Celebrated burlesque photographer Kaylin Idora shares her Helsinki Burlesque Festival experience…
I’ve been to Helsinki, Finland a lot of times. Probably more than anyone realises. Way before I knew anything about burlesque shows going on there. Long story short: a few years ago some friends invited me to ‘come hang out’ and check out some music going on there, and at that time in my life I was open to travelling to unusual places so I said, ‘Sure’. That decision had a big influence in my life. Subsequently, I’ve worked with musicians and burlesque performers in Helsinki. I kind of consider Helsinki my second home, so it was really great this year when I was asked to photograph the Helsinki Burlesque Festival.
I have a unique perspective compared to others that write about burlesque. I don’t perform it (well… except for that one weird time in L.A.), I photograph it, so I think I see shows from the perspective of audience members, not a performer. Some burlesque shows seem to exist only to cater to the needs and the unique taste of the burlesque community itself, and not the audience. That is not the case with the Helsinki Burlesque Festival. I think anyone who randomly wandered into this festival would immediately understand what burlesque is all about: beauty, characters, costumes, comedy and, of course, sex! No explanation needed.
The Helsinki Burlesque Festival has been going on since 2007. Its main organiser is Bettie Blackheart, an amazing lady who works extremely hard organising and caring about the local burlesque community in Helsinki. I believe I went to my first Helsinki Burlesque Festival in 2010, but I didn’t really bring my camera to take pictures till 2011. This year’s festival was as wonderful and fun as all the others I’ve been to. I’ve been to so many burlesque shows, from shows with a couple of performers in a basement, to large festivals that take place in massive venues and go on for days and days. The Helsinki Burlesque Festival, in my opinion, gets a lot of things right.
While booking both traditional and comedic acts, the festival also provides a great area for merchandise and drinks, with bars on both the second and first floors. Gloria, the venue that hosts the festival, is well know in the area for hosting local and international music acts. It transforms better than you would think into a burlesque theatre for at least two nights out of the year. The lighting is excellent and the staff is helpful. While the first floor provides beautiful goods from local merchants, the second floor has the wonderful photography services of Atelieri O. Haapala (a team consisting of Saara Salmi and Marco Melander) who provide a place for the very well dressed audience members to take beautiful neo-Victorian portraits for a reasonable price. Indeed, I have to say the Helsinki Burlesque Festival has some of the best-dressed audience members I have ever seen! The vintage community is in full swing in Helsinki.
In addition to all that, this year’s festival also included a live band, Rudolph And The Ramblers. They were amazing, performing during the intermission and also during some of the performers sets. They really tied the whole festival together, bringing a really great live musical element that is reminiscent of old burlesque days. Instead of having just cold and calculated taped tracks, the live band brought a warm and exciting element to the live shows.
The performers at the festival were, as always, top notch. International headliners included Dirty Martini (US), Tigger! (US), Angie Pontani (US), Anna Fur Laxis (UK), Isis Starr (US), Champagne Sparkles (CAN), Diva Hollywood (UK), Xarah von den Vielenregen (NE), Khaliuka Narankhuu (an amazing contortionist from Mongolia!), as well as many others international acts. Performers closer to home were also amazing, including Bettie Blackheart and Frank Doggenstein, LouLou D’vil, The Itty-Bitty Tease Cabaret, Pepper Sparkles, The Baron (who can do amazing things with weights and his nipples) Tinker Bell, Gigi Praline, Sandy Jungle, Cherry Dee Licious, and Kiki Hawaiji, as well as many others!
Since I’ve come back from Helsinki, a lot of people have asked me, ‘Why Helsinki?’ And I say, ‘Why not Helsinki?’ When you find a group of creative, smart, lovely and funny people, wouldn’t you want to hang out with them? The Helsinki Burlesque Festival is a wonderfully organised, very fun, and extremely sexy festival. I believe it will just get bigger and bigger and I would recommend the festival to all my friends. I’ve always had such a wonderful time taking photos in Helsinki and this year was no exception. As a photographer, I believe Helsinki will continue to offer intriguing and captivating characters to capture in the future.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.