New talent: Jonny Woo on Ryan Styles

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The 36-year-old alternative performance artist Johnny Woo picks a dedicated youngster with ingenuity and the ability to reinvent among his choice of rising stars

  • New talent: Jonny Woo on Ryan Styles

    Jonny Woo presents... Ryan Styles © Phil Fisk

  • ‘My first foray into drag was when my sister dressed me up and then paraded me in front of my mum as “the new girl next door”. My mum told me that if she had wanted another little girl, she would have had another little girl.

    ‘I wanted to be a dancer after college but wound up on a treacherous route to becoming a retail professional. I knew that if I did not do something about it I would regret it all my life. When I made the decision to go to dance school I never questioned my vocation again. It morphed into performance art but I never folded another jumper.

    ‘While living in New York I learnt that I had the right to consider myself an artist. It’s the best advice I can pass on. The Brits shy away from allowing themselves this admission. Also I learnt that as a performance artist I could do whatever I wanted on stage. It sounds obvious but only by creating my own rules could I create the kind of work I do. I always try and reinvent. Me and Madonna are both a bit like that.


    ‘I don’t really see what I do as drag. I play with being a tranny and have total respect for transvestites and transsexuals. I believe they are the world’s true punks. Playing with gender and sexuality is integral to my performances. Slowly, larger venues such as the Tate and The Hostpital are taking an interest in alternative performance. More venues should take the lead from Soho Theatre [where Jonny’s solo showed previewed earlier in July] in showcasing emerging artists. Artists continue to have to stage their own events and through these a network is establishing itself. London needs a permanent home for performance art, such as PS122 in New York.

    ‘I’m very lucky to have had Bistrotheque as a space to work in. It has been my laboratory for the past four years. I have always made my own opportunities: no one else will make your art for you. If the jobs run out, then I write a show I hope people will come and see. If there’s no event to perform at, I start one, like TK Maxx. Still, I’m grateful to Pablo Flack [Bistrotheque’s owner] for championing my work for years, and I wouldn’t be able to function without the support of [fellow drag queen and DJ] Jon Sizzle.

    ‘I’m always interested in new performers, but they have to make the first steps. My new night with Ryan Styles has an open-mic spot for trans-performance artists. But new performers should make contact with the organisers of parties, and always dress up to get noticed. Try and be as prolific as possible. I once saw a quote: “You came here to be an artist. So be one!” It is my mantra.'

    Jonny’s choices

    Ryan Styles, 26, performance artist

    ‘I got to know Ryan through Tranny Lipsynching at Bistrotheque. I love all the girls but I am constantly wowed by Ryan’s commitment to being a great performance artist. He delivers spectacular shows and has a wonderful grace and poise on stage. He is always challenging himself and in doing so continues to challenge the audience. With this comes a fresh irreverence to being a complete club star. London is very luck to have Mme Styles.’

    Lisa Lee, 31, cabaret curator

    ‘A performer in her own right, but it is her commitment to providing the only platform in London for performance-art work, Under Construction at Bistrotheque, that really sets her apart from others working on the scene. She has faith in nurturing new talent against all the odds.’

    Jeanette, 21, stylist

    ‘Jeanette found fame as the queen of Boombox’s door. It is his style, though, which is his enduring genius. Always effortlessly amazing. Now being channelled on the pages of London’s fashion magazines with a major feature coming in Dazed. Give the girl her own show!’

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