Montreal Burlesque Festival: Thursday, Aug 25, 2011
I got off the plane in Montreal and breezed through customs and immigration with ease, but I was already late for the press conference that started at 5:30. I found my fair cohort, Miss Coco Lectric, at the luggage carousel and we headed to the ladies’ room for a quick change, Wonder Woman style.
Scarlett James’ darling husband, David, was waiting outside to whisk us to the venue. As we waltzed out with our glittery cocktail dresses and suitcases, a couple of bystanders snapped photos. I guess no one wears cocktail dresses to the airport anymore!
With a name like Club Soda, I was imagining the venue to be a sleek, multi-level night club with neon lights and a clever 1950s twist. As the car pulled up in front, I knew I was in for something quite different. The old fashioned marquee above the entrance blazed “Burlesque” and the panel of glass doors had the feel of a grand old movie palace. A short hallway opened into a gallery where a few artist vendors had set up. The surreal and decadently macabre paintings by local favorite, Zema, adorned one corner, while the enchanting works by French artist Eric Scala filled the other. He had created portraits of several of the festival performers, including Cherry Typhoon, Amber Ray, Scarlett James, and me.
The adjoining main hall was long, with a grand, red velvet curtained stage at one end, a cocktail bar at the other, and balconies along each side hung with regal burgundy velvet and gold fringe pennants.
The fashion show, featuring exquisite underpinnings by Lise Charmel of Paris was in full swing, and there was just enough time to get a glass of champagne and settle in before the main event began. A highlight of the first act was the stunning and sensuous tango performed by Mylene Pelletier and Alexander Richardson in ethereal, all white costumes.
The line up for all three nights of the festival included world-class variety acts in addition to burlesque striptease. There was magic, comedy, live music, aerial arts, tap dance, group production numbers, and even a bit of opera!
At intermission, legends of burlesque, Tiffany Carter, April March, and Satan’s Angel held court (and cocktails) at the bar. There’s no other group of ladies I would rather party with! At the show’s close, Scarlett James ascended into a giant structural glass, more fine art than stemware, splashing gleefully and elegantly about with a red heart sponge.
The after party led us to L’Assommoir, a chic bistro bar on rue Notre Dame. We took up a goodly part of the late night bistro, laughing and carousing until the chef sated our crowing with a couple of enormous platters of, well… meat. It was like a feast at Valhalla; sausages, small legs of poultry and other carnivorous delights. With that and even more champagne, my French got a lot better!
Friday, August 26, 2011
On Friday, my dear friend Coco Lectric was to teach a workshop near Old Montreal, the historical district. Finding our way through the gridlocked traffic, someone remarked, ‘Montreal has two seasons: winter and construction.’ But we got her to class and I got to my tech rehearsal shortly thereafter. Fortunately, the tech team was at that moment ready for a break, because I hadn’t had my coffee yet! The team’s charming and able leader, Domenic Castelli, kindly walked me around the corner to a nearby café for cappuccino and pastry. He made me order in French too! We returned with coffees for the crew, and newly caffeinated, they continued their rockstar efforts coordinating the flawless execution of bubbles, snow, wetworks, lighting cues to match music, wrangling giant props, and aerial rigging. What a team!
The delightful Cherry Typhoon, newly moved to Montreal from Japan, had arrived with her friend Mayu, maker of fine corsets and kimonos. I walked through my number, not wanting to jinx it by performing the rehearsal full out. Show business is full of personal superstitions. David had also arrived with the lovely Michelle L’amour in tow, who wisely advocates having a good pre-show “foundation” (dinner). So we noshed on some gnocchi at Roberto’s, just around the corner from our lodgings at Scarlett and David’s adorable townhome.
The excitement was palpable as we prepared for the show, fussing over hair and makeup and zipping up our gowns for this grand night. Since Coco and I weren’t on until the second half, we got to watch some of the first act, including Cherry Typhoon’s whimsical geisha act. She has a certain magic on stage that instantly makes people happy. I sat with Michelle and we discussed the finer points of, well, pointing one’s toes.
When I went backstage to get ready, the atmosphere was wonderful and calm, with Peekaboo Pointe, Harvest Moon, Tiffany Carter, and Coco Lectric all in various stages of preparation.
Then… it was showtime! The brilliant MC, Benjamin Marquis, had been announcing the acts in both English and French all night, transporting us to another era of glamour and spectacle on a grand scale. To hear myself introduced “en francais” was a dream I didn’t know I had. The deep red curtains parted, the opening notes of my song scorched the air, and I turned to face the beautiful audience. Afterwards my glass of champagne was waiting and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much!
I got back out into the audience in time to see legend Tiffany Carter (Miss Nude Universe 1975) gliding on stage in a glittering midnight blue gown and regal billowing duster.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
We must have had more fun Friday night than we knew, because no one could be roused until 1:00pm on Saturday! I popped a flower in my hair and walked with Michelle L’Amour and David around the corner to Roberto’s for lasagna and cappuccino; the breakfast of burlesque champions. They had an awfully tempting selection of gelato too – perhaps we would come back later for that. The front of the café was open to the sidewalk, so we sat in the delicious early afternoon breeze and watched passersby.
Later that day, some mutual friends of the festival from Las Vegas, Heather and Rolando, drove me into Old Port, the historic district of Old Montreal. Eroded cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, art galleries, and umbrella festooned sidewalk eateries marked this wonderful part of the city. The solid old stone buildings towered on either side of the streets, at once gracious and imposing.
Since Heather and Rolando had not joined us for the “breakfast of burlesque champions” earlier, we stopped at a little sidewalk bistro, Le Sauvagine, with tables nestled beneath giant orange umbrellas. I ordered a rosé and gazed at the people passing by from behind my big dark sunglasses. Then… a familiar figure emerged from the crowd. Rolando exclaimed, ‘look who it is!’ The lovely Roxi D’Lite (BHOF Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2010) was headed our way.
She looked like a bohemian muse straight out of the summer of love with her floaty top, feather earrings and sun-kissed skin. She told us of her weekend’s adventures in marvelous Montreal, but soon the ever-ticking clock had us rushing back to the townhouse to get primped and ready for the evening’s grand gala.
In the beautiful lobby of Club Soda, Miss Amber Ray had set up a table of glittering hair ornaments, and I was drawn to them like a helpless moth! After trying on several, I decided on a luscious orange poppy, shimmering with golden rhinestones.
The show that night was just as visually stunning. One of my favorite acts was Harvest Moon’s aerial silk routine. She made it look effortless and joyful, confident in every graceful and sculpted move. The second half offered the sublime pairing of a tuxedoed tenor singing Nessun Dorma, followed by Michelle L’Amour’s impossibly dreamy white feather fan dance a la Sally Rand. The next act really got our blood pumping as legend Satan’s Angel took the stage. Someone remarked that she was the “Tina Turner of burlesque” and her famous act ending in spinning fire tassels and a full house standing ovation left no doubt that she is every inch the rockstar.
Our final après show gathering led us again to L’Assommoir and it’s decadent platters. Everyone was in such high spirits that the staff finally had to shoo us out of there so they could go home.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Sunday morning we awoke to chilly temperatures and rain. Coming from Texas where it’s been over 100 degrees with NO rain for over three months, I was happy as a clam!
We gathered for the post-festival performers’ brunch at a place called Thursday’s, which ironically was a surreal cross between a TGI Friday’s and French fine dining. Even more surreal was the strolling Portuguese troubadour, the person dancing around in a giant chicken suit, and the birthday song. Every twenty minutes or so, disco lights would start flashing and the waitstaff would gather around a guest of honor and sing the birthday song as music was piped over the P.A. It was a stark contrast to the white linen tablecloths and genteel floral décor, but the coffee and croissants were divine, and that’s what really mattered.
After brunch we embarked on a journey that possibly changed my life forever. We visited the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Musee des Beaux-Arts. Five rooms of iconic runway collections including pieces worn by Madonna and Dita Von Teese. Garments that shaped my early years and my very relationship with lingerie. Underwear as outerwear for god’s sake! They were hallowed halls, these rooms of genius wearable masterpieces. The corsetry alone left me breathless. If this exhibit comes anywhere near you, go see it!
That evening we convened in Scarlett and David’s kitchen, drank raspberry vodka and danced to hair bands as David played DJ. Hmmm… that could be the inspiration for another great burlesque show…