House of Verlaine Delivers ‘Haute Burlesque’ Ballet
Crystal Tassels describes House of Verlaine’s latest production in Seattle, starring Lily Verlaine, Perle Noire, Indigo Blue and Paris Original…
Lily Verlaine recently curated an evening of haute burlesque that made the massive Triple Door auditorium in Seattle seem incredibly intimate. The show, Nightcap: L’Edition Noire, starred Verlaine’s new dance company, House of Verlaine, and burlesque diva Perle Noire. The production was polished and incredibly stylish, and offered a glimpse into the glamorous life of Lily Verlaine.
I’ve witnessed Perle Noire‘s breathtaking burlesque on several occasions. This production was the first time I felt like the other performances in the show stood up to Perle’s high level of skill, sensuality and energy. All together, the evening was consistently high-calibre and sophisticated.
Indigo Blue, offering commentary now and then, added to the feeling of exclusivity by acting, not as an emcee, but as ‘an intimate guide’ to the production. Indigo divulged bits of the creative process behind each act, naming the local art scene notables who commissioned certain pieces and shedding light on Lily’s approach. Indigo’s anti-emceeing was like listening to someone good-naturedly gossip about a close friend.
House of Verlaine is comprised of some of the top classical dance talent in Seattle, and as such, the performers generally eschew stage names. Even Verlaine herself, in the choreography credits, is listed as Rachel Gourd. Lead dancer Tory Peil is, according to my actual notes from the event, ‘perfect times 1,000’. Peil has clearly mastered both traditional dance techniques and the coy, teasing, character-based movement demanded by burlesque.
In the wonderfully modish Histoire de Melody Nelson, Peil embodied every bit of 1960s yé-yé glory in the title role. This segment enacted the entirety of Serge Gainsbourg’s 1971 concept album, complete with four Serges smoking cigarettes in tandem and brooding around an ecstatic Melody Nelson. The scenes were intensely cinematic and stylized, which lent artistry to explicit moments and intensified their eroticism.
I was surprised to see the limitations of the otherwise impeccable dancers reveal themselves during a go-go segment. Although they were graceful and poised during the balletic and modern dance portions of the show, the go-go came across as stiff and affected. The skills of the dancers shone most brightly in moments of structure (like the waltz) or in the interpretation of abstracts. At the end of Melody Nelson, the heroine drowns sensuously as the rest of the cast undulates around her, representing the water. Their lithe portrayal of moving waves was very effective and made better use of their skills.
Paris Original, another knockout performer with both ballet and burlesque chops, delivered an incredibly stylish burlesque of Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun. Paris begins the act listlessly smoking on a mod-looking red sofa, brooding and androgynous. A torrid duet ensues between him and stunning dancer Davione Gordon, who, like the nymph from the original ballet, disappears from the stage leaving only a veil behind. The homoeroticism and thick tension in this act was unbelievably sensuous. Even Paris’ striptease (and one or two timely erection jokes) seemed incidental to the drama of his total longing.
Bookending the production were two enormously energetic, but very different, company numbers. The show opened with a fan dance to a Viennese waltz, which, Lily told me, was a take on the classic tradition of ‘white ballets’ (like Swan Lake, La Bayadère, and Giselle).
“I love working with classical dancers because we all speak the same language,” she said. “I can say, ‘Do that arabesque from this part of La Bayadère,’ and they’ll know that means the leg has to be at a certain height and angle. Ballerinas in that show wear romantic length tutus, so the movement changes to accommodate the costuming. No one who hasn’t studied classical dance would know that!”
The closing number was one of Verlaine’s signature creations: a flouncy, exuberant French cancan complete with ruffly skirts and ridiculous bonnets. “The costumes are made entirely of silk,” Lily told me. “We had to go to a trade show to source the materials.” Designed and sewn by costumer Stephanie Seymour, the skirts bounced and rustled gloriously as the dancers kicked, spun, and leaped around the stage. This piece was like watching a gaggle of girlfriends in the French countryside. (Another excerpt from my notes: ‘This cancan is a francophile’s wet dream.’)
Lily hopes to take her “exquisite assemblage of daring classical artists” on the road in the coming months. In the meantime, House of Verlaine will continue to deliver their sophisticated breed of ballet-burlesque to artsy types around Seattle.