Interview: Christina Petro, ZooTV Belly Dancer, Performance Artist*

June 30, 2004


By Devlin Smith
Contributing Editor

Nearly every night of the ZooTV tours, a dancer would emerge from the stage during "Mysterious Ways" to tempt Bono. The belly dancer has since become an important image in U2′s history, thanks to both the video for "Mysterious Ways" and the tour. But that U2 had a belly dancer tour at all with them was something of a fluke, it may never had happened if not for Christina Petro, a young dancer from Florida who took a chance and became the first ZooTV belly dancer.

Today Petro, also known as Ophelia, continues to dance and also performs with the group Grim Faeries. She still resides in Florida where she and her husband, Grim Faeries band mate Curse Mackey, raise daughter Abra Cassandra.

Petro shared her ZooTV experience with Interference.com, explained what faeries are really all about and let us know what happened to her belly dance costumes.

When and how did you first become interested in performing?

When I was a child I took dance classes but I didn’t enjoy performing at all. When I was about 14 I saw some young student belly dancers perform at a recital that my sister, Maria ,was dancing at and I was transfixed, I knew then and there that THAT was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

What is your background as far as singing and dancing go?

I found my belly dance mentor, Margarita Tzighan at a Renaissance festival. She was the iconic snake charmer at Busch Gardens [in] Tampa, Florida. She took me under her wing and passed on her ancient knowledge of the dance. I have since adopted her last name in honor of her incredible gift to me. I started dancing at Busch Gardens and many ethnic restaurants in Florida, Texas and the Washington D. C. area. I have studied Polynesian dance, Flamenco, classical Spanish dance, Mexican dance, Afro-Cuban, Italian folk dance and ballet. After the ZooTV tour I joined Ballet Folklorico of Ybor. I was also a featured dancer at the legendary Ybor City gothic nightclub The Castle.


(Image courtesy of Christina Petro, Photographer Cyrus Trivin)

As far as singing goes, I don’t even consider myself a singer, although I have toured and performed as a singer for the Chicago industrial band My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult and later for Grim Faeries. I am more of a theatrical performer and singing is just another form of creative expression for me.

You were U2′s first onstage belly dancer. The story goes that you actually approached the band’s crew about dancing during "Mysterious Ways." Can you share the story of how you came up with the idea to dance with U2 and how you actually ended up on stage?

I had read in the paper that U2 were rehearsing for two weeks at the Lakeland Civic Center preparing for the upcoming ZooTV tour. I thought it would be cool to see if they would like a belly dancer to perform on stage during "Mysterious Ways" since they have been known to bring audience members onstage during shows to play guitar and such. I gave my business card to their production manager, Jake Kennedy. He asked if I could come back the next day when they were having their dress rehearsal and surprise [the band] when they played "Mysterious Ways." Apparently things had been rather stressful with the tour rapidly approaching and he thought it might loosen up the tension a bit. I never expected to end up on tour with them for four-and-a-half months.

Originally, you only danced in the Florida-area shows but soon joined U2 on the first part of the ZooTV tour. What was it like to "run away with the Zoo" (as BP Fallon said)? Did you have any reservations about leaving everything behind to tour with this band for a few months?

I didn’t actually perform on the opening night because they were concerned about adding another element to the show at the last minute. However, a couple of days later I got a personal phone call from Bono himself asking if I could fly down to Miami that very night. I guess he had second thoughts about not having me dance and felt that it would really enhance the show. Of course I dropped everything and joined the tour, I love a good adventure.

U2 had never had dancers before. How much of an adjustment do you think it was for the band and the crew to have an additional performer around?

I don’t think it was much of an adjustment at all. I tried to be as unobtrusive and respectful as possible. I never even asked to have my picture taken with the band. Although I shared B.P. Fallon’s dressing room a couple of times. I don’t think he minded very much, he was my buddy.

What was the best part about touring with U2?

Of course traveling to Europe was awesome but I was really happy to meet Nirvana.

What kind of impact did that touring experience have on your professional life?

Not a whole lot, actually. I guess a lot of people had more respect for what I do but I certainly did not capitalize on the fact that I toured with U2, and I never let it get to my head.

At the time, did you have any idea the whole belly dancer thing would become so iconic in U2′s history, that someday there would be U2 tribute bands with their own belly dancers?

I had no idea there are U2 tribute bands with belly dancers!

How does it feel to have played a part in the history of a band like U2?

It’s cool but from my viewpoint I don’t think I have an accurate perception of what sort of impact I have had on the history of U2. With all sincerity I feel that it was Stephane [Sednoui], the director of the video for "Mysterious Ways" who incorporated the element of the belly dancer into U2′s history.

Several books were written about the Zoo era, including ones by BP Fallon and Bill Flanagan. Did you read any of them? How accurate were they?

I have the book "U2 Faraway So Close" by B.P. Fallon — the pictures are awesome. I haven’t read any other books about U2.

More recently, you’ve performed as a singer for your own bands, such as Grim Faeries. What is your music like?

Well, if you are a fan of U2, you probably won’t be a fan of Grim Faeries. We are wretchedly creepy, harsh and chaotic. Grim Faeries is like being lost in a dark and disenchanted forest. Anyone who has read faerie lore knows that faeries are not the sweet, pretty, wish-granting beings that people think they are. They are actually quite malicious. And the watered down fairytales that we read these days were originally much more gruesome and horrifying. We take these tales and bring them to life in a way that is definitely not for the faint of heart.

As a member of Grim Faeries, you’ve been called Xtina X. Where did that moniker come from? What did you think when Christina Aguilera started calling herself Xtina?

In 1997 I toured with My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. Their singer, Groovy Mann, came up with the name Xtina X. I must admit, I was rather upset when Christina Aguilera started calling herself Xtina.

Today you are called Ophelia. How did that name come about? How is Ophelia different from Christina Petro or Xtina X?

Last summer I was walking through the woods in the Catskill Mountains and it just came to me out of the blue. It wasn’t like I even chose it, Ophelia chose me.

What projects are you currently working on?

Well, my biggest "project" is raising my daughter, Abra Cassandra, she just turned 8 on June 15th. Grim Faeries will be featured in the movie "Unearthed." Also, I have taken up painting. I may have a piece shown at the Woodstock Tattoo and Body Arts Festival in New York this September.

How does singing with your own band compare to dancing with U2?

They are so entirely different yet both entirely surreal.

Do you think you’ll always be a performer? How does that suit your personality?

I love performing, it totally puts me in another state of mind. But I’m not very fond of the business aspect. As far as my personality, I don’t thrive on admiration and notoriety, I just need to have that creative outlet. Sometimes I think I might simply renounce all my possessions, live in a teepee and paint.

Do you still belly dance?

Yes, I will be performing at the Woodstock Tattoo and Body Arts Festival. It is an amazing festival with live music, art exhibits, and tattoo artists from around the world.

U2 was recently the subject of a Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame exhibit and some of their costumes were included. Did you keep your belly dance costumes? If so, where do you see them ending up?

I do still have the costumes I wore. Someone once expressed interest in buying the red costume. At one time I had considered burning it at a "material possessions burning party," I do believe people are way too attached to their possessions.

For more information on the Grim Faeries, visit: www.grimfaeries.com

For more information on the Woodstock Tattoo and Body Arts Festival, visit: www.woodstocktattoo.com

Sales and Stats: Pop: Fact and Fiction*

June 28, 2004


By Martijn Janssen
2004.06

Few U2 albums are as controversial as the 1997 release

U2 Video Exploration: Stay (Faraway So Close!)*

June 28, 2004


By annj

Director- Wim Wenders
Producer -Debbie Mason
1993

U2

Review: Book: U2 Faraway So Close*

June 21, 2004


By Carrie Alison
Chief Editor

Author: BP Fallon
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

BP Fallon

Profile: Charles Bukowski*

June 21, 2004

By Sharon Swadis
2004.06

He was an iconoclast who became an icon. A no-frills writer who reveled in the miseries of life, legendary poet and novelist Charles Bukowski has been immortalized in the documentary film, "Bukowski: Born Into This." Several friends, family members and celebrities, including Bono, who knew Bukowski at different stages in his life, appear in the film to talk about him.

"Bukowski’s an incredible character. He came to see us play. He said, ‘I haven’t been to a rock show since the early ’70s,’ and Larry sang "Dirty Old Town" for him and dedicated it to him," Bono said in a 1995 interview. "And he is this 75-year-old hard-ass with tears in his eyes. He called me once to say that he was dying. It was in my house and it was 6 a.m. and it was a little bit loose. The next time he called he said, ‘I’m in trouble. I’ve been fucking with Dr. Death and I think I’m going to lose come June.’ And he did, he died just after that."

Bukowski was born in Germany in 1920, but soon thereafter immigrated to Los Angeles with his family. His father was an American soldier, his mother German. Bukowski’s father, who abused him as a child, was a major influence in his life. "If you get beaten enough and enough and enough, you learn something," he once said. "It beats all the pretense out of you. My father taught me how to write. Pain without reason."

Bukowski’s writing, and his life, certainly lacked pretense. A self-proclaimed lush and horseplayer, he studied journalism for two years before dropping out of college and life in general. "Frankly, I was horrified by life, and what a man had to do simply in order to eat, sleep and keep himself clothed. So I stayed in bed and drank. When you drink the world was still out there, but for the moment it didn’t have you by the throat," he wrote in "Factotum." After several dead-end jobs as a stock boy, laborer, parking lot attendant, elevator operator, and postal clerk and carrier, Bukowski was given a great gift—an offer to write full-time for $100 a week for life. He was 50 years old.

His first novel, "Post Office," was published in 1971, and Bukowski soon became a prolific writer. Mostly autobiographical, his novels, poems and short stories speak of alcoholism, living on the brink, and life’s miseries and frustrations. Through his alterego Hank Chinaski, he sends readers down a path not many would choose to follow. His writings are also highly sexual, though Bukowski doesn’t always write about women in the most flattering language. He didn’t always treat them well, either. His first wife divorced him citing mental cruelty, and on one occasion Bukowski kicked and verbally abused his wife Linda during a television interview.

But beyond some of the facts of his life is a humor and honesty that is easily found in his works. Bukowski is an excellent writer, his stripped-down style of writing does indeed lack pretense. So does his subject matter. He lived what he wrote, and wrote how he felt. He didn’t mince words, and didn’t care if you like it. Through all this, through the years and writings, Bukowski was defiant, refusing to give in to the trappings of society, struggling to remain true to himself. This, perhaps, is his greatest legacy.

"He was the only poet who survived on his poetry by itself," John Dullaghan, director of the Bukowski documentary, said recently. "He didn’t do the readings or much publicity like Allen Ginsberg did. He survived and he did it on his own terms and really didn’t sell himself out I don’t think. He’s one of the artists that people like Tom Waits and Sean Penn and Bono and others who look at him like a Robert Altman, a John Lennon and Bob Marley, who are people that take risks. Those get knocked down for it, they don’t make nearly as much money as they would if they did something safer or more popular, but that’s who they are. He’s a guiding light for other writers and musicians and artists to stay true to who you are and stay true to your work and don’t sell out—you know, stay the course."

Bono, who was reading Bukowski as early as 1987, first met the writer through actor Sean Penn. In "U2 Into the Heart: The Stories Behind Every Song," Niall Stokes writes, "Sean Penn had come out to the house one night and they were talking bull shit about poetry and God knows what else until six o’clock in the morning. Bono told him he was a fan of Charles Bukowski and Penn said hang on a minute. Dialed Los Angeles on the spot and got the author on the line. Bukowski was in good form, laughing and joking. ‘I’ve got someone here wants to talk to you,’ he quipped. ‘It’s my wife, Linda. And by the way, she really wants to fuck you.’ It turned out she was a U2 fan who’d been to every concert the band had played in LA. She was also the backbone of this great writer."

Bono later dedicated the "Zooropa" song "Dirty Day" to Bukowski. "This [song] is really U2 in its most raw state," Bono told Musician magazine in 1993. "At the moment I’m toying with the idea of something that keeps flashing up in front of me when I hear the music, an image of a father giving surrealist advice to his son. I also see Charles Bukowski in my head and the kind of advice he gives, like ‘Always give a false name!’ But whatever lyric I finally put to it, the music strikes me as very sad. What I’m saying there is ‘Make it better, son.’ The feeling I get is that the father has fucked off, or something like that. Then again it may end up begin about Gorbachev! But what you’re hearing there is the base if what probably will become a song, and the creative process is obviously very much dictated by the atmosphere the band originally got while improvising. That’s what will dictate the kind of lyrics the song finally has," Bono said during the recording of "Zooropa."

Perhaps the fact that Bukowski was dying of leukemia during the recording of "Zooropa" dictated the final lyric of the song. "These days run away like horses over the hills" is taken from the title of a 1969 Bukowski book of poems. Bukowski’s days were running away from him, and a few months after "Zooropa" was released he passed away.

"Bukowski: Born Into This" is playing in select US theaters. For more information on the documentary, visit http://www.magpictures.com/distribution/bukowski/

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