Las Vegas Sun

July 26, 2014

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Columnist Jerry Fink: ‘Zumanity’ gets a nude awakening

In the August issue of Playboy magazine, fans will see another side of "Zumanity."

Mainly, the bare side.

Ten female cast members, joined by a handful of male cast members who serve as props, assume a variety of provocative poses -- not unlike those you might see in the production at New York-New York, but for the total nudity of some of the posers in the photos.

There is no nakedness in "Zumanity," though in some scenes the performers flirt with the bare essences.

The photos were taken for the eight-page pictorial last summer. Laurence Jardin, one of the 10 females who appear in the magazine, has since left the show.

The remaining nine will be signing copies of their Playboy pictorial for fans today from 4:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. at the Zumanity Boutique in New York-New York and from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday at the Playboy Concept Boutique in the Forum Shops at Caesars.

The August issue of the magazine will be available for purchase at the two autograph sessions.

Among those who will be on hand for the signing are Olga, who performs an aerial silk routine with a dwarf (Alan Jones Silva), and Agnes, a dancer.

Both say they did not hesitate to volunteer for the Playboy shoot when the call went out.

It was a chance for them to display their physical beauty, along with their artistic and athletic talents.

Olga, a native of Russia, began competing in gymnastics at age 9 and has won many awards for her athleticism -- including the title of Russian Master of Sport.

In 1996 she added dance to her repertoire, becoming a soloist with the jazz ballet company Troika in St. Petersburg. Eventually she became an aerial artist after being inspired by a performance of "Lido" in Paris.

She became a member of the cast of "Zumanity" in December 2003.

Before Agnes joined "Zumanity," the native of France spent two years with Le Jeune Ballet de France, a small company of young dancers who traveled the world performing a variety of dance showcases.

Agnes began studying ballet at the Montpellier Conservatory in the South of France at age 10.

She won the "Grand Prix du Chausson D'Or" and also the gold medal given to the best dancer among all of the conservatories in France (Paris, 1995). She also won the bronze Medal at the international Grasse Ballet Competition in 1996.

While Olga and Agnes are nude in the Playboy photos, their poses are such that their parents shouldn't be embarrassed.

After acquiring a copy of the August Playboy and turning to the section on "Zumanity" for research, what first caught my eye was the article titled, "Zumanity, Cirque du Soleil's Hot New Show."

Not so much the article, but the byline.

It was penned by Scott Dickensheets, a former writer for the Las Vegas Sun and now a writer for Las Vegas Weekly, a publication of the Greenspun Media Group.

Finally, after 50 years, I know someone who appeared in Playboy.

More Playboy

Not all of those who appeared in the Playboy picture spread were sexy females.

Among the males posed around the women, seemingly ogling them submissively, was 37-year-old Stephan Choiniere -- a bit player in the photographs but a major player in the production of "Zumanity."

He and partner Sara Joel perform the acrobatic routine "body 2 body," one of the erotic highlights of the production.

Their act includes gymnastic reproductions of "Kama Sutra"-like positions. The "Kama Sutra" is an ancient book of India about sexual positions.

"Not everyone knows what the 'Kama Sutra' is, so I just say ours is an acrobatic act with an intimate love story," Stephan explained.

While the majority of "Zumanity's" cast members are from outside the U.S., Stephan is a native of South Berlington, Vt.

He began taking gymnastics at age 10 and competed all the way through college -- he was on the gymnastics team at Temple University in Philadelphia.

A talented artist, Stephan also attended the Tyler School of Art, majoring in painting and drawing.

After graduating from Temple he intended to pursue a career as a painter, "the Bohemian lifestyle."

He taught gymnastics while working on his art portfolio in New York.

"I stopped exercising, or doing anything physical," Stephan said.

Then in 1991 he saw a touring company of Cirque's "Nouvelle Experience."

"It was a transformative experience for me," Stephan said.

He was inspired to start training again, to work out at the gym and to take classes in martial arts and modern dance.

He went to work for a company called Anti-Gravity, which provided acrobats and dancers for trade shows and various venues.

Through the agency he got stunt work in film and television -- once doubling for Michael J. Fox in an episode of "Spin City."

He appeared in skits on "The Late Show" with David Letterman and "Late Night" with Conan O'Brien. He also did a lot of acrobatic work at the Metropolitan Opera House.

In 1998 Cirque held auditions in San Francisco for upcoming productions. Stephan flew to the West Coast for the tryouts and was one of few whose names were put in a file as potential candidates.

"Nothing came of it until I sent them a video tape that I made of a routine Sara and I developed," Stephan said.

The tape piqued their interest.

"Unbeknownst to me, they were creating this adult show for Las Vegas," Stephan said.

He and Sara have been with the production since it premiered in September 2003.

Living in Las Vegas has been an interesting experience for the East Coast native.

"It's a completely different lifestyle," Stephan said. "Before now I never had the opportunity to own a car -- and to own a house as well. I didn't think I would have all of this till later in life. It's pretty fantastic."

Comedian recovering

Longtime Vegas comedian Joey Villa is at Health South Hospital recovering from a stroke. Send cards to Joey Villani at the hospital, room No. 515, 2500 Tenaya Way, Las Vegas, Nev., 89128.

Villa ran with the original Rat Pack in the '60s. He was close friends with Frank Sinatra and with Sinatra's close friend Jilly Rizzo. Villa gave a eulogy at Rizzo's funeral after the restaurateur and Sinatra ally was killed in a car crash in 1992 in Palm Springs, Calif.

The comedian appeared at the Riviera in "Splash" for nine years, and has performed at most of the town's major venues and on cruise ships.

Last year he was an emcee for Larry Manetti's Celebrity Sunday Brunch at the Plaza.

Manetti looking

Speaking of Manetti, the former co-star of the popular "Magnum P.I." television series suddenly found himself without a venue several weeks ago when Barrick Gaming announced it was being taken over by the investment company Tamares Group.

Tamares was a silent partner and majority shareholder in Barrick Gaming, which bought the Plaza and three other downtown properties.

While the Celebrity Brunch is still around on Sunday mornings, Manetti no longer is involved. A Plaza spokesperson says different celebrities will handle the hosting duties.

Manetti also had an Italian restaurant at the Plaza, which was closed after the takeover announcement. He's looking for a new venue.

"If anybody wants to make me an offer, I'm open," Manetti said.

During a telephone interview from his home in Woodland Hills, Calif., he said he wouldn't mind hosting the brunch again.

"If they wanted to bring me back, I'd do it," Manetti said.

He said the reason he left the Plaza immediately is because of his business relationship with Barrick President David Barrick.

"I'm still on Barrick's payroll," he said.

Manetti says he has been an employee of Barrick since 1996, when they first became involved in a business venture that fell through.

"From that time on I have had great respect for David," Manetti said. "I have been on his payroll since then, as an actor and a celebrity.

"Whenever he needed a little flash, I was there."

Manetti says his expertise, besides acting, is marketing, which had been his role at the Plaza.

He said Barrick still has tribal casinos in other states, including Montana and Oklahoma.

"It's not out of the question that we might find another casino in Las Vegas," Manetti said.

Meanwhile, he hasn't been idle since the announced takeover.

He says he is preparing to shoot a pilot for a TV series based upon the 1997 film "Donnie Brasco," which starred Al Pacino as a mobster and Johnny Depp as an undercover agent.

Shooting is scheduled to begin in September.

Non-club

The tongue-in-cheek F.I.O.R.E. (Fun Italians Organizing Ridiculous Events) -- a club in which every member is a president -- held its first anniversary luncheon Wednesday.

More than 120 fans -- including comedians Pat Cooper and Cork Proctor -- attended the affair at Steven David's Bar and Restaurant, 545 E. Sahara Ave.

Entertainer Nelson Sardelli created the social organization and hosted the luncheon, which included an anniversary cake and prizes.

The Gary Olds trio performed.

Prima Jr.

The son of the late, great lounge legend Louis Prima will perform in a showcase at the Hilton's Shimmer Cabaret at 10 p.m. July 19.

There is no admission charge. Seating is on a first come basis.

Prima Jr., who had a career as a rock 'n' roll performer before entering into private business, has decided to return to the spotlight.

During the showcase he will perform many of his father's popular standards, but in his own style.

Rudner benefit

Comedian Rita Rudner will donate the proceeds from two upcoming shows to two local non-profit organizations.

Rudner will set aside 600 discounted tickets for Las Vegas residents for the 9 p.m. shows on Aug. 12 and Aug. 13.

The money from the sales will be donate to the Second Chance Foundation and the Scleroderma Nevada Chapter.

Admission is $36.

Rudner recently was named spokeswoman for Second Chance, an organization created to promote organ and tissue donation.

The Scleroderma Foundation was established in 1998 to educate the public on the often-life threatening disease.

Tickets will go on sale July 18.

They can be purchased at the New York-New York Box Office or by calling 740-6815.

Vegas views

The Chinatown Showroom, in the Chinatown Mall at 4255 Spring Mountain Road, opens July 21 with the premiere of "NO MSG -- A Musical Variety Show in Good Taste."

The show was created by veteran Vegas producer/director Jerry Schafer and features the New Dynasty Acrobats from Wu Qiao County China, the Jamie Townsend Band and others.

Patrons will have a choice of dinner from six Chinatown restaurants.

The monthly Hollywood Comedy Tour returns to the Lounge at the Palms with performances by headliner Tommy Davidson ("In Living Color") at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Aug. 13.

The comedy show is produced by comedians Cort McCown and Paul Hughes, who also perform.

Tickets are $25.

The third annual "Celebration of the King's Life" will be performed at The Club at the Cannery at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12-13.

Tickets are $5.

Paul Casey will be among the featured performers. He portrays the different stages of Elvis' career.

Special guests will include Ed Bonja (Elvis' official photographer and tour manager) and Patti Parry (a personal friend of Elvis and the only female member of what was known as the Memphis Mafia).

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