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‘Last Dance’ tracks the willful destruction of a drag queen’s persona

'Last Dance' screens at the Castro Theatre as part of Frameline46, | Courtesy Frameline

Coline Abert’s Last Dance is an exorcism in drag.

The new documentary, which screens tomorrow night at the Castro Theatre as part of Frameline46, follows Vincent DeFonte—a drag artist who got his start in San Francisco in the early aughts—as he works to kill off Vinsantos, a character he inhabited, on and off, for many years.

By the time Abert concluded filming, DeFonte had succeeded in burying the thing he had spent so many years refining. When asked by The Standard where Vinsantos is today, DeFonte was unequivocal: “She’s dead.”

Last Dance is the “Centerpiece” documentary of this year’s Frameline, also known as the San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival.

Abert follows DeFonte in New Orleans, at home and at work. Her camera watches the self-described “avant-garde multidisciplinary artist” start the process of putting Vinsantos behind him—not out of hatred, but from a place of artistic exhaustion.

Vinsantos was one of many punked-out performers who passed through Trannyshack—a long-running drag night at The Stud hosted by the legendary Heklina and a gathering place for the coolest queers in the city. (It later became Mother.)

While some of the queens who performed on the Trannyshack catwalk eventually wound their way to RuPaul’s Drag Race, that wasn’t the path DeFonte had imagined for himself or Vinsantos.

“When I created the character, I was given all these opportunities that I never knew were possible,” DeFonte said, noting that he never thought drag could be a career in and of itself. “But artistically, it was never the vision that I had for myself.” 

When DeFonte and his husband Gregory Gajus moved to New Orleans from San Francisco, he missed the community they left behind. One of the many reasons DeFonte started a drag workshop in his new home was to rebuild a community of performers and artists down on the bayou. The workshop became a safe space for students who wanted to “find out why they were there and then help them explore that side of themselves.” Over the years, DeFonte has seen many participants transform as they are empowered by the experience.

Even though Last Dance captures Vinsantos’ final curtain call, DeFonte still performs in drag. “I don’t have wigs anymore. It’s more like my original conception that I started with back when I was at Trannyshack, which is a gender-confused clown,” he said. Where Drag Race is the ultimate finishing school for drag queens, Abert’s film deconstructs, tears apart and burns a drag queen’s persona with the willing help of her creator. 

“I started to lose aspects of myself because I was constantly chasing a paycheck,” DeFonte said. “I ended up compromising my artistic self over it.” Referring to Vinsantos in the third person, he realized that, “She’d been on my nerves for years already and I wanted to get back to basics.”

Coline Abert and Vincent DeFonte will take part in a Q&A after the Castro Theatre’s 6 p.m. screening of Last Dance on June 23. Last Dance is also available to stream in the Frameline Film Festival’s Digital Screening Room from June 24-June 30.