When you drive into Vegas from the south at night, you can see the glow from miles and miles out, disorienting considering that you’re blazing through the desert and there’s nothing to see for miles but scrub, asphalt, and the inevitable roadkill. But there it is, just over the horizon, the taunting glow of sin, beckoning, whispering sweet temptations and empty promises.
If you’re coming up 93, the joy is amplified, since as soon as you make out the neon glow you’re driving over the concrete majesty of the Hoover Dam. If you’re new-fashioned and fly into Vegas at night, and peer out the porthole, the pitch black suddenly erupts into a Technicolor assault on your senses, a floating city of roman candles set in an inky black wasteland. To get a similar sensation in my hometown you’d have to tow Manhattan Island out into the middle of the Atlantic. And yet, even when you fly into Vegas in the middle of the day—as I did this time around, feeling like a cheater for not driving, since I was only coming from San Francisco—you get a similar shock of dry followed by wet.
Looking down it’s nothing, nothing, nothing—just stunning desert views of undisturbed hand-of-god wasteland—and then blam!—a city where there just shouldn’t be one. This is the cogent point about Las Vegas: there just shouldn’t be a city here. There’s no fucking reason for it. There is no trade route, no natural resources, no centuries-old port. This is human ingenuity and capitalist ambition and conniving gangster racketeering at its finest: if you build it, they will come. And come, we did.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Movers, Shakers and Innovators
You arrive at the casino and realize that there is not much difference between the people you came to see and a convention of the highest-selling life insurance agents from the greater Dayton, Ohio area. Yep—you’re all a bunch of dorks caught up in your little world, and the second you set foot inside the Orleans you can’t take five steps without running into someone you know. The excitement and anticipation is as palpable as paranoia in a room half full of cops and half full of potheads, and the overflowing feeling of freneticism rolls right into the Orleans Showroom. It’s opening night, baby, and if it’s a little uneven, it may be because we don’t know what to expect, or maybe because it’s been rebranded again, but it’s probably because we’re all a little too well-rested and a little too, well, sober. Not that it matters. The energy is contagious, and we’re all exactly where we want to be. Have a drink and let it wash over you…
We begin our tour in Colorado. (Colorado? I know, right?) And not even Denver—Hazel Humdinger is from Colorado Springs, less famous than Boulder or Vail, and let none of this trivia infringe on the fact that Ms. Humdinger is cute as a bug’s ear and works her ass off—literally—to not only open the night but open the WEEKEND. Hat’s off to you, honey, that is one tough post to draw. And draw our eyes she does, ditching a red sparkly dress and making it all about the assels, building to an energetic climax with 360 turns, twirling tassels and assels both.
If I’m going to single out an innovator, I want to talk about Surlie Temple—great name, btw—for creating a pullaway sweater dress. The song? Weezer’s “Sweater Song,” natch, and her tight-fitting red dress with yellow stripes was all middle-America arts n’ crafts—I’m gonna say knitting, though from this distance it could have been crochet. The yellow stripe is an actual yarn running around her body, and as it’s pulled, the dress comes apart. Scrambling on the floor, a single yellow thread undoes her tight blue mid-calf knitted stockings. She gave the yarns a delicate little pull, a sloooow pull at her breasts, and an incredible little wink before revealing pom pom pasties. Trixie Little—Miss Innovation herself—was sitting at my elbow, and murmured to me about Surlie’s level of commitment: “She has to reset that every time!” No nonsense, yet all silly, this is my kind of act—and I can’t wait to see more from the Badship Lollipop.
Friday, June 3
Burlesque Reunion Showcase
The producers this year added the BHOF Weekend Walk of Fame, which read as an effort to get more legends on stage to be recognized while allowing some different legends to perform, and also keeping the show—mercilessly—under four hours. I approve. The Walk of Fame, a pageant-style brisk tableau, featured April March, Big Fannie Annie, Dee Milo, Ellion Ness, Georgette Dante, Gypsy Louise, Holiday O’Hara, Lottie the Body, Tammi True, Val Valentine and Viva la Fever, and barked by Bob Rubberlegs. While I was sad to miss these wonderful performers (Dee Milo!!!), it was great to meet some whom I’d never seen on stage before.
Like Camille 2000, who hadn’t been on stage in 25 years, and returned like winged victory, literally rising up out of the trap door in the stage with big white fans raised proudly like wings above her head. Strutting in an almost copper-colored sparkly corset, following the advice my grandfather always had for his daughters, to “stick your tickers out,” tall and blonde and magisterial, she proved that it can all be done with the extension of gesture, and that after all, it’s all in the bump and grind.
Haji, like blue lighting, took the stage in a silver coat and black and white-striped devil horns growing out of her head. Her strut pre-empted the music—“Black Magic Woman”—and by the time she turned downstage we were already gawking. In simple stage trickery, her fan was silver on one side, gold on the other, so with every flip we were drooling. It was all shoulder swagger, all suggestion, all “go-to-hell.” The second piece was “Twist and Shout”—the Isley Brothers version, which she and Tura Satana used to dance to at a club after work, just for fun—and she spun and spun, costume pieces flipping and flying off.
And seeing these younger performers get off on their forerunners is half the joy of this night. Watching legend Holly Carroll sing in a glamorous white coat, purring with a bassy, rolling voice that never quite dipped into the gravel-laden, I noticed that Kellita—fucking Kellita, a hoofer if there ever was one—was staring, just open-mouthed STARING at those legs. Witnessing a multi-generational moment like that is just priceless.
Saturday, June 4
Tournament of Tease
This is our future, ladies and boys, this is what we have to look forward to. These are the go-getters who will be clawing for a spot in the top tiers in the coming years, and what’s better, many of them are as yet unknown to you. They come from far off, they come from underfoot, they’re coming out of the woodwork. This is the new blood, the new sweat, and—with the exception of one—the new tears. BLESS THEM ALL.
Finland’s LouLou D’Vil—spoiler: she wins—did it all with gothic music and a big white coat, aided greatly by gargantuan shaft lighting that cut the very stage into pieces. It’s ice queen goodness—white with a shock of black hair—and an upstage cross that—WHIFF—reveals to a hot red dress. Resume breathing. New Zealand’s Miss La Vida already has a reputation for lovely costumes and doesn’t disappoint, working it slowly in a black tulip-cut dress to Richard Cheese’s version of “Big Butts,” stroking her boa and gliding her hands across her body. As it slam-shifts into Sir Mixalot’s original she pops it, grinding and licking her fingers—damn, that’s dirty for an antipodean!—and spins one tassel and slaps that ass. Extra points for I didn’t see that coming. And Ginger Valentine gets points for being my phenotype—classic aqualine features, jet black hair, AND she’s from Dallas—wow how I hate that city as only an ex-Dallasite can. Sigh. Very classic strip tease our of a blue dress, with classic music and classic hip bumps, and—gulp—letting her hair down in just that way, wrapping it up with slow splits, floor work and a backbend tassel twirl. When is the Dallas Burlesque Festival?
The going gets seriously thick. Chicago’s Stella LaRocque rocks a white beaded flapper dress with an instrument case with a “tips” sign and plays—actually plays—a mean “My Funny Valentine” on the trumpet. But she gets no tips, so rocks into the Charleston and a full-on 20s striptease with delightfully short gloves—three-quarters, not opera. She has the body of a ballerina, long back and amazing ass, and dances like a born hoofer and winds it up with a tassel twirl. With that much talent slapped into one act I’m dying to know how she follows it up.
Seattle’s Randi Rascal is decked out like a harlequin—cute, read hair, big smile—but can’t seem to fit her Jack (herself) into her box. When her dress won’t fit she ditches her crinoline, when her ass bumps the lid she loses her jumpsuit, falling butt-first into box she raises one foot and skillfully removes her stocking using only the toes of her other foot—does the classic stretch and everything! Brilliant. Back out, she bounces her boobies on the box and nixes the bra—finishes with an innocent hair toss and a winning smile.
Angelique DeVil completely blows my mind with a new spin on an old classic—a tall blonde playing the ballerina on the music box, slowly turning but then robot pop locking to not-so-dainty music. She’s all tight, marionette moves, and tosses black petals onto the stage, steps down with some balletic moves, then gets greasy with it, back on the turntable, slowly unzipping her corset, which opens, her black bra spilling more petals. Some more freaky dance moves lead to more black petals, contrasting starkly with her honeyed blonde hair spilling down as she withdraws a needle. The entire act has a savagery only slightly contained, and the kind of theatrical tension we don’t see often enough on this stage. Fucking wicked.
Nothing brings down the house at the Hall of Fame weekend like a hot boy taking it off. Again and again, it’s the boys that get the audience—99.9% women—to gnash their teeth and rent their garments, and it’s the Boylesque category that gets the tongues wagging in the lobby—about awesomeness, and about how this other act “shoulda” been part of the competition. And it’s not just a boy stripping does it, either—we’ve all seen bad boylesque. But the good stuff sells like sasparilla in the desert.
Jett Adore flipped an utterly sick-ass epic straight out of Venice, aria booming, striking poses and peeking over his cape in a bird mask, bending as the cape becomes the bird’s bustle, an arm becoming the bird’s extended neck. All tableau and emotion, Suzuki holds and grandeur. Bazuka Joe came out in only a towel, and before you can wonder where he’s going from there, strips down to a smaller towel, a smaller towel—you get the idea—all pizzazz, winks and straight-up TEASE. And Australia’s Captain Kidd was a sailor on shore leave spinning his hula hoop with a quickness bordering on alacrity, sickly specific, deft and athletic. All three brought the house to their feet. Australia took it home.
The Queen of Burlesque competition is always a huge, dramatic emotional crowd-pleaser. With the biggest names in burlesque, it’s no surprise that it’s impeccably performed, gloriously conceived and staggering to view. These are the seasoned professionals, and they do not disappoint. Quite often, my pen simply falls out of my hand and I look on in awe. Try the pictures. Try to imagine what it must have been like to be there. Try to come up with a decent excuse as to why you didn’t go. Make your plans for next year.
For more views and reviews from J.D., visit Burlesque Beat.