Burlesque Hall of Fame Tournament of Tease: Best Debut (BHoF 2014)
Kitty Bang Bang reviews the Best Debut category at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2014. Click here for her thoughts on the Queen category…
It’s been four years since I first got on a plane from the UK and hauled ass to Vegas, which makes me a total neophyte in comparison to some of the glorious glitter tribe that I was surrounded by at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2014. As such, I may not have as many years watching the competition evolve, but I’m sticking my neck out and saying that to me this year’s competition felt like it was imbued with a new energy and sense of purpose. The sheer variety of burlesque up on that enormous stage, in every category, made for a thrilling show (and let me tell you, if you haven’t been before five hours is a long fucking time to stay thrilled…) And after the awards had been handed out, it felt like the results were a meritocratic representation of what had happened up on that stage that evening, which isn’t necessarily the sentiment I’ve always gone home with. More of this please BHoF. It really felt like watching the best of the best up there this year.
21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2014 Coverage is sponsored by Fancy Feather.
We kicked off, as always with Best Debut, which is always a great competition and a wonderful chance to check out new faces from around the world. This year the standard was high as hell and threw up a couple of unknown gems, not least the eventual winner from my home city London. I mean, where the hell did that girl come from? I clearly need to get out more *ahem*.
Kicking off the competition was Brisbane’s Lisa Fa’alafi, and I had high hopes for her before she even hit the stage. As the co-founder for the dance/theatre collective Polytoxic, whose membership includes the BHoF 2011 Best Boylesque winner Mark Winmill, aka Captain Kidd, I expected something fierce and original from Miss Fa’alafi and I was not disappointed. She started seated in a banana leaf skirt with her back to the audience. What sounded like traditional Polynesian music played softly and then a voiceover asked what she could be weaving with the leaves she had in her hands. When she whipped around to the thumping strains of Azealia Bank’s 212 we found out that she had been weaving something pretty spectacular. Starting out almost naked, Lisa found increasingly more ingenious ways to turn her leaves into a costume, my favourite part being when she turned her hair wreath into a pair of shades. Gurl whipped that hair in front of her wind machine. By turns, funny and ingenious with the slick moves of a professionally trained dancer, it was a bold opening for the show.
Following this super high energy opening act came the bad-ass energy of Jeez Loueez, who seemed to have a lot of fans in the house from the off. Giving us Rufio (from the film Hook) realness and stomping it to yet another modern soundtrack, Michael Jackson’s Bad, Jeez was another fantastic dancer who attacked the stage and made full use of that massive space. She ripped off her top and hurled it at the judges, throwing in some breakdancing freezes and wild twerking. Then, her arms wide, she offered out the whole auditorium which earnt her more howls of approval. At the end of the routine she stalked off the stage and then came running back on and threw a little encore action our way. Then off again, then back on. Her final exit was to the sound of the crowd on their feet chanting ‘Rufio! Rufio! Rufio!’
Next came the slender Russian charms of Madame Romanova, all the way from Stalingrad. She gave us a magical ‘Queen of Hearts’ act. After the crazy energy of the previous two performers, this act felt slightly staid and much less confident and polished. Romanova opened with some cute card tricks, making playing cards appear out of thin air which was definitely impressive, but had the tricks chimed with her music instead of happening slightly off-beat then the overall effect would have been more arresting. She then did a costume quick-change from her black, white and red Queen of Hearts garb underneath a playing card cloak into a hot pink showgirl number. Again, it was another great gimmick but slightly undermined by her execution. She has the bones of a lovely act, but I feel that it needed more musicality and connection with her audience for it to really pop.
Gemany’s Mama Ulita came next with a glitter-strewn classic number. I mean, seriously glitter strewn. I’ve been up on that stage and I know how slippery it can be, and after a liberal coating of glitter it’s basically an ice rink, so regardless of how the rest of the act went, kudos to her for even staying upright! Wearing a beautiful green costume, Mama Ulita gave us a classic strip followed by a fan dance. She had great face, great musicality and gave a super cute performance, and I loved a brave little throw and catch moment in her fan dance. But all that said, to me it generally seemed a little safe after the previous performances.
I frickin’ LOVE a good dancer and the next competitor had me hooked in about three seconds with her stunning Charleston routine. Bonnie Fox is from Australia originally but lives in London, my home city, and after seeing her routine I couldn’t understand why I’d never even heard of her, much less seen her perform previously. A little post-show digging revealed her to be Sharon Davis, a world class swing dance champion who has recently turned her talented hand to burlesque. And turn she did, shimmying and shaking it out. She started out in a gorgeous red coat, which she ditched to reveal a silver fringed dress which danced around her as she moved across the stage. Sometimes trained dancers forget their faces when they throw everything into a complicated piece of choreography, but Bonnie made it all look gloriously fun and easy. Once she lost the dress, she really incorporated some tease into her routine, whipping the audience up into a storm of cheers and catcalls as she took off her sparkling corset. The whole act was imbued with polish, an infectious energy and a wonderful smile. My favourite moment, however, came when she’d finished her performance and she lept up and punched the air in elation looking genuinely thrilled to be up there. My notes from the night had ‘winner’ written next to her name and I was so pleased that she won. A face to watch!
After the gorgeous energy of Bonnie Fox, Emma Mylan from Geneva signalled a distinct change of pace. She started with her back to the audience in a long white gown, and the effect was sculptural, almost other-worldly. She was on some sort of plinth that elevated her and added to the feeling that she was some sort of untouchable statue carved from marble. Props here to the show’s lighting designer who lit the stage in a beautifully moody, almost painterly way. Emma’s music was haunting as she floated a pair of white fans around her, but while the initial effect was undeniably beautiful, the act started to feel inert after a while. She kept her back to the audience for what seemed like the majority of the piece and for me there was no real substance or connection. Even after she finally turned around and disrobed to perform a fan dance, I didn’t feel that the act had delivered on the original promise of the opening vision. While she is an exquisite looking girl, her movement somehow lacked the grace that may have made the act more than a beautiful picture.
Lady Josephine was introduced as ‘a tall glass of bad ass’ and from the off gave us some rapier-wielding attitude. Her fencer outfit in turquoise silk and pink was couture perfect and she worked it with aplomb. To me she was a true stripper and one of the only girls who really worked her costume, using it to conceal and reveal rather than just tossing it aside. Her knickers flipped off in a single fluid rip and finally her shoulder pieces were removed with her rapier and used to conceal her tassels before the final reveal. She had one or two tiny hiccups in her act but recovered professionally. The act ended with her losing her silver fencing mask and we finally got to see her face properly. Bad ass indeed as she stared out at the crowd defiantly. One of my favourites.
The next act, Missy Lisa, brought a real touch of old Hollywood to the BHoF stage. Classic as hell and with that megawatt Texan smile, Missy strutted it out in a dazzling white fishtail gown with a white boa that doubled in size and trailed languorously behind her. Then with a change of tempo the energy was upped and the audience were treated to some classic bump ‘n’ grind. I’ve seen Missy do this routine before and on the night it absolutely told. She knew every beat inside out. Proficient and professional to the last bar of music. Texas knows how to turn out a real showgirl.
Voracious V was an act that I hadn’t seen before and she absolutely blew me away. As I said, I love a dancer and every single move that V pulled onstage was precise and chimed perfectly with her space age soundtrack. She appeared on some sort of futuristic throne, looking out into the audience and daring you to look back. As impressive as her movement and musicality was, it was her gaze that really got me. Voracious V was knowing and sexy, full of attitude. She had a great costume reveal when she removed her skirt which deftly turned into a pair of silk fans that floated around her. What the hell do they put in the water in Vancouver? I really need to visit.
Closing out the debut category was another performer from my home town, the glorious weirdo that is Aurora Galore. She stomped onto the stage barefoot, dressed as some sort of crazy ring master to a thumping drum ‘n’ bass soundtrack. Her movements lacked the precision and finesse of some of the other dancers but there was no mistaking that Galore was there to bring it. Her makeup was transformative and added greatly to the characterisation of her convulsing ring master, and she gave great face as she violently flung her costume to the four corners of the stage. I loved that she wasn’t afraid to be ugly and didn’t make any concessions to the competition; Aurora did Aurora, which is ultimately what won her ‘Most Innovative’. She ended with some crazy fan dancing, twirling her feathers like poi to the baseline while the audience roared their approval. A great end to a fantastic competition.
Best Debut: Bonnie Fox
Most Dazzling: Bonnie Fox
Most Classic: Missy Lisa
Most Innovative: Aurora Galore