Matt Finish, Best Boylesque winner in 2015, guides us through the group and boylesque categories at the 2019 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender.
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The Small Group category is always interesting. When the piece is limited to a duo (like all the small groups were this year), the performers have to get creative with ways to fill the stage and still keep the audience focused on both performers as opposed to just one. This year the category was comedy heavy, with three out of four groups giving the BHoF audience some laughs.
Faye Havoc & Donna Boss Rogers (Vancouver, Canada)
Winner: Most Comedic
If you attended the Weekender, then this act is DEFINITELY one that you’d remember! And by remember, I mean you’ll be able to recount each moment of this very *surprising* act to your therapist.
Imagine a funny horse dancing to Goodbye Horses by Q Lazzaraus, then a beautiful transformation by the lovely Faye Havoc. And then something… happens. Something featuring screaming (provided by Jesse LeBoudrais), and a ‘love child’ who I can only assume was Donna Boss Rogers.
It’s safe to say that 1. They had no problem taking Most Comedic and 2. The audience was not ready! They might not have taken the top award, but I have a feeling this will be the act that keeps everyone talking until next year.
Tangobatics (Kuopio, Finland)
Tangobatics is a duo formed by Miss Acrolicious and Handsom Stark. The act was very sweet – a romantic interlude to Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On and Mike Patton Ore’s D’amore. This was an act that probably could have benefited from a more contained space given the amount of hand-to-hand acrobatics and slapstick involved. A few times some of the more subtle moments were swallowed by the stage.
The gorgeous blue costumes were created by Finnish circus costumer Kitte Klemettilä. April O’Peel has declared ‘Cirque du Burlesque’ as a new genre and I don’t disagree. So I think it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing more of the delightful Tangobatics.
Vala Marvelle & Meowie Wowie (Long Beach, California/Brooklyn, New York
There’s an interesting trend I’ve noticed in burlesque: there are acts out there that are leaning hard towards performance art. Vala and Meowie gave us high-art drama in Mad Max: Fury Road makeup from beginning to end.
They participated in the ‘start in a dramatic backlight’ trend of 2019, and moved through some striking tableaux to Human by Sevdaliza. There were a few moments when the spell was broken – costume troubles (we’ve all been there), and some moments out of sync, but the nude illusion (created by Shauni Fatale) made me glance towards the doors to watch for security!
Kitten ‘N’ Lou (New York, New York)
Winner: Best Small Group
You know Kitten ‘N’ Lou. You LOVE Kitten ‘N’ Lou. Why? Because they consistently turn out creative, well-executed, and beautifully costumed acts. They’re no strangers to the BHOF stage. As a duo they won Most Comedic in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Kitten LaRue has competed for Reigning Queen, and Lou Henry Hoover won Best Boylesque in 2017.
They LITERALLY brought the Holy Spirit into their striptease! A high point for me was listening to Lou serenade a ravenous Kitten in amazing Daniel Webster costumes. It’s also immensely gratifying to see a duo make such great use of a large stage. Their larger than life antics managed to fill every inch!
My own troupe, Don’t Blink Burlesque, has competed in the Large Group category four times (humblebrag!), so I know how much pressure there is to hold up your part of the group act. All three Large Groups went in very different directions creatively, and each group did a great job. I think this is one of those years where it falls to the judges’ personal preference.
The Cheesecake Burlesque Revue (Victoria, Canada)
Now normally, I’m of the opinion that if you have to literally spell it out during your act, you’re not doing enough to get your point across. BUT, in the case of the Cheesecake Burlesque revue, I’m a fan!
This group act from BHoF veterans CBR (They competed in 2014, 2015, and 2018) falls into the ‘you’re enough/self confidence’ message act (to Kay Perry’s Firework, of course). But hey, the world kinda sucks right now, so why wouldn’t we need a little boost? Champagne Sparkles, Kitten Kaboodle, Ginger Kittens, Quiche Lorraine, and Lolly Lushbottom were aggressively positive in costumes designed by Kitten Kaboodle, with choreography by Betsy Bottom Dollar.
Boylesque TO (Toronto, Canada)
Did you guys see that daddy? Boylesque TO (James and the Giant Pasty, Wrong Note Rusty, El Toro, and Newfound Lad) performing to Backstreet’s Back by BSB was giving me everything my ’90s boyband-loving heart could want. Also, I really dislike children, so watching these Canadian daddies slowly give up under the crushing weight of fatherhood just made my night! I won’t spoil it, but DADDY is the operative word here.
Always a huge crowd-pleaser (they competed in 2018 as lumberjacks), I was left with only one question: How can I get Wrong Note Rusty to throw me around like that?
Mod Carousel (Seattle, Washington)
Winner: Best Large Group
When I think of Mod Carousel, I think of beautiful dancing, tight choreography, and now… bugs!? This was for sure a feature for Moscato Extatique (who also competed in Best Debut), with Trojan Original, Luminous Pariah (I miss Ludo!), and Paris Original (who competed for Best Boylesque) literally lifting them on high!
Big bugs skeeve me out a little, but those costumes (which they made themselves) were astounding! The level of detail, not to mention the fact that they had to endure a lot of dancing, was really beautiful.
Literally ANY of these performers could have won and I would have been thrilled. Every single competitor was fantastic!
Chris Harder (New York, New York)
I’ve been a fan of Chris Harder since way back, when he was just a young GoGo teaching classes in Brooklyn. I’ve seen him be a pizza delivery guy, a disco dancer, and a weiner. This year, he was George Michael – mullet and all!
Chris’ smile will melt your clothes right off, and there’s just something about all the energy he puts into his dancing that makes you grin! My only critique of this act is that there were so many costume pieces that had to come off so quickly, I didn’t get a chance to enjoy them all (and it was a great costume he made himself). The BHoF time limit probably came into play here.
It’s also worth noting that Chris brought in burlesque legend Gina Bon Bon to choreograph! This is Chris’s 4th appearance at the Weekender in a row – he has stamina!
Paris Original (Seattle, Washington)
Full disclosure: when Paris stepped into the spotlight from the BHoF Backlight™, I was underwhelmed. Paris is gorgeous, and one of the best dancers I can think of, but I wasn’t feeling the long, blue wrap dress.
BUT THEN I UNDERSTOOD. It seems he decided to take a lesson from Miss Exotic World 2018, INGA, and WORK. THE. SHIT. out of that costume!
That simple costume became many, and Paris’ execution was flawless! No doubt given that Paris is another BHoF veteran, having competed in 2013 and 2014 and showcasing in 2018, we have a lot to look forward to!
Johnny Nuriel and Isaiah Esquire (Portland, Oregon)
Let’s talk about Johnny Nuriel and his husband/competitor Isaiah Esquire. They competed individually, but since they’re married I thought a double review would be sweet.
HOW THE HELL DID THESE TWO FIND EACH OTHER? Did you see them walking around? They’re giants! Even when they aren’t in face, It’s amazing! They must be like 20 feet tall combined (disclaimer: I am 5’3”)!
They also killed it! Johnny performed to a track from Too Many Zooz, and Isaiah used Rhythm is my Bitch by Kevin Aviance. Both had over the top costumes constructed by Johnny, and both Isaiah and Johnny choreographed their own acts that had the audience screaming.
Highlights were Johnny performing costume poi (thanks Iva Handfull) followed by a colossal silk fan, and Isaiah giving perhaps the most intimidating glare into the audience I’ve ever witnessed while going through several layers of metallic fabric in thigh high silver boots. Fantastic!
Joshua Dean (New York, New York)
Winner: Best Boylesque
We’ve had the pleasure of seeing our new King perform before at BHoF: he competed and won in Best Small Group with Ben Franklin as part of 2 To Fly (I think Ben ate Joshua’s underwear? Or was that their stepdown?) in 2016, and in Boys Night Revue Best Large Group 2018.
I was fully prepared for a Pennywise horror act, based on the BHoF Backlight™ and red balloon, but I wasn’t ready for the nouveau sad clown hand balancing showcase I was about to get!
Since I’m a hand balancing expert (I’ve been taking classes for 4 MONTHS) I feel totally qualified to judge Joshua’s skills. He’s great! There were some very nice moments, like his hands free shoulder stand on an overturned chair – ouch! And his dancing is really beautiful (pointed toes)! And to top it all off, he was really nice backstage too. That’s going to make it really hard to find something to critique, but when I get there, I’ll let Holli Mae know!
Find out more about the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend here.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.