Best Debut at Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2016 at The Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is always a hotly contested category. Glory Pearl reviews this year’s contest for 21st Century Burlesque Magazine.
As ever the Saturday night competition opened with the Debut category. The stage at The Orleans is BIG, and stepping out there, despite the wildly supportive audience, must be daunting indeed. So respect to Minneapolis’ Sassy von Straddler for being the first performer out of the night in a routine that began as a classic gloves and gown, well robe, parade before switching into a remix of Willow’s Whip My Hair and accompanying street dance moves. Although the start was a little hesitant von Straddler settled into her routine and committed despite the odd costume malfunction.
Next out was Chicago’s Gaea Lady in a perfectly executed veil dance. Making full use of the Orleans’s impressive lighting rig, Lady’s act was a mix of polished dance moves, sensuality and spectacle. Her white silk veils were peeled off one by one and thrown into the air while Lady leaped and span, the play of light on white silk creating some truly breathtaking effects. The routine was brave and inventive – dependent on the diaphanous material to behave – and it did, with impressive musicality a testimony to Lady’s mastery of it. The act earned the first standing ovation in a long night, and deserved it too.
Changing the tone completely, Coco Pearl, from New Caledonia (a small island off the coast of New Zealand, if you were wondering), took to the stage with a routine inspired by her homeland. Moving fluidly and sensuously across the stage she exuded charm and she stripped out of her traditional costume. With plenty of face and a coconut-shell bra there was much to love here.
The Australian contingent was particularly strong this year and Sydney’s Diesel Darling was the first out with a classic showgirl routine. Covered in pink and white feathers, she stepped confidently across the stage in a flawless act full of sparkle and panache. Clearly a very able dancer, Darling gave us long, perfect lines, polish and a dazzling smile, but in some ways the routine was ‘too perfect’, and lacked connection and personality, as if Darling was part of the chorus and not the star attraction in a classic Vegas number – something she very much deserved to be.
Baltimore’s Cherie Nuit followed with a character comedy routine that elicited gales of laughter from the delighted audience. Dressed in classic American tourist garb, Nuit stripped to reveal fanny packs at every turn, making good comedic use of them. She employed facial expression well, connected immediately with the audience and brought us along on the journey, developing the joke nicely all the way to the finish. The routine relied heavily on the one joke and tonally stuck to a single note, a note that brought her a standing ovation, but which could have been varied to give the piece a deeper resonance.
Briana Bluebell was out next, also from Sydney, in a beautiful green veiled costume and a routine inspired by belly dance. After a hesitant start, she found her stride, moving sinuously and with energy and attitude creating gorgeous shapes with her veils and teasing the audience with confidence. Following her, Miss Bettie Bombshell from Melbourne gave us a top hat and tails to flapper girl act that really delivered. Some neat visual gags and strong dance ability enhanced her charming stage presence and she really connected to the audience with an infectious and joyful energy.
Memphis Mae, the third performer from Sydney in this category, presented a strong contender for the ‘Most Innovative’ award with a routine that was clever, funny and perfectly executed. Satirising classic burlesque – beautiful woman stripping out of beautiful costume – with a voice over of the performer’s internal monologue, the act provided as many laughs as it did ‘ooh!’ moments. Mae moved confidently and matched her music perfectly, whether that music (and accompanying vocalised thoughts) told us she was playing it sexy or was improvising having forgotten to put her gloves on. Thoroughly entertaining, the combination of strong costuming, strong dance ability, strong ideas and the courage to do something different and send herself up make Memphis Mae one to watch in my book.
Lila Luxx’s Anne Boleyn act combined beautiful costuming with some inventive choreography but for me relied too heavily on music to communicate and it wasn’t clear if this was a dance piece or a character piece. The idea was strong, the costume was strong, and Luxx is clearly an accomplished performer, but the act lacked clarity and focus in the delivery of its idea. Trying something different is always brave but the gamble didn’t quite pay off here.
The final competitor in the Best Debut category was Bunny Galore from Houston, who came out with a glamorous Pam-Am-Chic 60s vibe that gave way to some serious contemporary bump and grind as she asseled and twerked to riotous applause; the perfect feel-good finish to a very strong category.
Gaea Lady: Best Debut and Most Classic