burlesque lineup

Ah, the quaint charms of burlesque. Smoke filled rooms in which the smell of cigars mingles just a little uneasily with booze and perfume, and most of the lighting comes from the stage where raunchy comics and sexy ladies of every description strut their stuff in elaborate costumes to the most decadent music of the age.

For the most part, the smoke filled rooms are gone, but thankfully, the classicdemdare2 cabaret show is still very much with us. Did I say quaint? Not exactly. The burlesque of today takes the seedy go-go and striptease of the 1960's & 70's, runs it through the wash (a couple times for good measure), gives it a classy makeover and some etiquette lessons, and merges it with the classic cabaret of yesteryear. It was in this spirit that Cyndi Roach and I headed down to Club Cafe on a wintry night for Smokin' Betties Birthday Bash to get some pics and check out the show.

First impressions: Brisk, but not abrupt, and smoothly executed. Very good turnout despite dire predictions of winter storm related death and destruction. The Smokin' Betties and guests put on a very tight and well-orchestrated show which belied the fact that this troupe has only been in business for one year. While there was plenty of messing around (it is burlesque, after all) the pace and near seamless transition from act to act was all business.

A good emcee helps: Cross dressing comic Lilith DeVille did an outstanding job lilith deville2of keeping the pace with an arsenal of witty, off-color jokes, sparkles, and a sublimely hilarious cover of "Part Of Your World" from The Little Mermaid which harkened to the humor of South Park. Keeping the crowd warm during set changes is critical, especially when elaborate costumes come off and must be removed from the stage. This lovely 'lady' did a fine job, and more than once made it difficult for me to hold the camera steady while resisting the urge to laugh.

Eye and fly adjustments: DemDare Eyes, as her name implies, does indeed have a beautiful set of eyes and a very striking face. That wasn't the only great set on this well-formed lass, and her sassy shaking thereof caused a noticeable temperature spike in the room, followed by some uncomfortable shifting of posture by the male contingent of the audience. TheDemDare women in the crowd have it somewhat easier in these situations, but eschewed any pretense of modesty, instead expressing their appreciation with the kind of catcalling only women can get away with these days. Strutting the stage to the tune of Gin Wigmore's "Black Sheep" in a white coat and black corset, with classy moves befitting her brazen, yet demure character, she sold her performance to the audience with critical eye contact; the well timed looks which are the mark of an adept student/practitioner of the art.

The Muse: One of the most compelling acts of the evening was a sexy duet featuring Violet Corbeau and Amoxie Villian. Amoxie plays a man in turmoil, hitting the bottle hard. He appears to be struggling with writers block or regret; violet amoxie 2perhaps both. Maybe he's trying to pen an apology. In the midst of this alcohol slopping nadir, a lovely fairy (Violet) appears, and our hero is transformed by her power and mystery. They assist each other in clothing removal, he gets his wings and the twain fly off together into love and adventure. These bits of compositional genius are one of the great things about modern burlesque. The lovely Violet and her dapper opposite pull it off very well, with a visible chemistry which the audience heartily acknowledged with lots of bawdy applause. Unlike solo numbers, which, whether cool, hot, brazen or sultry, rely heavily on direct audience engagement, interpretive dance duets call for the performers to focus on inhabiting their parts or on one another rather than the audience, and this, the pair did very well. Lana Del Reys' "Gods and Monsters" proved a powerful audio backdrop for this metaphorical piece.


 

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Dance revolution: Speaking of direct audience engagement, the lovely, leggy, and very athletic Gigi Coudray hit the stage and literally tore that thing up. This smokin' lady has gigiprofessional grade dance moves and beauty to match, showing off both to the great enjoyment of all. The sizzling brunette worked it to Siouxsie And The Banshees "The Passenger", burning up the stage with high energy, hips that kill, and a smile as warm and sultry as the Nile in summer. This caused more explosions of lustful applause from the standing room only crowd. This was another mark of how much experience this troupe has gained or tapped into their work over such a short time. As with DemDare, Gigi effortlessly communicates to the audience with eye contact, never breaking it for too long despite a dizzying swirl of sexy motion. This, of course, resulted in yet more shifting of men awkwardly attempting to conceal their, ahem, tents.

Slow and sexy: One of the charms of burlesque is the slow dance, and special guest Pushing Daisys obliged with a tantalizing striptease in blue sequined evening gown, stole and gloves. The combo showed off the buxom babes' curves to great advantage,rose as did her graceful moves. Her choice of song, Sam Phillips "All Night", was perfect for the piece and the crowd let her know it. She's a beautiful lady with angelic eyes and a smile which my camera just loved. She knew it too, and made love back to that thing like a seasoned performer, turning it on at just the right points. What really blew me away, though, was her second half act, in which she comes out to John Cales’ "Hallelujah" dressed in all white and working angel wings which she sheds as part of the striptease. She projected the pain upon ripping off the wings like a true pro. Very moving, and another one of those flashes of compositional and interpretive genius burlesque offers. It was also a testament to the amount of effort which goes into just a single number. A great performance and what was easily the coolest costume of the evening.

Dance revolution II: The burlesque community tends to be super supportive of one another and Cleveland's Burlesque Queen, and mentor to many, Bella Sin, came out to head-line for the ladies and show the crowd why she has racked up multiple awards,bella sin including 3 time first place Gold Medal Winner for Burlypicks Ohio. And speaking of racks, she wasn't at all shy about shaking her very ample one for our enjoyment during a very energetic dance number culminating in the removal of a pink belly dancers' costume. She has that sparkle in her eye and a dazzling smile and you can tell she just loves what she does. She also showcased a grace of movement acquired from years on the stage, with absolute awareness of where everything is on her intricate costumes. She did a traditional fan dance, littering the stage with rose petals at the conclusion of her second act of the evening. You can catch more of her work in her award winning troupe Le Femme Mystique Burlesque, and as Head Producer of the International award winning Ohio Burlesque Festival.


 

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Naughty Ringmaster: A blonde cutie with the not-quite-innocent baby face of the troupe, Luna LaCreme hit the stage in a sexy red circus ringmaster outfit complete withluna black cape and hat, trainers whip, and smile which suggested she just might use it if you get out of hand. Appropriately, she chose Britney Spears "Circus" to showcase her moves in a highly spirited dance with splits and poses a plenty. A newcomer to burlesque, the fast learning Luna showed a grace and style which have evolved quite a bit over just one year. It paid off this night, as she represented her troupe and herself very well in a sexy and daring number. A great costume with all the trimmings was a nice touch, the red standing out like that fast red car which got you pulled over more than once. Yeah, you remember that car.

Midnight Mame can-can: A staple of burlesque and cabaret, no house of burlesque is complete without the kicks of a good can-can dance, and Midnight Mame had them iscan can profusion. Her costume, complete with petticoats and towering headpiece, was a throwback to the origins of this popular dance. Her dance was a largely faithful representation of the classic, though enjoying much of the salacious shaking and posturing which is the liberty of the solo performer. This performance accentuated the tease element of burlesque: Midnight hid her excellent figure in layers and the removal of those layers produced possibly the most explosive applause of the night. As if her outstanding sexiness wasn't enough, Midnight nicely paired this classic bit with David Guetta's "Hey Mama", proving that the right visual has a powerful impact on ones' perception of a song. (Case in point: I normally hate all things Nicki Minaj, but when this song comes on, I now catch myself smiling to the memory of those can-can gams...and that can-can can. Cheap shot, I know, but I'm just a guy and she had heart shaped pasties with tassels on it AND she made them spin too.)

Diamonds are a girl's best friend: The Grand Diva of the Betties, Lucy La Bam, did a classy, understated number which took it back to the French origins of burlesque. lucySlim and elegant in a green gown with black gloves and hat, and black lingerie underneath, she fairly oozed the sassy, dismissive, even mildly contemptuous air of the beauty queens of yore with a look and posture which said, "Impress me sailor; don't you dare bore me." Accordingly, she employed a grace which was less fluid and more statuesque; less dancer and more runway model. "Sparkling Diamonds" was a perfect choice of song, and the crowd just ate it up. This was another moment which paced the charm of the mid-1800's origins of the cabaret to a modern step very effectively.

Sensei takes the stage: Lastly, special guest and the very embodiment of dark sexuality, Macabre Noir, hit the stage. I got my first look at this exquisite burlesque performer and trainer doing her "Paper Planes" (MIA) routine in the Bridge City Bombshells 3rd Birthday Bash. In that bit, she was in an elaborate, all white costume composed of paper planes which she removed and threw into the audience.macbre For this birthday party, the leader of the Steel City Burlesque Academy went with a serious, Spartan, all black bra and panty combo with black feather fans. A slow and sexy fan dance to the strains of Artie Shaw's "Nightmare" gave me a sense of what a complete performer she really is. It was less playful by half but more seductive by twice than the first time I saw her perform. It was very warmly received, as befits a master of the art and the trainer of many a Bettie and Bombshell. Afterwards, her words of praise for her pupils were effusive, calling them "one of the most professional, hard working groups of girls I have ever had the pleasure of teaching and working with." A fitting conclusion to a fine show delivered by one of the best performers in town & beyond.

Conclusion: The more things change, the more they stay the same. This was an excellent show, with very few miscues, and many highlights. As noted, The Smokin' the troupeBetties did indeed seem more experienced than a single year of playing before audiences had me expecting. The terms "modern" or "original" as applied here to burlesque are misnomers to some degree on my part. This was not your grand or great grand-dads' burlesque, and yet it was. In truth, it was only the diverse nature of the crowd, as well as some of the music and dance moves, which were modern. The biggest difference between now and our forefathers' day is that ladies are in the audience and are as rowdy or even more rowdy than the men. That and the lack of cigar smoke, but they could get a machine for a less toxic version of that. In any case, it was not needed as The Smokin' Betties and their special guests all did a great job of smokin' up the joint as it was and making it a successful conclusion to year one for this talented troupe. - J


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Category: Main Stage