Each year, the Best Debut competition provides a glimpse into the up-and-coming heavy-hitters of the burlesque world, and this year’s competition was no different. In a dizzying array of styles, songs, and sequins, the ten debut competitors for 2017 brought their A-game and slammed it down onto the Orleans Showroom stage.
This year’s Best Debut competition started off with a bang as Egypt Blaque Knyle (Los Angeles, CA) took the stage with her signature James Brown act. If you’ve never had the fortune to see Egypt perform, trust me when I say that, given her high energy dance style replete with verve and emotion, it is no big surprise that she is a mere couple titles away from holding the global record for most burlesque titles won by a single performer. Donning a hat, gold, cape, and sparkly purple paillette jumpsuit with cutouts, Egypt sauntered across the stage to the beat.
Despite losing her footing a bit, she made excellent use of the whole stage, maintaining her simmering connection to the audience. Doffing her hat and cape, her dancing ramped up with a blend of modern dance athleticism and raw exotic dance tricks. I would have loved to see the hat and cape used more, as well as a different shape and weighting for the cape in order to allow for maximum flow, but truly, her impeccable timing leads to those suggestions being afterthoughts. Ever the consummate performer, Egypt held character throughout the applause as she exited the stage.
Second up was the bombastic Rubyyy Jones (London, UK), who pranced onto the stage in a precious little pink caped outfit with turquoise accents to the song I Feel Pretty from the Sondheim musical West Side Story. This track transitioned into audio from the infamous 2014 FCKH8 Potty-Mouthed Princess viral video. For those unfamiliar, the video is comprised of elementary school-aged femmes who are making sociopolitical commentary by liberally using the F-word while pointing out gender inequality and violence against women, making the point that it is past time we as a society take gender inequality seriously instead of worrying about what language little girls are using.
Rubyyy’s act evolved from prim and proper to a raunchy and irreverent, fully-committed lip sync strip. This is draglesque at its finest, folx – deliberate, entertaining, and with intention. With her crisp, powerful, dynamic movement (including an awesome high kick), Rubyyy’s act was social commentary without being preachy or forced. Playing to whole house, Rubyyy’s choreography was well-displayed to all, from her cape work with her tulle skirt that became a collar as well as a perfectly timed pant removal, perfect arc and landing. It is no wonder that the act ended up winning Most Innovative.
Following with a change of pace was Miss Acrolicious (Kuopio, Finland), clad in black. Normally, I feel it is not the best choice to wear all black costuming, especially on a stage as vast as The Orleans Showroom’s, but thankfully most of the potential damage was mitigated by her choice to utilize a red carpet as her dancing and acrobatics surface. She performed a dizzying array of acrobatic tricks, including (but not limited to) backflips, spins, splits, cartwheels, backbends.
It seems she had some trouble with balance in the middle of her choreography; however, it was still a pleasing and engaging mix of dynamic and languid movement. Due to the nature of the act, she stayed center stage but still played to whole house, though not as much to house right. It is always crucial to remember that audience connection is an important part of this competition and should be minded by all performers on stages of this magnitude. All that being said, Miss Acrolicious topped her act with incredible final trick- a headstand with an upside down tassel twirl!
Next was the stripping sensation from the Mohawk Nation, Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière (Montreal, QC). Decked out in her Sunday best church lady skirt suit, topped off with a big hat and accented by a boa, Lou Lou launched into a classic strip. She displayed excellent boa work, most notably a trick boa grab from betwixt her legs. Choreography was executed with clean crisp movements, and prop were utilized to maximum effect, e.g. a hanky and the aforementioned boa.
Carrying on with the theme of contrast between staid church madam and simmering seductress, Lou Lou teased the audience with a super sexy corset removal. Her final trick was a back bend into a tassel twirl. A solid act, all told, but it would be nice to see all elements of the narrative amped up even higher, as well as more utilization of the whole stage.
Gliding on stage in a truly magnificent bedazzled wheelchair, Jacqueline Boxx (Baltimore, MD) was our fifth competitor in the lineup for Best Debut. Known as Miss Disa-burly-tease, Jacqueline performed in red and black to Nugget. Jacqueline maneuvered deftly, utilizing the whole space. As she performed, a projector displayed quotes behind her, taken directly from those who have made inappropriate comments regarding her circumstance as a person with mobility differences.
In addition to the elegant transitions between chair dancing and floor work, Jacqueline’s piece was a powerful commentary on how those with disability are perceived and pigeonholed by society at large.
Switching things up stylistically was Faye Havoc, the seamstress of striptease (Vancouver, BC). Strolling onstage in a pink and lavender sequin dress, Faye schlepped about with an anemic-looking boa, so much so that I was concerned for its relative health, and Faye appeared to be similarly discomfited. Then, all of a sudden, there was a bigger boa! Faye demonstrated excellent character transitions in her act’s solid narrative arc, from a bit clumsy and awkward with the flimsy boa to more confident and in charge with the lush boa.
In another narrative turn, the boa attacked her! Via the genius of hilarious and innovative puppetry, Faye’s wrestling with the boa lead to her dress removal. With the best propwork of the set, her highly skilled propwork with boa utilized the whole stage while incorporating classic striptease choreography during the wrestling and ultimate reveal.
Continuing in the vein of neoburlesque, Aurora Black (New York, NY), also known as the prima ballerina of burlesque, came out in pointe shoes to show us what she can do. Dressed as a robot, Aurora delivered android ballet en pointe. Ballet en pointe is difficult enough, so the clean movement of the act was that much more remarkable. Though it took awhile for the first removals to occur, and the choreography itself was a touch repetitive (perhaps deliberately so, due to the robotic nature of the act), Aurora’s bootywork en pointe was fantastic, and in general, her pointe work was lovely and technically sound.
All too often, the novelty of burlesque en pointe leads to mediocre and horribly unsafe pointe acts, so it is always nice to see someone with the necessary training to execute this style both safely and elegantly. As a final touch, her broken heart pasties were an excellent choice thematically-speaking, carrying the narrative of the act out through the very last moment.
Winding down the competition, Musette the Mistress of Mischief (Minneapolis, MN) donned decadent Art Deco-inspired trappings. Stylistically, the Art Deco influence is clear throughout her work, as evidenced in other acts as well as the BHoF 2017 poster art itself! In a gold robe-like cape and big feather headdress, Musette showed a mastery of musicality and fluidity with her movements, especially evident in the panel work with her cape removal. The weighted hems of the garment allowed for dramatic flourishes, although it would have been nice to see more time with the flow work instead of moving on relatively quickly.
Another delightful costuming element was her gorgeous body harness Musette employed a decent use of stage except house right. Additionally, despite some struggle with the structure of the headdress which did flop over a couple times, it was a nice touch to have the headdress come off to be used as a fan. Not only that, the headdress came apart to be used as two separate fans and then was placed back upon her head, to tremendous applause.
The penultimate competitor for Best Debut was Ivory Fox (New York, NY). Known as the “five feet of fury,” Ivory made dramatic entrance towering on platform heels. She glided forward on the stage, slow and commanding, in a sheer nude toga with glimmering underthings. Her act focused on acroburlesque tricks and techniques, replete with every variety of acrobatic and athletic feats laced with elegance and fluid transitions.
Included in Ivory’s choreography was handstand work, displaying her incredible strength and elegance, and the sheer capacity for distinct and numerous inversions in quick succession. Her most amazing trick was a cartwheel into spinning floorwork, wherein she returned to her panel piece via backbend. Through it all, Ivory Fox did not stumble once as she dazzled the audience.
Our final competitor of the evening was Elle Dorado (New Orleans, LA) treating us to something I would bet you’d never have guessed you’d see on the BHoF stage: a skate’n’strip. Ice skating, to be precise. Yes folx, Elle brought a synthetic ice skating surface to dance on, and dance she did. Playing to all angles of the house as she glided around, Elle’s strip included an excellent glove removal around back of head using momentum from skating to fling both it and her skirt panel away, and in a trick of genius costuming, her bustle became a boa.
More connection to audience would have been appreciated, though I imagine this is challenging when one is literally trying to stay upright while skating and stripping. Perhaps a deeper skating surface would allow for more skating space and thusly more focus could shift back to the audience connection element? Elle’s performance concluded with a fantastic tassel twirl on her skate picks and the ever-popular drop split.
Overall, this year’s group of competitors was a very strong crew, but ultimately, the Best Debut award was given to Musette – many congratulations to her!
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.