The Michael Jackson Quintet first performed in Rome to an audience of stray cats. The Quintet had painted their faces white, as the mime incorporated several events from MJ’s later years, including his death, which the group expressed as a communal convulsion. The cats were languid and meowed loudly throughout, yet their austere little faces seemed to comprehend something of the tragedy they had just witnessed, their tails swished through the air and unfurled like question marks. The moon was high above the cat sanctuary and even a few tourists wandering back late to their hotel rooms, stopped to watch this spectacle, one even managed to say “Is this about Michael Jackson or what?” But the Quintet had only one rule. No audience interaction.
In their early years, the Quintet preferred to work in unison, each member of the group performing the act simultaneously as a dance troupe. They moonwalked beneath the moon, five silver gloves glittering beneath pale streetlights. On the boulevard they were smooth criminals, tilting five black fedora hats. In numerous NY nightclubs they rocked with you, all night, danced you into sunlight.
Then they took turns invoking the creation of Neverland, miming the gait of the lama, and the inquisitive stare of Bubbles the chimpanzee.
Under a gazebo in the height of summer, they re-enacted the wedding of Elizabeth Taylor to Larry Fortensky. But of course, during this performance, only one member of the Quintet could be Michael and this caused tension. Everyone wanted to be Michael.
After staging the dangling of five babies in five hotels in five minutes in five different cities of the globe, the press a frenzy of snapping photographers and the subsequent imprisonment of the Quintet for five months and their collective fine of well over five thousand dollars, there was public outcry. Not to mention the outcry of the babies.
Prince Michael Junior II released the following statement to the world media: My father would have in no way condoned the behaviour of The Michael Jackson Quintet.
A journalist thrust her microphone forward like a sizzling hotdog and asked, “Do you remember being dangled out the hotel window as a baby?”
The face beneath the black veil seemed to turn its attention towards the camera, then the bodyguards smuggled Prince Michael Junior II into the back of a limousine and he was escorted away.
The dangling of the five babies heralded a difficult period in the Quintet’s career. They began to doubt their practice.
Are we taking Michael’s life too literally?
Would he disapprove?
Is mime a racially offensive act?
Is our work even relevant?
The Quintet decided to try something different. They gave alternative endings to Michael’s life. In one performance he married Justin Bieber. In another still, he settled into a chaste partnership with Macaulay Culkin that was as sad and wistful as a straw from which the Pepsi has already been supped.
Michael’s life had been writ so large, and they were redefining it as something small and obscure. They did not aspire to be famous. They aspired only to be watched briefly, to be recognised momentarily, caught in the moment of being Michael, like a dust-mite sparkling in sunlight.