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A New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball

11 January 2015

It had been half an hour since the cheers went up and the balloons rained down. The main hall was a sea of celebration, masks and mayhem, ball gowns and gold bodies. Meanwhile, in a side room rammed with row upon row of revellers, three life models posed nude in front of a black lacquered coffin…

It could only be Art Macabre.

Life drawing was a featured event at the grand New Year’s Eve Masquerade Ball organised by A Curious Invitation at Conway Hall, central London. Art Macabre was facilitating the artiness, with Lorraine, Jessica, Fiona and me as models.

We were to be in pose from 10pm to 11:30pm on New Year’s Eve, and from 12:30am to 1:30am to New Year’s Day. Doors for the ball itself would open an hour before our first session. When I arrived shortly after 8pm, Art Macabre god-empress Nikki – aka Raven Rouge – was applying the finishing touches to our stage (“less is more”) while omni-capable Linsay was absorbed in the designing of signs for our doors.

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Lorraine was already on the scene. Jessica and Fiona followed, with Mika – another Art Macabre regular – who would be on crowd-control duties. When Nikki was happy with our space we decamped to the green room behind the cabaret stage, there to finish our preparations alongside Rubyyy Jones and her singing, flinging, strutting, stripping, shocking, schlocking all-star performers.

In this crowded backstage demesne we cracked open the Prosecco and attended to make-up and costume. Nikki crowned Jessica and Lorraine with the most intricately exquisite hair accessories, while Linsay gave my face an all-over deathly grey pallor and – at Nikki’s request – a pencil moustache. It was suggested that I looked like the corpse of John Waters.

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The hall was starting to get busy as we trooped back to our life drawing room for the 10pm start. It would be Jessica, Lorraine and me posing on the pre-midnight shift. I’d put on a pair of skeleton-patterned leggings to begin with, while Jessica and Lorraine would be nude.

As 2014 came to its end, so we presented two sequences representing the death of the old year. Lorraine played the part of white-haired 2014, Jessica was our pagan goddess, while I was Old Father Time. We started with Lorraine laying in her coffin while Jessica and I stood either side.

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We held variants of this pose twice for 5 minutes, and another with Lorraine seated for 6 minutes. Next I stood behind the coffin, leggings now removed, whilst Lorraine took 2014’s last stand for 7 minutes. Finally she sat back in the coffin with me perched on its side and Jessica standing over us. This 6-minute pose ended the first session.

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Our audience had been sparse to begin with but by the end it was standing room only. Not bad for a side show. We varied the sequence for a second run-through, taking us up to 11:30pm. Jessica and I started seated for 3 minutes; subsequent poses were 5 minutes each.

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We had our backs to the audience when Lorraine stood facing forward from her coffin. Then Lorraine stepped out and took a turn sitting down on stage, before we ended by repeating our last pose of the first session. All around us was hubbub and merriment. With 2014 symbolically laid to rest for a second time, the hour approached when we would do it for real.

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We dressed lightly and joined London’s most fabulous, raucous hoi polloi in the main hall. The band played up a storm on the cabaret stage, while all around them whirled burlesque stars and gold-painted waiters and waitresses, the latter wearing nowt but loin cloths and nipple pasties.

Ten seconds to midnight, the loud countdown began. Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six!… As we reached ‘Five!’ I felt a sudden desire to see in the year naked. It seemed quite appropriate to my curious mind so duly I slipped off my gown. Nobody else batted an eyelid… Four! Three! Two! One!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Balloons, music, cheering, dancing. It was perfect. A Curious Invitation knows how to welcome a year in style… and Art Macabre knows how to do drawing salons. As the climax of celebrations mellowed, we retreated once more into the green room for our second round of preparation.

The room was crackling with raw humanity at its most exotic. Nikki applied gold leaf to Jessica’s face while Fiona – now taking over from Lorraine – applied gold leaf to her own nipples. In a pagan birthing ritual, Fiona was to bring forth the new year.

It was chaos as we tried to return to our life drawing room. Mika and another of our Art Macabre friends, Amy, were trying to clear out hoards of party-goers who’d spilled into our space. For quite a while I was stuck outside, still naked, chatting with the queuing artists. Two glamorous patrons took my details with a view to a possible future model booking, which was rather nice.

When eventually we started, the room was heaving and buzzing. Our pose sequence was 5, 6, 5 and 5 minutes. First Fiona stood in profile with a balloon as a baby bump under a crimson sheet around her midriff, while Jessica and I flanked her. Next Fiona sat on a chair facing the artists with her balloon slid lower as if birth was imminent. I crouched by her right knee with arms outstretched, ready to catch the baby.

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The waters broke. Ever with attention to detail, Nikki hung red tinsel strands between Fiona’s legs. Jessica and I stood grasping her arms while Fiona threw her head back and her knees wide, modesty still concealed, for the final push. In our last tableau we presented two large muscular gold-painted waiters as babies – no wonder it had been a traumatic birth.

Alas, at that point I had to quit the party and dash for a train while the rest stayed for one more birthing ritual. I had no time to wash off my face paint so I entered the world outside still zombie-like. A few delighted women asked to take selfies with me, whilst several drunks took a startled pace back as I loomed tall along London’s dark streets.

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It had been an utterly extraordinary night – massive credit to Art Macabre, A Curious Invitation, Rubyyy Jones and the many other glorious cabaret stage stars.

In 2014 I waited till 30 January for my first life model work of the year; in 2015 it came at half-past midnight on the morning of New Year’s Day. Let’s hope this bodes well for a great year ahead.

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