Kitty Bang Bang reviews the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015 Tournament of Tease Best Debut category…
21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015 Coverage is sponsored by Fancy Feather.
At The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend, Friday night is the reason for the season, but the Saturday night competition is the perfect star on top of the burlesque tree. A shiny bauble that every burlesquer wants to grab hold of. During the evening, Dirty Martini informed us that she she would like us to think of the pageant not as a competition, but as a celebration; an admirable sentiment for a weekend with such a strong focus on community and celebration. But that said, these Saturday night performers didn’t just come to make up numbers and this year the showing was FIERCE up in the Orleans showroom. I was so excited for one of the strongest group of Queen competitors I’ve seen in years, but before we get to the main event (about four hours before we get to the main event, actually – this show is epically long) we open the night with the Best Debut competition. The Debut competition has to be one of my favourites; I think that the competitors traditionally take more chances than the Queen competitors and it makes for a more varied show.
Kicking off the competition – always a difficult spot – was Pastel Supernova from Toronto. She slunk onstage in a red gown to the strains of some Latin guitar music. Obviously a strong, confident dancer with great musicality, she whipped off her gloves in unison and whirled her skirt about her like a matador. Sometimes the more professional dancers who perform in burlesque can lack audience connection, and while beautiful to look at and super polished, their performances lack that heart that the audience look for. To a certain extent I found that to be the case with Pastel; there wasn’t anything that I could pick out and critique, but I didn’t feel the connection. Then she had a slight wardrobe malfunction: a shoe came undone and the perfect facade dropped. She nonchalantly discarded the heel and finished the act with one foot in her heel and one on tiptoes, and weirdly the mishap made the act come alive! She finished strongly, having dealt beautifully with the problem, and instead of a professional dancer I saw the person behind the ‘dancer’ performing and selling it.
Next up was the gorgeous Poison Ivory from New York. The Orleans lighting team backlit her opening so strongly that for the first few seconds we were all dazzled by the spotlights. Then the light faded to reveal her sat on a chair in a beautiful lilac gown, smoking slowly and deliberately. Poison Ivory gave us heart, smoulder and face for days. We got some beautiful moments in her show: the ‘blind’ glove removal, a crazy high leap into the air to land on her knees into a backbend, and a slow crawl upstage to retrieve her cigarette. Her act was billed as a classic fan dance, but we got much more energy and movement with her fans than the introduction suggested. She was obviously enjoying herself up there onstage and we could see her singing along to sections of her track. It wasn’t quite a lip sync, and I know that not everybody appreciates it when a performer does that, but I read it as her being lost in the music and the performance. Gorgeous girl and a lovely debut performance. I really enjoyed her energy.
Following Poison was the ethereal August Wiled from Vancouver. A willowy brunette in a delicate Grecian-looking white gown who was clearly another talented dancer. She gave us a contemporary, almost lyrical routine with some beautiful measured scarf work at the top. Then she unexpectedly discarded the gown by pirouetting so that the fabric spun out into a circle that swirled around her and she lifted it up to reveal a white fringed harness spiralling beneath. A clever and original reveal. August was dancing to a slow, emotional piece of music, and while her lines were those of a ballet dancer, her emotions also seemed like those of a ballet dancer. It felt to me as if she was playing at being lost in the gorgeous moment that she created, rather than being genuinely lost in the moment, which was my only real criticism of a beautiful show.
Up next was Miss Alyssa Kitt from Australia in my absolute favourite outfit of the evening. She strutted onstage, all creamy swarovski-sparkling curves and acres of ostrich feather. My notes read ‘classic as hell’. Like a Zeigfield Follies show girl she paraded around the stage; she unpinned her hat, languorously fanning herself with the feathers, and then the dress was ever so slowly peeled off over those curves. A bump ‘n’ grind track kicked in, which Alyssa attacked with gusto. Perhaps slightly too much gusto, because we saw a strand of crystal beads ping free and Alyssa almost had a Showgirls moment up on The Orleans stage. But she didn’t allow the slip to get to her and as she worked her panel skirt she yelled out to the audience, beaming. She looked like she was having the time of her life up there and it was infectious.
Then we had another showing from New York, Bunny Buxom. She gave us clean, precise dance moves and some clever little reveals. Her hand reached behind her head and into her cleavage, and she caught her glove and slid it off, the empty glove still laying across her breast. The froufrou bottom of her black gown ripped away to make a boa that she whipped in time to the music. For me, Bunny’s performance didn’t quite match the energy of the up-tempo, driving track that she used, and we didn’t get too much expression from that cherubic face of hers, but it was a solid, considered performance that could have just done with a little extra oomph.
The second Australian of the evening Zelia Rose was the next competitor to take the stage and my notes are all gushing superlatives. I’d seen video of Zelia’s Josephine Baker tribute act before and came to the competition with high expectations which she promptly exceeded and then some. It was perfectly obvious that Miss Rose is a trained dancer, but she also brought a host of other talents to the stage. She was funny, sexy, silly, and gave us a killer Charleston. Her articulate face really projected the spirit of Josephine Baker, whilst also managing to retain and convey Zelia Rose. Her routine reminded me slightly of last year’s Best Debut winner Bonnie Fox in terms of dance style and the expressiveness with which both ladies dance, but Zelia took her Charleston to the next level. Everything about her face and movement screamed authenticity and she seemed to enjoy making the audience wait until she took it off. We got a little comedic bit where her gloved hand seemed to be whispering terrible things into her ear, and that became her reason to begin removing items of clothing, starting with the offending glove. Lithe and downright gymnastic at times, Zelia attacked the routine and drove the audience to their feet at the finale for the first standing ovation of the evening. Seemingly effortlessly becoming the one to beat.
I would not have enjoyed following that act but somebody had to, and it was the lovely Raven Virginia from Calgary who did a beautiful job and eventually won Most Dazzling for her efforts. A harlequin lady clown, complete with red nose, appeared on stage and produced additional red noses from who knows where, her eyes wide, and tossed them out into the audience. Another funny, silly, sexy and beautifully thought out routine that was full of charm and quirkiness. Her costume disappeared in a series of interesting reveals, culminating in her full skirt releasing a series of sparkling hoops with which Raven framed herself while endlessly spinning like a top. Her wonderfully expressive face drew us in the whole time as Raven Virginia created her own little world up there for four minutes.
We got a real change of pace from the next debut performer, Renee Holiday from Texas. She marched onstage in full opera diva regalia, a corseted full-length gown with curled ostrich feathers in her hair. Renee launched into an operatic piece which we quickly came to realise she was singing live. She trilled expressively before becoming slightly hot and bothered and whipped away the skirt of her gown, suggestively humping it before throwing it offstage. Then she sat upon her piano stool and played with her feathers, with a momentary deep throat before the feathers caressed their way south and Renee tickled herself to her high notes, reached in orgiastic pleasure. I’ve come to expect nothing from Texas but polish and Renee Holiday was no exception, delivering a hilarious routine that she obviously knew inside out and displayed great comic timing throughout. My only complaint (and this is essentially nitpicking) was that for a burlesque competition there was a distinct lack of striptease. Her skirt and bra cups were torn away and discarded in seconds, her comedic chops and vocal ability being the real stars of this particular show. The audience, however, had no such qualms and got to their feet for another standing ovation.
We moved next to glamorous LA and more specifically Ruby Champagne. A gorgeous little Polly Pocket of a performer came on and performed a Latin disco number. While Ruby had a compelling and beautiful smile, her movements seemed almost unfinished. Her number lacked the punch and energy that we would traditionally expect from both Latin and disco styles; it almost seemed naive in comparison to the earlier Latin number from Pastel Supernova. As she removed her pale blue diaphanous gown to reveal some fabulous gold fringed underwear, the energy kicked up a notch and we were treated to some shimmying, but the act never really got going.
Last in the Best Debut category is the long limbed Tova de Luna from Seattle (the city I have dubbed home of the burlesque ballerina – what the hell is in the water out there?). I think Tova is probably one of the most talented aerialists that I’ve seen on the Orleans stage and definitely one of the nicest dancers en pointe. But again, as with Renee, there was hardly any striptease in the number. Her peacock bustle was quickly discarded as she got to work on the small suspended lyra, and finally her tiny bikini top was released by way of finale. The soundtrack to her show was slow and dreamy and Tova spun elegantly, throwing in seemingly effortless tricks and over-splits. Then she danced across the stage, light as a feather en pointe, before taking to the air again. Her act was all ease, grace and professionalism, and everybody around me was wowed by her skill on her apparatus, but I was still left wanting more from Tova. She is clearly highly skilled and a wonderful circus performer but, as Tigger! might say, I was waiting to be “fucked in the heart”.
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