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A Living Barneys Window Installation on Fake Ice, Baz Luhrmann

Photo: Barneys
Photo: Barneys

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It's easy to dislike the holidays in New York: the weather's turned cold, the streets are choked with rubbernecking tourists and hokey Christmas tunes wail from every available speaker insisting on merriment, whether you want it or not. It is, however, equally possible to find moments of true enchantment: warm greetings from strangers, the streets strung with sparkling lights and the random sublime tableaux. To wit, twice an hour, several days a week, the ice princess, Celestina emerges from behind a fringed curtain in the Barneys windows and takes her place, twirling around in her magical "ice" kingdom. What follows is a six minute concoction of fairy tale and fashion, complete with dramatic music and colored lights.

This fantasy world comes courtesy of a collaboration between the retail outlet and film director, Baz Luhrmann and his wife costume designer, Catherine Martin, who have designed this year's holiday windows at the Barneys flagship store. Under the direction of Dennis Freedman, these displays have been a celebrity-fueled celebration of excess and glitter and this year is no exception. Entitled "Baz Dazzled", the windows are built around the themes of "Truth," "Love," "Beauty," and "Freedom." In a fun turn away from the usual consumer fantasy, the displays themselves feature live performances and moving sculptures, rather than the traditional assortment of gifts and gowns.

Filling Celestina's rhinestone-encrusted skates several days a week is New York nightlife star, Cassandra Rosebeetle. We spoke recently to get the inside view of what life is inside the city's most unique holiday display.

Tell us about your ice skating background!

Cassandra Rosebeetle: "I started ice skating at age five, and I grew up as a competitive ice skater in Los Angeles and Lake Arrowhead, California. Later I made the switch from figure skating to ice dancing, and when I moved to New York my main focus became dance."

What do you do for a living when you're not skating?

CR: "All of my jobs are performance related, whether it is belly dancing, burlesque, sideshow, or even art modeling. I have been dancing as a principal member of Desert Sin Dance Company since 2001, which originally started in L.A., but is now based in New York. Earlier this year I appeared in the original cast of Queen of the Night at the Paramount Hotel, as an interactive performance artist. Most nights of the week I work as a burlesque dancer for shows, clubs, and private events. I'm a big fan of vintage events, and my specialty has become 1920s-style burlesque."

What was it like being directed by Baz Luhrman and Catherine Martin?

CR: "It was an incredible experience getting to work with (them.) I definitely admire the enthusiasm they brought to the project, bringing it to life. The entire concept behind the window display—"A Life Lived in Fear is a Life Half Lived"—is inspiring and I think every member of this team has worked together to create an image and an experience that will brighten the day of anyone walking past the store."

Tell us about the costume.

CR: "The costume was designed by Catherine Martin and Zaldy, who is a brilliant fashion and costume designer (whose other clients have included RuPaul and Michael Jackson.) It was very exciting watching them work together to perfect this vision, since they're both such legendary designers. The character is called "Celestina," an imprisoned ice princess dreaming of breaking free, but the costume is a much fiercer take on the traditional ballerina-princess archetype. Zaldy created an armored corset and headpiece, which gives the impression of a mythological warrior. It's impossible to put on the costume and not feel a transformation into this character."

What's it like physically skating in the window as a small space with all those people watching?

CR: "The window is such a perfect little stage, complete with dramatic lighting design. Jermaine Browne helped choreograph the piece, and instead of just skating in the window, each appearance tells a brief vignette of Celestina trapped in this box and then finding freedom. In the past, with Desert Sin Dance, I have played the Snow Queen emerging from entrapment, so this has been right up my alley

One thing I wasn't expecting is that people on the street will pause for my entire set and actually applaud, which I can see, but can't hear. I think it's such a magical NYC moment to give people an unexpected chance to see a six-minute theater piece on their way to or from work."

Interestingly, one thing the entrapped princess doesn't have to worry about that plagues other New Yorkers at this time of the year – the cold. Even the rink itself is a fantasy, made from a synthetic plastic and glycerin product known as "Glice." She also shares her "Freedom"-themed kingdom (but not her window) with the other performers, including a breakdancing sprite, representing the concept of "Love," named "Elfemeral"; and the stilt-walking "Luna and Solar Queens." All placed side-by-side with a singing clockwork owl ("Truth") and mechanical snowflakes, which are there for "Beauty."

Sadly though, this happily-ever-after is scheduled to disappear on New Year's Eve. Until then, you can catch Celestina/Cassandra, a number of other magical creatures and the entire theatrical experience in Barneys windows with two shows per hour weekdays, Saturdays from 2pm-7pm and Sundays from 2pm-6pm.—Ilise Carter

· Holly Jolly Windows [Racked NY]
· Bergdorf Goodman's Holiday Windows: An Ode to the Arts [Racked NY]
· Lord & Taylor's Holiday Windows: Fairies in Jars, Mice in Hats [Racked NY]

Barneys New York, Madison

660 Madison Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10065 (212) 826-8900 Visit Website