Burlesque noir at its best, Pretty Haute Machine: A Burlesque Tribute to Nine Inch Nails was a gripping, if intense, tour through a songbook characterised by sex, anger, and isolation. The show was presented by Closer to Broads, the production company of neo-burlesquers Iva Handfull, Lady Drew Blood and Seraphina Fiero.
PHM is not the first production to pair burlesque with the music of Nine Inch Nails. Other notable shows have been produced in Chicago and New York, and another will take place next month in Austin, Texas. But in Seattle, a city famous for (and obsessed with) grunge rock, a tribute to Trent Reznor’s angsty industrial seems especially apropos.
I’ll admit that I expected the show to include a lot of black vinyl and mosh pit-inspired dance moves. In reality, PHM was a parade of ethereal, undulating performances that erupted one by one in riots of colour and intensity. Although the Goth aesthetic was certainly represented (complete with brooding expressions that bordered on deadpan, Maleficent-style horns, and black latex), the spectacle as a whole was glittery and exuberant. Even the most monochromatic presentations were lit up like laser shows in vivid colour and smoke.
Lady Drew Blood added significantly to the laser light show experience by performing in complete darkness, illuminated only by the spinning of her LED assels and tassels. Later, Iva Handfull brought the house down with an act that culminated in the reveal of a working shower, which rained water down from the ceiling Flashdance-style and was lit by a single white strobe. The Luminous Pariah performed as a fabulously un-cherubic Cupid to the sex anthem Closer. Enormous pheasant feathers on his wings and crown aggrandised his angular choreography and quivering movements.
In one of the most arresting moments of the evening, Seraphina Fiero presented a moving exploration of isolation and self-destruction. Her gossamer dress appeared to be made of cobwebs, playing on the sound of buzzing insects that begins The Downward Spiral. A counterpoint to the beauty of her actions and costume, harsh white light made her reveals feel disturbingly exposed.
For better or worse, the standalone nature of each act was heightened by emcee Flirty Sanchez, who delivered her intros and commentary as Hot-Topic-Goth-girl Raven Belladonna. Her monotonous speech and energy, while perhaps appropriate to her stereotypical ‘Goth’ character, starkly contrasted the high-intensity performances in a way that felt disjointed. Instead of providing cohesion to the show, it made each act seem oddly separate.
Overall, each splinter of Pretty Haute Machine was satisfyingly noir in its own way.
Pretty Haute Machine reviewed by Crystal Tassels.
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.