Alyssa Kitt reviews the Movers, Shakers and Innovators Showcase at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2017.
The energy of any opening night is always electric, but the opening night at the Burlesque Hall of Fame is something else entirely. Friends you haven’t seen in years steal hugs and air kisses, you recognise people you follow on Instagram, spot the extravagant outfits and see the legends in the flesh (often at the bar). For first time attendees and returning pilgrims of burlesque from all around the world the opening night showcase sets the standard for what is to come.
Sailor St Claire struts out on stage, then out twirls Jeez Loueez lighting up a joint, and the final emcee of the evening Fancy Feast joins the onstage power-trio to thunderous applause. The opening number is to the tune of Beauty and the Beast’s Be our Guest, cleverly rewritten with burlesque-themed lyrics, and joined by a ragtag chorus line made up of the sparkling cast.
Jeez is left solo onstage with the audience screaming. She has us all firmly pressed in the palm of her hand before even uttering a word. I had never seen Jeez emcee before but was thrilled by her effortless sass. She’s so comfortable in front of this audience that it makes us feel as though she is speaking to each and every one of us, making little quips that elicit raucous laughs from followers of Jeez’s antics online.
The first act is the Brooklyn girl with the 44DD brain – Nasty Canasta. Nasty begins in a cloud of smoke as the familiar saxophone melody of Harlem Nocturne begins. Her confident slink is slow and powerful, with a finely tuned sense of musicality. Her number begins as a classic boa tease, until she turns to reveal a Groucho Marx disguise. We’re hanging out for the clincher when – ahh there we go – she inhales smoke deeply and places the cigar into the v of her crotch – her Groucho pussy smoking the cigar.
Next up is the UK’s queen of boylesque – Lou Safire. We see the flutter and flap of black fans and the familiar balletic ballade of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Lou performs a variation of death of the black swan, stripping black layers back to reveal white feathers, a sparkly necklace and pasties, while teetering precariously en pointe.
Once Lou removes the pointe shoes he really comes alive; his confidence is much more apparent with his shoes discarded. The pointe work really detracted from an otherwise wonderful performance and I felt that the piece would have been stronger on demi-pointe.
French music twinkles and Atlanta’s Lola LeSoleil appears onstage in a bright yellow sundress, setting the scene for a date that fails to turn up. Lola drags herself over to an empty second chair no doubt reserved for her non-committal date. Her feminine movements alter with the music change and she adopts masculine mannerisms, removes her bra, corset and finally her afro.
The piece is a heart-warming reverse strip with strong message of self-love. She puts on comfortable items of clothing: socks, headphones and a swarovksi encrusted singlet that says “I love me”.
Toronto’s St. Stella slides onstage in a luscious flurry of liquid gold. Moving sensually in her flowing gown, the piece is choreographed not to music but to an erotic reading which was sultry, strong and sexy. She removes her top to reveal a red underlayer; each movement is slow and intentional, her hands enigmatic and dramatic.
This act is the pinnacle of what Movers and Shakers embodies. She is an incredible contemporary dancer, with effortless contortive movements. On her final pose atop a chair, the audience springs to their feet with the first standing ovation of the weekender.
Bella Sin dedicates her act to her Mexican heritage, spinning onstage with so much sass, sparkle and joy to a classic Mexican song. Dabbing her forehead with a green scarf, she rips off her gold skirt with one fluid, passionate tear. Her green and gold matador-like momentum in her costume is dazzling and supports the pure joy emanating from her, fire in her eyes and tassels spinning. It’s a proud moment for Bella who looked truly at home on the Burlesque Hall of Fame stage.
The Texan tornado, Ickymuffin’s first movement on stage is a heart-in-throat moment as he dramatically swings out across the audience on his low rigged lyra. Everyone’s jaw is agape. His spins are dizzying and I’m quite sure that he has cast some kind of physics-breaking wizardry as he removes his jacket. Butts are out of seats once more and my notes simply say “fuck off incredible”.
Jeez announces she’s off to smoke some weed and Miss Coney Island 2016 Fancy Feast takes to the stage – the self-proclaimed pastrami in the hosting sandwich.
Australian performer Lila Luxx strides onstage with short sharp and precise movements which are polished as hell. Perching herself next to an ominous box, she picks up large strobe torches and lights up her body with the beams. Tunnels of light shoot into the audience, momentarily blinding any who dare stare in that direction.
The number kicks it up a level as the box itself comes alive to emit its own lighting designs timed in response to the music. It’s an incredibly clever prop, concept and a piece that is expertly choreographed. This act relied heavily on tech which was well-supported by the expert lighting team at The Orleans.
The Peacock Showgirls from Minneapolis are dressed as perfect Stepford wife dolls; their contorted smiles clink and grind against the smooth melody of Blue Velvet. The manic wind-up dolls grind into gear, removing layers to reveal simple panty-hose bodysuits. Their gaze switches upwards and they turn to the audience like crazed sex dolls taking mechanical steps forward, holding their hands out with twisted fingers. A well executed jab in the direction of the patriarchy.
After intermission it is time for the annual striptease blessing by the Bishop of Burlesque. In his white robes and rainbow boa, the enlightening David Bishop anoints the pilgrims and returns to his role as master stage manager.
We are treated to the handover act of the reigning King of Boylesque, Harden Reddy. His gaze is so searing that I hardly even notice anything else going on onstage until he takes to the microphone. Oh my god – he sings too! He belts out a rendition of I’m So Sad and Lonely surrounded by a luscious chorus-line of some of San Fran’s finest. Harden Reddy finishes off his act with chiffonography that is so powerful that you can almost feel the wind off the fabric from ten rows back!
Brooklyn chameleon Sizzle Dizzle walks onstage in blackout and her music is interrupted by a ringing phone – rude! The track restarts only to be halted by the performer herself – what is happening?
Sizzle pulls out a phone to take a few quick selfies. Brilliant! She tucks it back into her panties and continues. Two grinds, one zip removal, a bend in her leg and clank! The phone falls to the ground, as she picks it up she proclaims to the audience, “We’re taking a selfie!”
Sizzle’s act is a clever commentary on society’s obsession with social media, complete with twitter sound effects – this act really spoke to me and frankly I’d be live tweeting how great it was if I had reception in the theatre! One of my favourite performances of the night.
Genie Emerald struts onstage, suited up with a long walking stick – her outfit reminiscent of Dita in Crazy Horse. Genie smoulders to the crooning vocals of Leonard Cohen’s classic I’m Your Man and struts with her long legs across the expansive Orleans stage. She is poised and polished, until she falters with a somewhat clumsy pants removal. The act ends a little too abruptly and I’m left feeling as though the act didn’t quite rise to the standard of the showcase. But no doubt – she has a killer strut.
Kitty Von Quim from Austin, Texas appears with the mother of all pink bows on her head and a florescent yellow gown. She’s shimmying from her soul to her fingertips, and reveals what I thought was going to be Isis wings but is in fact Lady Pacman. Cries of “Yaasssss queen!!!” come from the audience as Kitty comes alive with sexuality. It’s a fun and camp routine, all glitz and gusto.
Virago Nation come to the stage as indigenous women who are proud of their sexuality and their cultural heritage. The curtains rise and the troupe are congregated around a fire dressed as costume stereotypes of culturally inappropriate native Indians. Music from Disney’s Peter Pan fades out to signal a change in mood and ambience. Each woman’s demeanour changes as ‘costume’ layers are removed.
Now nude, each woman appears holding a black box with a symbol painted on the outside. They pull out pieces of fabric painted with symbols that signify the natural elements, with Ruthe Ordare at the front in her white wings.
I’m gonna say this – this performance may be one of the most important and relevant pieces of burlesque as a socio-political commentary. Smart, relevant and powerful – hands down this is the power of burlesque as performance art. I’m not the only one shedding tears as the audiences stands in applause.
I’m wondering where the showcase could go after such a powerful performance. Atmospheric red dots of light illuminate the background and powerfully ambient music sends chills down my back. The Dolls of Doom ringleader and techhead of burlesque, Lola Martinet, appears in a sombre mask with nails pinned into her face.
The entrance is powerfully cinematic with more than a touch of the grotesque. She yanks a cord and balloons start self-inflating, covering her body, and the raucous melody of David Rose’s The Stripper starts to wail. Lola pulls a nail out of her face and pops each balloon.
Talk about technological innovation – I can’t even! But self-inflating balloon gimmick aside this routine was executed with all the theatrical pizzazz and panache. That’s a big tick for innovation in this industry and an even bigger tick for entertainment. You just can’t beat this unique take on the burlesque balloon pop classic.
Next on the stage is one half of 2015’s best duo, Seattle’s Paris Original, who is poetry in motion to a jazz variation of Britney’s Oops I Did it Again in a full blue ruffled frou frou outfit. Everything about Paris’ stagecraft is perfection from lines, to spins, to those sassy faces and flawless dance technique. The first blue glove is removed to reveal another underneath, and then another. Multiple glove peels and a smorgasbord of stocking pulls, the routine is full of sass and glamour with tease and tension in every removal.
The devil’s own ex-wife, San Franciscan Lady Satan brings all the wholesome goodness of a Julie Andrews classic but with an ass-out aesthetic. Indeed, a spoonful of very expensive sugar (wink wink) and Lady Satan begins shoving spoonfuls up her nose. She busts out stripper-chic power moves and umbrella tease with a filthy edge. An impressive overall costume, but my favourite layer was the spoon merkin and her coke-fiend facial expressions.
It’s time for the final act of the night, The Vertical Side Show from Chicago. The curtain rises and the audience is treated to a sumptuous banquet for the eyes, with bodies lying languidly across red velvet sofas. The scene could easily translate to a belle epoque orgy or some kind of sexy renaissance opium den. With puffed pompadour hair, and powdered and rouged, haughty faces, their bodies ripple and bounce with powerful moves to a remix of Bizet’s Carmen.
One breath-takingly well-timed troupe sissone sees the entire group’s legs leap into the splits, suspended in the air as the audience’s jaws smash into the ground. The group is dotted with the big names of burlesque. Ray Gunn melts the audience with his signature smouldering smut; Lola Van Ella drips in a backbend across the sofa; while Bazuka Joe and Midnight Martini par deus deux in a corner. Visually this number is spectacular and an obvious choice for the finale.
Movers, Shakers and Innovators as a showcase lived up to its name. There was technological innovation, politically motivated performance art, patriarchy smashing, and a firm middle finger up to cultural appropriation.
The energy created by the tap-in, tap-out trio of emcees kept the pace up and the applause going during a long show. The opening night of the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2017 was a massive family reunion, albeit a very sparkly and camp family celebrating its over-achieving and very naked children.
The Movers, Shakers and Innovators Showcase at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2017 reviewed by Alyssa Kitt.