We gathered together in the belly of Le Poisson Rouge for the first night of the eleventh annual New York Burlesque Festival. Although some of the best-known faces didn’t make an appearance at this early stage, the air was full of relaxed welcome, reunion and anticipation. A troupe of enthusiastic go-go dancers took to the stage to get the crowd warmed up, with a standout, attention-stealing appearance from the delectable Stella Chuu.
[Pictured above: Grace Gotham in a gorgeous samba ensemble at the New York Burlesque Festival Thursday Night Teaser Party.]
Enter the incomparable World Famous BOB as our hostess, applauding our collective support of live entertainment (“This is not your laptop; you can smell my perfume.”) and reading an impressive list of all the global cities the festival performers have arrived from (“The stripper version of It’s a Small World.”) A traditional burlesque blessing from Burlesque TOP 50 ranking stage manager David Bishop (who did a fabulous job throughout the fest, as usual), and we were ready to go.
I didn’t have to wait long for my first highlight of the evening, courtesy of the ridiculously attractive Hazel Honeysuckle. I struggled to take my eyes off her deliciously tiny waist encased in cherries, but I was also impressed by a smooth corset removal, which I always enjoy (stripping out of corsets seems to have gone out of fashion a bit nowadays, perhaps because of the ample opportunity for malfunctions), and a slow, prolonged reveal, culminating in a finale of twirling cherry tassels. Extra credit for a great choice of track, You Took Advantage of Me, which complemented the routine well. Coy, knowing, playful, delightfully executed. A pleasant surprise.
I appreciated the details in Legs Malone’s performance. A face veil left only her striking eyes on display, and after a long dance phase she revealed double-layer pasties and left the removal of her veil until last. I find this far sexier than the prolonged concealment of a breast or merkin; being deprived of the place we instinctively look to for expression and connection with each other was tantalising, and in time we were rewarded with a beautiful smile.
Creamed Stu injected a sexual humour into traffic direction I previously thought impossible. Brandishing a stop sign and beckoning with a disgracefully suggestive finger, his number was completed by stop sign fans, and rhinestoned Y-fronts which showed hilarious attention to detail. A guy who can turn you on and make you laugh at the same time – the perfect package.
The entrance of Kay Sera, as Eve, was preceded by the installation of a huge tree, complete with hand puppet serpent and glittering forbidden fruit. With a bite of the infamous apple she began a wildly entertaining reverse strip to Welcome to the Jungle, revealing her trademark pixie crop and trading in her fig leaves for something spicier. I don’t want to give away the details of the whole act for those who haven’t seen it yet, but that snake gets owned, big time. It was well constructed and ably delivered by an imaginative and memorable performer.
The first half closed with a thrilling, transporting and charismatic display of skill, grace and glamour. Gin Minsky performed the vintage Hollywood routine she delivered at BHoF this year, and every layer of costume was exquisite. The choreography was beautiful, perfectly paced, and built in intensity, incorporating high-energy tap and Charleston. Her performance ended with a roar of approval from the crowd; it would have been a fitting finale for the entire evening.
Dolly Berlin’s performance provoked a mix of amused, surprised and faintly disgusted responses. Let’s just say that too much Sprite during an act makes for a pretty original, not to mention gaseous, routine. Initially presented as a wholesome, pretty pinup, it would have been easy to produce a safe, possibly forgettable act. Instead she was fearlessly coarse, and she certainly stands out in my memory two weeks later.
Tiny D and her two hunky helpers, Teddy Turnaround and Brooklyn Irons, performed a worthy tribute to burlesque legend Gina Bon Bon. We enjoyed an intense, steamy middle section, sandwiched between sizzling sambas. The tribute climaxed as Tiny mounted her menservants’ backs and held a skull aloft in sacrifice, which released a stream of glittering golden blood.
Dangrrr Doll. Damn. Girl gives good headdress. Like Legs, she wore a face veil and waited until the last moment to share her pretty, ethereal face. I admire performers who have the confidence to incorporate moments of complete stillness, allowing the audience to drink in every captivating detail. The layers gradually and artfully fell away from her beaded dress to reveal intricate linked pasties. The entire ensemble and performance was atmospheric, erotic and full of purpose; a real highlight.
I have a soft spot for the radiant Calamity Chang, and she didn’t disappoint me. She took to the stage in a beautiful red and yellow gown, and sensually exposed her back with a slow tug of a golden tassel. She manipulated her silk fans with grace and remained perfectly in sync with her music, which some of the other performers struggled to do. Visually gorgeous and uplifting penultimate performance.
Some final nods and notes. Salute to Vampfire for the unenviable task of opening the festival. I felt her energy didn’t always match the punch of her chosen track, Foxy Lady, but she did a good job under pressure. Musette the Mistress of Mischief treated us to her well-constructed and creative Amelia Earhart number, cleverly depicting a story from plane, to plunge, to parachute, with playful props and a screen. Bunny Buxom gave Gal Friday a run for her money with an almost pornographic assel twirl. Matt Knife’s transformation from Princess Toadstool to Luigi was somewhat bizarre, but endearing. Scarlet Starlet transported me to the talent round of an imaginary Miss Burlesque World pageant with her baton-twirling striptease; the twirling itself was almost faultless, I was impressed! Little Motown caused accidental hilarity when she kicked her panties off and up into the rigging, and we enjoyed Scary Ben and Chris Mysterion’s efforts to detach them. Delilah treated us to some playful conceal-and-reveal in a dazzlingly colourful bird of paradise costume. Apart from one unfortunate costume malfunction, which she handled with a calm professionalism, Chicava Honeychild displayed sensual physicality and intensity in her number. And finally, a nod to Voracious V for an unwavering and captivating game face, precision and versatile costume.
Night One down. Although the standard of performance was somewhat inconsistent, it was a smooth, laid-back introduction to the weekend events, with a good variety of styles and themes.
Stay tuned for highlights and photos from the Friday night Premiere Party.
Photos from the New York Burlesque Festival 2013 Thursday Night Teaser Party. Click to browse, hover for caption.
Burlesque Hall of Fame / Miss Exotic World Judge, 2011 Holli Mae Johnson is the founder and editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, a pioneering publication created twelve years ago to unite, document and celebrate the global burlesque community. Holli is actively involved in the burlesque community on a day to day basis and is privately consulted by performers and producers at every level for promotion, critique, recommendations and encouragement. As a documenter and critic, she has seen countless burlesque and variety performances from across the world and provides an intimate perspective and insight into the lives and careers of burlesque’s greatest pioneers, performers and personalities.