Hey, my friend is in a class with you and I know that you just opened up… [etc].” That’s how I got connected. Also, the landlord of the space is my very first landlord in Williamsburg from 2003. We were having a planning meeting in there, Shalva and I, and I was like ‘Jacob?’ and he was like ‘Dakota?’ It was very, very funny. He’s always had art stuff in his work spaces. It was very generous of Brooklyn AirSpace. I was just going to do a straight-up cabaret show, and Shalva was like, “How about we do a big fiasco…”
GPers: …There were really so many acts during the show. Aerialists, belly dancers, go-go performers, hoop artists, singers…Tickets seemed kind of steep at first ($25) but then you really get more than what you paid for or expected.
DK: There was a huge variety acts. Usually, you wouldn’t see this many, and you also wouldn’t see them in a space like this. You also wouldn’t see Cyr wheel.
GPers: The Cyr wheel performance was really cool. I’ve never seen something like that before and up so close. Are you thinking of doing a similar show again?
DK: If we had the time and money, I would just hone it and make it better and better but we can’t keep doing it. If I could get an art grant, I would do it. It also takes a lot more than I can get in one grant to put these events together, which is why I like burlesque and variety. You don’t need as much money.
GPers: Do you have anything that you’re working on next coming up?
DK: I have show coming up at the end of the month [see flyer], and I’m going to Korea in July. I might try to produce another event before then.
GPers: And, lastly: Do you have a favorite hangout spot in Greenpoint?
DK: I love Greenpoint so much. It’s so hard to answer that question. I spend all my time in the neighborhood. I go to all the bars. I go to all the restaurants. My first instinct is to say Selamat Pagi. I’m also a big fan of The Diamond bar…I had my birthday at Milk and Roses a few years ago…but I think my favorite spot is my favorite park over by Newtown Creek.