Crystal Tassels reports on the Burlesque Hall of Fame 2015 Movers, Shakers and Innovators showcase for 21st Century Burlesque Magazine…
Thursday was a glorious night for spectacle and fun at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend this year. Overall, I found the showcase to be glamorous, though not as artistically challenging as I had expected. There were a few political statements made and several moments of wow factor, but I was hoping to see more risk, innovation, and general weirdness from a showcase of innovators (though, to be fair, as a BHoF virgin, perhaps I read too closely into the title of the showcase).
21st Century Burlesque Magazine Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015 Coverage is sponsored by Fancy Feather.
The evening opened with a tribute to the history of burlesque, from the sexually charged plays of Aristophanes to the neo revival. This included cameos from superstars Julie Atlas Muz, Michelle L’amour, Dirty Martini, Kristina Nekyia, Mr. Gorgeous, Midnite Martini, Indigo Blue, Tigger!, Kalani Kokonuts and Jo Boobs. Hosts Jonny Porkpie and Blanche DeBris kept things flowing with adorable hilarity.
Kicking off the showcase with grand Victorian style and a tiny piano, paragon of fierceness Iva Handfull (Seattle, WA) brought down the house with her signature Goth-industrial dance moves and powerful strut. Next up, Paco Fish (Tucson, AZ) performed a sensuous modern dance piece that was both athletic and luxuriant. His crisp, presentational movements were offset beautifully by moments of stillness and intense eye contact.
Nikita Bitch Project (Los Angeles, CA) presented one of the few pop cultural pieces of the showcase, living up to her name as the ‘Godzilla of Burlesque’ in a reptilian tribute to the city-smashing monster. In a full-body Godzilla costume, Nikita go-go danced and clearly had a ball to the tune of Wake Me Up Before You Go Go by Wham!. It was over the top ridiculous.
New York-based duo AeroTrapeze performed an aerial act in which nearly every costume removal was completed while hanging upside down. Performers Harvest Moon and Jason Mejias flowed seamlessly through a series of tableaux in every shape and contortion imaginable, emanating a sense of closeness that was incredibly sexy.
Bringing a bit of bump and grind to Movers and Shakers, Missy Lisa (Dallas, TX) smiled and shimmied through a classic act that started with burlesque standard Big Spender and ended with Kanye West’s Gold Digger. The classic elements of this act were energetic and well executed, but the transition was predictable. The gold digger trope is a classic, but as this was presented without commentary, it came across as one-dimensional.
Lando Blaze and Narcissa (Chicago, IL) were absolutely charming as a pair of magicians in an act dubbed, ‘Scarfnado’. Narcissa pulled scarf after colourful scarf out of her bustle and tossed them into the air as Barry Manilow crooned in the background. The clowny duo juggled and leaped until Narcissa’s final reveal of a pair of vibrant silk fans. The fans were beautiful, and comically unnoticed by Lando in one of the few narrative acts of the showcase.
Sukki Singapora (Singapore) was teasing and provocative in her glittery tribute to burlesque legend Barbara Yung. Moving all the while, Sukki shed her costume like a boa sheds feathers, littering the stage with glitzy garments. Capping off the first act, the Fishnet Follies Classic Burlesque Revue (Oakland, CA) brought Art Deco glamour to the stage with a tale of bank robbers. The ten-person group stripping of this diverse, co-ed troupe was cinematic and immersive, and used the Orleans’ giant stage to its fullest.
After a quick blessing from the Bishop of Burlesque, David Bishop, the second act started with performer Flirty Sanchez in an adorable gremlin onesie. After accidentally spilling a glass of water on the stage, Sanchez summoned a pack of menacing gremlins. Performed by troupe Wet After Midnight (Seattle, WA), the gremlins furiously seduced the audience in one of the only nerdlesque acts of the entire weekend.
In another culturally explorative, Asian-inspired performance, Bazuka Joe (Chicago, IL) performed a surprisingly solemn, though energetic, striptease that was poised and crisp, almost to the point of being militaristic. Following that, Tansy (New York, NY) stole the show as a scarlet-clad Edwardian lion tamer. In the biggest reveal of the night, Tansy whirled her enormous skirt towards the curtain and as she turned back, a well muscled, acrobatic lion, Leon Lightfoot, came roaring out of it. The lion exalted, worshipping and lifting Tansy as she strutted and stripped. As host Jonny Porkpie rightfully quipped, “It was the burlesque equivalent of a mic drop.” (Click here for full photo report of Tansy’s act.)
Tansy was no easy act to follow, but comedic mastermind April O’Peel (Vancouver, Canada) told an irresistible tale of love, betrayal, and cleaning supplies that had the audience rolling in the aisles. Dressed as a janitor, April fell in love with a mop, married it, became pregnant, delivered a tiny baby mop on stage, discovered her beloved in bed with a broom, then choked the cheating mop to death with her own bra. April’s impressive storytelling was hilarious, and was only enhanced by the classic bump and grind that underpinned her every movement.
Sugar Cane Jane (San Francisco, CA), who is approximately 99% leg, performed a dance-heavy piece that showcased her superhuman flexibility and badass attitude. Sequins flew in all directions as she ripped the garters right off of her legs. Hard Corey (New York, NY) brought some refreshing weirdness to the showcase with an act full of awkward silences in tribute to comedian Andy Kaufman.
Cherry OnTop (Vancouver, Canada) made my space-loving nerd heart flutter with her sweet, immersive astronaut routine. Stripping out of a Victorian hoop skirt (there seemed to be a lot of big hoop skirts at BHoF this year) and revealing ever tighter and skimpier costumes, Cherry created distinct physical settings using movement alone. Whether she was operating the rocket’s controls or bouncing around in zero gravity, every locale was interactive and clear.
Also hailing from Vancouver, bombshell Ruthe Ordare’s piece about the visibility of and violence against Aboriginal women was the most political statement of the showcase. Ruthe removed her lush white bustle to reveal a long swath of feathers, which she eventually draped over her platinum hair. As a political artist and Native performer herself, Ruthe is certainly justified in creating whatever imagery she pleases. But the picture of a blonde woman in a headdress resonated with me in a way that felt risky and uncomfortable. It was a powerful performance.
Ending the evening on a lewd and spectacular note, the step down number from 2014 King of Boylesque Mr. Gorgeous (New York, NY) was one extended penis joke. Goofy and lascivious, Mr. Gorgeous humped everything in sight before exposing a giant circus-style cannon, which he climbed inside. The cannon exploded in a burst of confetti and Gorgeous emerged naked, lighting a cigarette as if he was recovering from an exhausting orgasm.
What a fabulous way to kick off BHoF weekend!
View the full list of competition results here and stay tuned for more Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2015 coverage – enjoy all the coverage so far HERE!
About Fancy Feather
Great art is uncomfortable. Great art starts conversations like this one. The discomfort I experienced did not arise from your intention, which, from what I gathered from the accompanying slides, was to be visible for your sisters who cannot be visible. Reviews are subjective, so certainly my discomfort came from my own baggage and privilege. You took years of cringing over Coachella white girls in headdresses and subverted it in a way that was incredibly powerful. You reclaimed that image, and it was powerful, especially because it made me conscious of my own involvement in oppression as a white person. As I mentioned when we met in person, I was hoping for more artistically risky, moving, political pieces like yours in the Movers & Shakers category, and ultimately my review of your piece was positive.
Hear, Hear, Ruthe! So elegantly put. Many of us have known this struggle. If I had a nickel for every time I was told I wasn’t “black enough”… Keep telling your story and expressing yourself as passionately and authentically as possible, without falling prey to unfair and limiting stereotypes. I have faith that one day discussions like this will be a thing of the past.
Hear, hear, Ruthe! It’s short-sighted and unfair to stereotype. If I had a nickel for every time I was deemed “not black enough”…. This world and it’s people are so diverse and I’m so happy to hear something so powerful and thought-provoking made it onto the BHOF stage!
The review is up and I’m feeling the need to respond to it. Please know this is not just a response to Crystal Tassels – I appreciate her review and respect her thoughts on my performance.
However, I need to say that if all you took away from my act was that I was making a political statement by being a blond woman and putting on a headdress then you completely missed the point of my performance.
My hair colour does NOT define me as an Aboriginal person (despite what Rachel Dolezal might tell you) whether I continue to bleach it, dye it red, black or purple – I am still a Mohawk woman who grew up with that identity at my very core. When I was 6 years old my grade 1 class was asked to bring in baby pictures, we were to guess who it was then say nice things about that person’s personality. Someone in my class felt that “has Indian blood” was a defining trait that was worthy of being mentioned. I was “othered” by my peers at age 6 as the only “Indian” in my class.
Would my performance be more “comfortable” if my hair was it’s natural colour? If it fit the stereotype of dark, straight Pocahontas hair? (Hate to burst your bubble, but my hair – like me – is anything but straight!) Should I have tanned my fair skin before getting on stage? What makes ME uncomfortable is this idea that Native people must look a certain way based on a Hollywood stereotype. My nephew is a straight up ginger – he’s Mohawk. Other Native friends have natural blond hair, some have green eyes, others have freckles, some have curly ringlets in their hair. Their outward appearance does not change who they are as Indigenous people. And they have had people tell them all their lives “You don’t look Native”. Check your stereotypes my friends.
I chose the headdress imagery because of what they represent to Native Americans who do wear them. You’ll notice that mine was made of ostrich feathers in the style of burlesque legend Lahoma (also a respected Native performer) and not eagle feathers. I utilized the shape to represent what a headdress does to my culture – a person of respect, an established person of the community, someone who has earned every. single. feather over the course of their lifetime by being present at events and contributing to making their community a better place. They are not ornamental accessories or “war bonnets” as many mistakenly attribute them. At no point in my number am I playing an Indian character. I am a TRAINED pow wow dancer – the styles utilized were crow hop and fancy shawl.
The point of my performance was to bring attention to the over 1000 Aboriginal women missing under suspicious circumstances in Canada. We make up less than 5% of the population – can you imagine this number to scale on the whole population if it was the same ratio of White women missing? Something would be done about it – it would be called a national emergency. But both our police and the government refuse to do anything about it. The UN has called Canada out as having violated the human rights of their indigenous people and for failing to protect them from violence.
MY REALITY: I’m an Aboriginal woman who takes her clothes off in public for money. If anything happens to me tomorrow NO ONE WILL DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. I will be written off and forgotten about.
I had many Aboriginal sisters and non-Aboriginal allies thank me for bringing this piece to BHoF – and that meant the world to me! That’s what mattered. I anticipated that some people may not “get” what I was doing but I hope that this post clears up some of the misconceptions. I’m very open to dialogue surrounding my act – please do not hesitate to contact me and discuss. If there was something that could be made better then I’m open to it. And if there are misconceptions I will gladly clear them up for you.
All the best,