Spider Man: Viktor Manoel on David Bowie

 31 years on from the end of the Glass Spider Tour, Bowie’s ‘shadow alter ego’ shares some of his memories…

“I came out in lace underwear, a football cup as G string, leather racing globes and spiked boots and I was dancing as crazy as I looked! That’s what David saw and I got the call from New York to pack up because David in the middle of my audition tape said “Who is that? I need him on stage!””

31 years ago today, David Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour came to an end in Sydney, Australia, with two shows taped for posterity as home video releases. Featuring a live band whose members ranged from stalwart bandleader Carlos Alomar and Bowie’s schoolchum turned ’70s teen idol Peter Frampton, to more recent accomplices such as multi-instrumentalist Erdal Kizilcay, the Glass Spider Tour also boasted his most elaborate staging since 1974’s The Year Of The Diamond Dogs US tour, complete with the return of that earlier show’s choreographer, Toni Basil. To add another dimension of theatricality to this tour, Bowie and Basil assembled a troupe of dancers cherry-picked from street scenes, the most visually arresting of whom was the androgynous OG punker Viktor Manoel, an innovator of the PUNKING, whacking or waacking dance style, a form of dance created by in the LGBT clubs of Los Angeles during the 1970s disco era.

At a time when the music press was championing authenticity over artifice, The Glass Spider Tour was lambasted by the critics, and yet its use of radio mikes, split-level sets, back projection and choreography would prove hugely influential on more acclaimed tours by the likes of Madonna, Peter Gabriel and the Pet Shop Boys. Yet again, Bowie was ahead of the game, and it would take some time for the critics to catch up.

“As avant garde and forward as (Glass Spider Tour) was, back then, was really not understood… I mean people are still stealing from it; I see many tours and say, ‘Oh, they took that from Glass Spider tour’, or ‘they took that from this’ or ‘they took that from that song’.”

Shortly after David Bowie’s passing in early 2016, We Are Cult’s James Gent approached Viktor, who is still shredding it in dance tournaments around the world, to tell a little bit about his time sharing the stage with Bowie.

In an excerpt from the forthcoming anthology Me And The Starman, Viktor Manoel tells We Are Cult about his beginnings, being Bowie’s “shadow alter-ego” on stage and working & touring alongside him in 1987, and offers his reflections on the starman’s passing and keeping the legacy alive…

“I started dancing for Grace Jones in the ’70s, with Studio 54 and this style of dancing called ‘punking’; originally back in the day, which started my career with Grace Jones and Jean-Paul Goude, it is known as waaking, it’s been around the world and it’s brought me back with those punks in the ’70s. Actually Toni Basil brought me back.

“I had known Toni Basil since 1975-ish through another art form, and she called me to audition for David. She said I need you to dance freestyle to one of his songs so I decided to use Dancing with the Big Boys [A song from David Bowie’s 1984 album Tonight].

“I came out in lace underwear, a football cup as G string, leather racing globes and spiked boots – really looking like I did on the tour! – and danced on everything but the celling! I had been working at a lesbian bar previously doing a show like that for a couple of years. I was dancing as crazy as I looked!

“That’s what David saw and I got the call from New York to pack up because David in the middle of my audition tape said “Who is that? I need him on stage!”

“That Sunday, the day after I auditioned for Bowie, I went by myself to Church and said to God, “It’s your call! Whoever calls me first, that’s who I go with!” I left it in God’s hands, clearly God wanted me to work with him, so since I also had auditioned for Madonna’s Who’s that Girl Tour I had to call Madonna’s people and say “Thank you so much but I am leaving with David Bowie!” Michael Jackson’s people wanted me for a tour, I said, “No, thank you”, and the director of Lost Boys wanted to write a part for me and I said, “No, thank you.”

“I knew my job, I knew my art. I was blessed to be at the right place at the right time. The stars crossed and aligned for us to work together.

Thru The Flames: Viktor Manoel (center) with (L-R) Constance Marie, Skeeter Rabbit and Spazz Attack; Glass Spider Tour, Slane Castle, 1987. Photograph: Dermot O’Shea, Irish Times

“Besides the requirements of acting and doing choreography we had to talk about ourselves and say a joke. I didn’t say anything and I had no jokes, but the reason we got along was because I was not a fan of his music. I liked some songs, and I was not impressed by anybody so he basically loved that the fact that I did the job and I took care of him and I did the best I could to make the tour possible, I was not going to kiss ass or be nice to people.

“That’s what Bowie liked about me, that I did my job. I never sacrificed my passion for fame or glory, I just got hired to do my work and I do my work. And if it seems feasible to do what I do, that’s what I do.

“I did play his Shadow Alter Ego on stage and he was amazingly supportive and nurturing to me like he was my older brother. He always found it fascinating that I could figure out what he was singing about, and during tour he would ask me.

“Everything that I did onstage, that was improvised. He would tape me eating, he would tape me doing many things, then he would come back and go ‘You know when you were doing this and you were doing that, could you put it on this song?’. So, to be in a position like that is pretty powerful.

“After that tour, I realised that I was preparing myself for that, because he would always ask me when were at the top of that spider, if I was ever afraid and I said, ‘No, I was never afraid’. And I said, that’s why I get here with the crew, so I can say Hi to the crew, sit around, lounge around, so the concert is just people coming to visit me at my house. Which he found very interesting.

“The European version and American version of the Glass Spider tour were very different. In the European tour, I was doing a lot more, I did my dance for Dancing With The Big Boys, basically took my audition and put in onstage. He wanted to give a lot of ground for what we were trying to portray from his vision.

“The Glass Spider Tour was his DREAM. He never struggled with (criticism of the tour), he just knew what he had to do. That’s what he’s at, he taught me. ‘Don’t ever take business and art personal’. And know what to do. He was a shrewd businessman, there was never a struggle. It was just unfortunate that the world was not ready, which was usually the case for all of his stuff, if you know that. They’ve never been ready, they were not even ready for his departure.

“As avant garde and forward as (Glass Spider Tour) was, back then, was really not understood. When it got to the states, it had to change. I mean people are still stealing from it; I see many tours and say, ‘Oh, they took that from Glass Spider tour’, or ‘they took that from this’ or ‘they took that from that song’.

“We had many discussions about God, we talked about religion, we talked about numerology, we talked about art, we talked about books, we talked about AIDS, we talked about rock and roll, lots of things. And we had fun talking about what we talked about. He meant a lot to me, even though we only worked once, for a year.

“David Bowie told me, “Don’t ever become a cartoon of yourself!” That is why my character much to many managers and agents’ chagrin was not seen again! That job was over and I knew that. He also would say, “Know when to do things and when to step away.”

“I did retire after that and still stayed in the arts but not as everyone expected and did a lot of charity for AIDS since I did end up losing over 400 friends. It was a time of solitude for me.

“And honestly, I’m still in friggin’ shape, almost 59, I can still do Jean Genie like that. ‘cos I still dance in heels! I teach class like that! I teach rock and roll when I get a chance. Yup. I’m happy with what I do. I live a very private life, in the age of social media I still want to maintain some privacy.

“We kept in touch somehow, someway. The interesting thing for me is last year I did another video with one of his songs, and I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to work with him again, so I’m slowly coming to terms with finding out that the only way I’m gonna work with him is by keeping his music alive and informing people about where he got the information from, in those songs.

“And for me his last album is still so full of information. I mean his album says everything about what he was going through. But, you know, it takes time to decipher the words and understand the music and what he sings about, because we really have to personalise it if we really want to find out what we’re about.

“I think it’s important, and I think he would find it important, for me to share how positive he was. How savvy a businessman, incredible an artist, and the respect that he gave me, myself, and if I said to you, I didn’t take my career where many people wanted it after that tour… but for me it was a job that I had done.”

‘Me And The Starman’, edited by James Gent and Jon Arnold, will be published by Who Dares Publishing at a date to be confirmed.

❉ James Gent is a writer, graphic designer, social media manager, and editor of We Are Cult. He has contributed to a number of magazines, websites and anthologies.

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