The Australian Burlesque Festival 2016: twelve shows, eight cities, a bunch of flights, and a few long drives. The Blue Mountains, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Adelaide, Darwin, Byron Bay, and Brisbane.
Cue a month of madness with the Australian Burlesque Festival team, which included headliners Dirty Martini, Zelia Rose, Jacqueline Furey, MC Elena Gabrielle, myself – Alyssa Kitt, and festival producer Dolores Daiquiri. Along with our production manager Lila Luxx, tour manager (aptly renamed tour-daddy) Craig Deleland, and marketing manager and official tour photographer Angel Leggas of 3 Fates Media.
Upon arrival at our hotel in Melbourne, I ascend the stairs with the first half of forty kilograms of luggage, Bella de Jac in tow lugging the next twenty kilograms because she loves me. On the second floor I smell the most appealing aroma wafting from the top floor. Garlic, chicken roasting – the smell keeps me going. I knock, once, knock twice and a naked Dirty Martini opens the door, “Goooooood you’re here! I made a chicken!” And a huge squeezy hug!
So sets the timbre of love and affection for the next several weeks touring with the iconic, definition of burlesque that is Dirty Martini. In true, sleepy showgirl fashion, the ever-languid Jacqueline Furey is napping (the first of many naps that show a true touring professional – to be able to catch those Zs whenever you can is a valuable life skill).
Australian Burlesque Festival: Melbourne
Australian Burlesque Festival Tour director, Dolores Daiquiri, has curated the Melbourne shows so that each night has different themes and features a different headliner. The Melbourne leg of the Australian Burlesque Festival is the big kick-off to the tour, with four nights of ABF showcases: Funfair Circus, Empress Nouvelle, The Big Tease and Baby Bombshells. All this before we set off for the touring portion of the festival.
Our first venue on the tour with all the headliners is the Wonderland Spiegeltent in the Docklands, just underneath Melbourne’s towering Ferris wheel. The eighteenth century wooden German structure feels as though we are performing in the most decadent hoochie cooch tent!
Only one week into the festival and we have our first victim of showgirl flu; production manager Lila Luxx is already pushing through some serious illness but turning up every night and getting everyone onstage. Being in such close quarters, we knew she wouldn’t be the only one. Stocking up on chewy vitamin C, daily multi-vitamins and echinacea, we would all be attempting to ward off the dreaded stripper flu.
Funfair Circus features quirky neo burlesque and circus performers; the weird and the wacky. This show featured Zelia Rose, rocking the stage swinging a fire sword in her new funk superhero act, flinging a flaming sword to 1970s funk. Quite literally, a fiery parody of female superheroines inspired by Foxy Brown and blaxsploitation films.
This act truly shows why Zelia is on EVERYBODY’S radar. Strong dancing, connective, powerful, with a message of “Don’t fuck with me”. Her second act, ‘Up in Smoke’, was another funk styled number which utilised a clever smoker as a prop to create unique shapes, while throwing some seriously sharp Fosse moves.
A few of my favourite routines of the night included Honey B. Good, with her ‘Diamonds’ routine, where she emerges from a pressurised piece of coal and bursts into a shining diamond, with a manic twist.
International duo Leo and Teo perform a Top Gun inspired, homoerotic aerial act. These boys are strong, elegant, and their ability to perform comedic narrative while maintaining slow burn sex appeal made this act HOT HOT HOT!
“Baaaaad to the bone…” dah dah dah dah duuuuuh “B-b-b-b-b-baaaad…”
I’m onstage soundchecking my music to a mostly empty Speigeltent, when suddenly the power goes out.
“Sorry sorry sorry, I was just plugging in the steamer!” proclaims the one and only Dirty Martini preening for our first viewing of Zeus the swan from her ‘Leda and the Swan’ act. It seems our power outlets were not kind to her voltage.
Empress Royale is the dark erotique cabaret showcase – sexy, fetishistic, raw. It’s always been one of my favourite shows of the festival and I was super keen to be headlining this show. During the festival I am touring with two new acts – ‘Le Luna de Lilac’ and ‘Siren of the Swamp’. Two acts that I am incredibly proud of. But since they are so new, I am still super nervous. Even after months of rehearsing the Lilac fur costume is still precarious and wrangling twenty metres of magnetic fur stoles is tough. Swamp goes off without a hitch, and I can truly channel some fierce, bitch energy into the crowd.
What do you get when you cross an ex-pro rhythmic gymnast with a hand-balancing, acrobatic partner? Bray and Skopolova. You feel the chemistry the second she comes out, and performing duo acro with her crotch chained to Bray’s collar, making it look so effortless is no mean feat. Charlie D. Barkle performed his ‘Dirty Bunny’ act. There is something about a man with a beard in a dress that just does things to me.
The Big Tease
The Big Tease is the opulent, classic burlesque night – the big dress up occasion and one of the most prestigious shows to be a part of. I was in the audience for this show and it did not disappoint.
Favourites include Cello Bordello’s ‘Hula Lamp’. Her first Australian Burlesque Festival performance displayed incredible incorporation with an aerial apparatus; a single hand strap with a giant lamp shade on it.
Tasmanian performer Lucy Sky Diamond brought an explosive, acrobatic leopard number. It had the feel of a caged circus cat breaking free. Intense, untamed and wild.
My other favourite act of the night went to Lillian Starr (also known as one of the hottest acts in Australia). I’ve never seen Lillian perform a classic strut and strip, but my goodness she had it down pat. Slinking about the stage in skin-tight black velvet to Black Velvet, she smouldered and scorched as jaws hit the floor all around the audience.
Baby Bombshells is the first taste of the Australian Burlesque Festival stage for many new performers. A competition is open to those with under two years experience. The headliners didn’t exactly kick their feet up and relax tonight, as we were busy on the judging panel. The top three were so incredibly deserving and standouts for the night: Jazida, Ivy Fox and Lady Le Feu.
I’m going to be honest, I had never heard of Jazida – but I will not forget her any time soon. Circus contraption, quick change, fierce dancing mixed with her years of belly dancer musical timing, and a face that you couldn’t tear your eyes from.
Ivy Fox, a well-known pinup model, brought a provocative number which was both a political satire of popular male opinion on her as a lipstick lesbian. It was clever, and sent a strong message.
Lady Le Feu came with eyes that let you know that she knows secrets. Sexy secrets. Great skill with her facial expressions and slow, restrained sexuality. An incredibly polished, mature, classic burlesque number that would hold its own on any big stage.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that one of the big highlights of this night was the MC Aurora Kurth. Her witty banter with the drunken audience was so cutting, quick witted and sharp that at times it brought tears of laughter to my eyes, and made them shrink into their seats to think a bit further about heckling again.
Stay tuned for further adventures with Alyssa Kitt at the Australian Burlesque Festival 2016. Next stop: Canberra.