October 23, 2011
Revival Bar, Toronto
On Sunday, October 23, I had the chance to photograph the annual Halloween showcase put on by Les Coquettes, known as “Canada’s premier cabaret ensemble.” Presented at their regular haunt, The Revival Bar in Toronto’s Little Italy, Cabaret Enchanté was a perfect mixture of classic fairy tale charm, Tim Burton creep factor, and comedy relief. The troupe mixed burlesque with old style vaudeville standards such as aerial rings & ribbons, cirque, song, dance, improv, and comedy – all to a unifying theme.
On to some highlights of the (long, sexy, hot, naughty, dirty…you get the picture) evening.
The evening’s reverie was hosted by the lovely La Minouche – that’s French for pussy…. cat – a fairy godmother with good intentions but really bad mojo when it comes to granting wishes. Decked out in richly layered brocade fabrics, she used her jeweled elfin wand to change the course of many a well-known fairy tale with some dark and twisted repercussions.
There’s nothing hotter than a full-on kicking, scratching, hair pulling, girl on girl fight. When you’re a super sexy version of Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee, it’s bound to happen. Facing different directions, their left arms beautifully bound in red latex tape making it impossible to pull themselves apart, Georgie Gates and Billie Black performed a Siamese twin strip while rotating on the stage. I don’t remember my childhood version of Alice including butt pinching, sensual reveals, or catfights resulting in pastie-clad hot Tweedles. I think I might have paid more attention to the storyline if it had.
The ladies (and gents) of Les Coquettes are a multi-talented troupe and make good use of their members’ many skills. Case in point – for a second piece from the popular “Alice” story, Dante Inferno’s Queen of Hearts belted out a hauntingly eerie rendition of Florence + The Machine’s Girl With One Eye to a captive and optically-disabled Alice (Charlotte Webber). Alice eventually managed to seduce the Queen and put her in her rightful place – tied to a chair with a crumpet in her mouth!
Some brevity was inserted into the evening with one of my favourite childhood stories – “Goldilocks & the Three Bears” – with the twist of a circus setting. Sporting little bear caps, Les Coquettes’ sexy manprops – Dew Lily (go ahead and hoot ladies and gents!), Le Barback, and The Mohel – hid behind the curtains like scared little boys when they heard someone coming down the aisle towards them. And scared they should be! It was none other than a very confident Goldilocks, but not how you might remember her. Lilli Bubalotovitch’s take on the character had her dressed up in full lion tamer circus attire including top hat and whip. She regaled us with feats of amazement as she put the little man-bears through their paces, prancing around the stage, performing a dance on chairs, and then stripping down to their little tighty whities. This was my kind of circus!
Every once in a while you go to a burlesque show and see a performance that makes your jaw drop, raises the hairs on your arms, and takes your breath away – one that is so well put together that all the elements just mesh perfectly and mesmerize the audience. Billie Black as Rapunzel with Suki Tsunami as her prince brought out the sensuality, romance, drama, and despair in the childhood fairytale through the ingenuous use of aerial ribbonwork. Using the golden ribbons as a metaphor for Rapunzel’s hair, Billie began the routine with beautiful aerial work of her own, unwinding her “hair” to let it down to her waiting lover. Suki’s prince performed some stunning and skillful acrobatics while climbing towards the waiting Rapunzel only to plummet to the ground when the evil stepmother cut off Rapunzel’s long locks in revenge. I was so enchanted by the way the story was interpreted I had to remind myself to pick up my camera and take photos – it went beyond burlesque cabaret into theatre.
One of my favourite childhood stories – and one that enchants so many little girls today – was “The Little Mermaid.” Luckily, this was an 18+ show or there would have been a lot of disappointed little girls in the audience – this was no sanitized, homogenized, idealized or essentially Disneyfied version of the tale. This was the Hans Christian Andersen version, full of unrequited love, doom and despair, tears and death perfect for a rowdy all Hallows (close enough) audience! The tale unfolded, quite fittingly, to Enya’s Orinoco Flow as Dante Inferno’s fiery redhead mermaid makes her deal with a sea witch to sacrifice her true self for a man she met on a beach. Having stripped off the vestiges of her sea life, she goes to her man dressed in her best pasties only to be cast off like yesterdays seaweed. Dying of despair, the sea nymphs carry her back into the water.
Everyone knows Carlo Collodi’s story of “Pinocchio,” Geppetto’s puppet that desperately wanted to be a real boy and had a penchant for telling lies. Dew Lily’s Pinocchio, however, has already become a boy and has come to the horrible conclusion that it’s just not working out for him. His only wish now is to escape this cruel world and go back to his former marionette existence. A talented burlesque artist that always has both the women and men in the audience swooning over his increasingly lascivious performances, Dew managed to outdo himself yet again with the introduction of a new prop that I hope he will continue to use in future shows. With a nod to The Smith’s How Soon Is Now, he sang his way down the center aisle of the club to climb onto a pedestal set up below the stage, offering himself up to the audience for both judgement and approval. Stripped down, he gave himself up to rigger The Control Enthusiast whose quick hands and expert rope skills soon had him trussed crucifix-style upon the dais. With the addition of newly painted joints and pins, the platform was pulled away to allow the revitalized Pinocchio a chance to test his newfound suspension with a series of sensual contortions set to a deep thrumming base beat. I don’t think I have ever seen such a breathtaking cabaret act – a suspension set with a sad and twisted tale – so beautifully performed.
A big shoutout to the talented members of Les Coquettes – La Minouche, Le Barback, The Carpenter, The Mohel, Dew Lily, Georgie Gates, Lilli Bubalotovitch, Dante Inferno, Charity Dawn, Suki Tsunami, Billie Black, Charlotte Webber, and rigger The Control Enthusiast –with additional music by Zirco Circus.
Olena Sullivan (Photolena) is a Toronto-based model and performance photographer who specializes in onstage burlesque photography. All photos ©Olena Sullivan-Photolena and used here with permission by Burlesque Beat. Performers may use shots for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece.