How Mild-Mannered Mark Martinez Morphs Into Diva Fierceness
Written by Steve Kleine
It is 3:00 a.m.; the party is off the hook. The dance floor is packed and the energy of the crowd is through the roof. You hear the DJ transition to the next song and-BAM!-the stage is suddenly filled with light. You wonder if the performer will be a popular diva or a drag queen.
The answer is "both." Her brilliant, glitter-filled makeup leaves no question as to the fierceness of this performer. Her mascara flares from her eyes, giving the image of wings. Her pecs are the only glimpse of cleavage. This girl does not wear a wig. At times, a headpiece might adorn her shaved head, but that is all. You absorb the androgyny.
She and her dancers are all over the stage, performing athletic moves that would make Bob Fosse proud as her lips curl in perfect synch to the latest diva anthem. The crowd always responds with cheers and continues to groove to the music. She leaves as quickly as she came, with the DJ mixing into the next track. There is no loss of energy; in fact, the level is higher than before. You ask yourself, What was that?!?
Flava is the creation of Mark Martinez, an in-demand choreographer who has worked with the likes of Janet Jackson, Prince, and Michael Jackson. noiZe recently sat down with Mark to find the true essence of Flava.
noiZe: How did you come up with Flava?
FLAVA: I got my start in Europe. I am a choreographer and was doing a show in Amsterdam. I was there for two months and was also a go-go boy at a club called IT. The group I was dancing with started saying, let’s add lashes and let’s add pumps. And I really liked it, but I didn’t want to be a drag queen. I liked the direction we were going because it was so avant-garde. Someone had seen me and said, "Oh my God, you bring so much flavor to the clubs! What’s your name? And I was like, "Umm… (pause) FLAVA!" (laughs) I had no idea it was going to stick with me for years.
noiZe: When did you bring it to the States and integrate into the Circuit?
FLAVA: I started working at a straight club for two years on the Sunset Strip called Billboards ten years ago. I was afraid I was not going to make it in the gay clubs because I did not have the boobs and the hair and thought I was not going to be accepted. But one night Manny Lehman came to the show and afterwards asked if I would do a performance at one of his gigs. I did, and the crowd was blown away! So, he invited me to perform during his set at White Party Palm Springs. Everyone saw me - Jeffrey Sanker, the Gay Days people… and they all said, "We want you! We want you!" It just exploded after that.
noiZe: Who are your biggest influences?
FLAVA: Patti LaBelle and Sylvester. Also, my experience in Amsterdam dancing on that pole was a big influence. The go-go dancing in Amsterdam is very different than in the US. Instead of just wearing underwear and combat boots, you actually perform. You have to create something. I loved the freedom of that.
noiZe: What was your most amazing onstage moment?
FLAVA: I ripped my groin a few days before this year’s Palm Springs White Party and could barely walk. I ride horses and, when I realized I had to come up with a new routine, my trainer suggested I ride the horse on stage. I was like, "Why not!" What made it even more amazing was that when I went onstage, Mark and Flava morphed for the first time. I was not able to really go fully into Flava mode, because I had to be Mark with the horse. My legs were shaking. I thought to myself, what the hell am I doing? Here I am riding a horse and doing all these tricks on the stage! On top of that, I could barely walk, and nobody knew. But everything worked. I’ve never seen a crowd get that quiet at a party that big. They literally started to clap one by one because they were so shocked.
noiZe: What was your scariest or most tragic moment on stage?
FLAVA: (Takes a deep breath.) I don’t have any! Hmmm, on an Atlantis cruise four or five years I was told right before I went on that it was raining and I should be careful. I’ve never fallen. And I’m like, I’ll be fine, they have rubber mats down and all. But I went down…and I could hear the people in the front go, "Is she OK?" I got up and kept the show going, and I went down again, but I made it look like a dance move. After the show, I sulked for fifteen minutes, and a friend came up to me and said, "Well, if you are not happy with that one, do another one. You are fearless!" And I said, "Fearless! Yeah! OK!" So I went back up and I did another number and ended up jumping in the jacuzzi, splashing the crowd with water. The crowd almost died.
noiZe: After you perform, the energy is always higher than it was before. Do you intend to do that?
FLAVA: I don’t intentionally, but it happens. I know where the party is at, and I know where I can take them. I know when I am losing them, and I know what to do to get them back.
noiZe: How long does it take to create a number?
FLAVA: A day. I’ve been performing for so long that I can do it in my sleep.
noiZe: What are your thoughts on how the Circuit/dance scene has changed and what do you see happening in the future?
FLAVA: I knew you were going to ask that! (laughs) Attendance has gone down; support for the Circuit has gone down. Drug use has gone down. You still see what you still see, but it does not seem to such a part of the scene. It is definitely going younger.
noiZe: How much of Flava is in everyday life? Does Flava pop out at Starbucks?
FLAVA: No, not that I notice. I really keep them separate. Flava is over-the-top, boundless, fearless. Mark stays in the corner and does not really say much, although Mark has really stepped out in the past two years.
noiZe: What are your top three favorite songs right now?
FLAVA: You really want know? (laughs) I am a country song lover. I love Kenny Chesney! I love Kenny Chesney! I love Kenny Chesney!!! Did I tell you I love him? I love him because of his lyrics, and when he performs he is full on.
noiZe: Is this new?
FLAVA: I picked it up in the last three years, riding horses and getting into who I am.
noiZe: Are you open to dating someone?
FLAVA: Yeah, I am totally open to dating someone. It is hard for me. They either love Flava, but just like Mark, or they love Mark and are not too sure about the Flava thing.
noiZe: If you could wake up with a celebrity in bed who would it be?
FLAVA: Kenny Chesney!
noiZe: You are going to be in a Gus Van Sant movie. How did that come about?
FLAVA: My friend Dan Jinks, who produced American Beauty, was talking to Gus who mentioned that he needed someone to do Sylvester for his upcoming movie on Harvey Milk. Dan is like, OH MY GOD, I know the perfect person for that role! I sent Gus some videos, and he said he loved it.
noiZe: Congratulations! Does this open up doors for Mark to do stuff without Flava?
FLAVA: Yeah. This role will not be Flava; it will be a combination of Flava and Mark. Sylvester did not go fully there as much as Flava does, so there is an in-between. I am so honored to have this part. Sylvester paved the way for Flava to be Flava; so to play such an amazing role, it is like WOW! And Sean Penn is playing Harvey Milk!
noiZe: Are you still doing a lot of work with Manny Lehman?
FLAVA: I’ve been doing music with Manny! (Editors note: yes, Flava sings too!) We are releasing a second single called "Raise Your Hands," which will be on his next CD. Manny has been such a great person in my life. He has been such a great help for me to be who I am.
noiZe: Are you rooting for Britney or Amy to get their act together first?
FLAVA: I plead the fifth. (laughs)
There probably isn’t a better drag performer on the circuit than Flava. Besides the DJ, the number one factor in determining if we will travel to an event is the performer.
By Diva2 on 10-23-2008
flava is so inspirational to so many and brings love and joy to everyone at the party, always.
By littlesis on 11-21-2008
Flava was immediately embraced in LA by a few keen-eyed people in the club and party scene.. One of Flava’s first and biggest supporters (and cheerleaders) was Jeff of ThePartyWorld.com. Jeff would actually get on a plane and go whereever Mark Martinez went (Florida, Vegas, San Diego, etc.), just to get clips of Flava for ThePartyWorld, because he wanted everyone to be introduced to this very unique individual - FLAVA.
By Justin H. on 11-22-2008
I’m very happy for Keisha!! I happen to know both Mark and Flava very well. He had a great impact in my younger days living in L.A. He’s a Pisces to the core and has many dreams that I have been fortunate to hear have come true. He comes from a hard past to clearly a bright future, thats a thing I’m doing right now. Keep it moving and keep it spirtual that’s his motto.
By Little guada on 12-07-2008
I am Mark and Flava mom and I am so proud of what he has become to me and to his friends. Mark came from a Mexican backround and it was really hard for him to show the family what he has to offer the world, however, he moved on and now the whole family is so proud of Mark! when he does his moves I know he is doing this with a message to everyone out there and that is to just be yourself and Loce everyone out there. You never know this many be one of your family memebers that just love to sprend the word out about LOVE!
I would like to say one more thing: Thank you Mijo for showing me now to LOVE everyone NO MATTER WHO AND WHAT THEY REPRESENT.
By Gloria Garcia on 12-31-2008
FLAVA IS A BREATH OF FRESH AIR! Sickening! Legendary. I live for FLAVA!
By Joshua Miller on 02-25-2009
I cannot stand Flava. 2 a.m. you are having a great time dancing, and suddenly this ghoulish demonic looking 8 foot drag queen comes on stage. Total buzz kill. She appeared on a horse at the White Party in 2008 while Offer Nissam was playing a really really lame set and I said to my boyfriend, let’s get the fuck out of here. I paid $120 to see this bullshit? I’m so sick of that dreadful looking drag queen. I wish these promoters had some better imagination that to have this lip synching dragon with a pony tail strutting back and forth for 20 minutes. I went to the closing party at the Pleasuredome in 2002 and there were amazing synchronized Asian fire dancers with incredible bodies—really really great performance. I don’t know—I and 2000 other guys in the crowd are gay, and I don’t think we particularly want to see Ru Paul or Flava out on stage at a party. Keep if for drag night at the corner bar in Columbus Ohio, please.
By neil on 04-27-2009
Sorry you’re event experience has been so dramatically different than mine, with respect to Flava. Thank you for sharing your opinion. Please feel free to share positive comments too!
By Gary Steinberg on 06-02-2009
Flava looks exactly like a drag queen from the 1980’s named Michael Angelo. The hair and makeup is identical. Michael Angelo was a DJ at Ginos in Hollywood, worked at Circus with a group called the Cosmetics. I wonder if he ever saw Michael perform because he is his twin.
By Derek on 12-17-2009
The first time I saw Flava perform was at a private party. I was in Awe. I could not help but smile the whole time, I could hardly dance. On the occasions when I had some straight friends clubbing with me, I would say to them fasten your seat-belts because the party is going through the roof now…, they always, always agreed. FLAVA! is Awesome. Thank You Flava! for the gift you provide for us.
By RichD on 08-20-2010