by J.D. Oxblood
Thursday, May 31st
Orleans Casino Showroom, Las Vegas, Nevada
Try to remember that these shows are not for the faint of heart—Thursday’s “Movers, Shakers and Innovators” features some 26 performers, not counting stage kittens and stagehands—who, like Vancouver’s Norm Elmore, are likely to be called out and hooted at, too. This is a long show, there’s no curb service, and the intermissions are doled out like black bread in the Soviet era. But it’s a fun show, highlighting the freaks on the lunatic fringe of burlesque, and the best part is that you’re certain to see something you don’t like. That’s the point of experimentation and innovation—it’s divisive, and allows for genre-splitting (and jean-splicing).
This year’s Thursday night dominated over recent years in one key category—the hosts. Opening up our “Weekend at Boobies” is Vegas’ own Blanche DeBris, a tow-head with a vintage squeaky voice, declaring that “We’re here to celebrate what others’ dysfunctional childhoods did to them!” She sings childlike over gentle xylophone music before snapping, “Drop it!” and booming into the history of burlesque in rap. Blisteringly solid: “I got 99 problems but burlesque ain’t one.” Throughout the first act, Blanche’s one-liners continue to hit the spot.
Anyone who watches horse racing knows how important it is to draw a good post, and if there’s one rough post to pull, it’s opening the entire weekend. Our first performer of Burlesque Hall 2012 is a New Yorker, gutterpunk Brooklynite Creamed Stu, who rises to the occasion with spectacular zeal. Bum rushing the stage in a fireman’s getup, Stu climbs a drape to rescue the stuffed kitty stuck near the grid. Back down to take off his fireman’s coat, he puts on a gas mask to suck oxygen and climbs back up, ditching his pants in a rain of glitter, and losing everything with a slight wardrobe malfunction—word has it some got a view of All of Stu. Which may be why Blanche commented, “He can save my pussy any day.”
The hoopster known as Lula Houp-Garou proved that you can innovate even when the crowd thinks they know you. After throwing her hair down, she re-enters with two long strings each adorned with three small birds, and spins them. Yes, she’s doing Tippi Hedren from “The Birds,” even before she reenters with her eponymous hoop, tonight, decked out with birds perched upon it, circling her menacingly while she strips. My favorite move was the classic back-stretch stocking removal, while spinning a hoop on one arm raised high above her head.
Melody Mangler, the Bruiser from Vancouver, clearly has an obsession with flowers, which contrasts nicely with her punk rock hairdo and ever-growing tattoo collection. A Best Debut winner on her first trip to BHOF, Mangler and her fellow Vancouverettes must be called out for their heavy presence. They brought a large contingent of BHOF performers for their Best Group entry, they brought another mob of more performers who came to support their fellows, PLUS another gaggle of straight-up FANS. That’s how you support your local burlesque scene. (Here’s to you, Caprice!) Anydiddle, Mangler’s looking lovely as ever in a giant skirt bursting with roses, sauntering to what might be the Andrew Sisters’ version of “I Want to be Loved.” Dropping the skirt, it’s revealed to hide its own support, giving her a pedestal to rise up on. With gentle grace, she spins from one end of the stage to the other, unlacing her corset as she spins, a tease of a tease. The music change gives us a pumping crescendo to a tassel twirl on her rosy stage, a stunning dream of romance in spring.
Another personal favorite from the evening was the always-WTF-ible Dolls of Doom, tonight missing Tila Von Twirl (who won Best Variety in 2010, a now-defunct category, with Lola Martinet). This year Lola and Teddy Bare don the classic Chinese lion costume and sell it winningly: a cute tail wag, a darling prance to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” and a front-paws slump, sitting down like any playful lapdog, uber-cute and ultra-charming. After pantsing themselves, both ladies pop up out the back of the lion and continue into a now-standard Dolls duo acrobatic routine.
Angi B. Lovely struts her dancer legs to what must be Esquivel’s version of “Istanbul Not Constantinople,” taking deliberate steps and offering heavy bumps. In her floorwork, she raises one leg up high and flips into the splits. Classic moves and hardbodies seem to be the trend in Dallas—god bless Texas—also on display in the hypnotic moves and exquisite face of Ginger Valentine, strutting her stuff to a cracked, fucked-up version of “Harlem Nocturne” (you can hear the record popping). This is innovation within a strictly established framework—dig the slow hip spiral that takes her almost menacingly to the floor.
“Every time a burlesque dancer cries, a producer somewhere gets an erection.” Thanks for keeping it real, Blanche. In an act sure to give everyone a pole-on, Bazooka Joe goes out on a limb with a bold innovation: Unicorn Porn, with pole vaulting (no pun intended). In a Mohawk and unicorn horn, he prances to “Bolero” and vaults across the stage using his big pole, gaining serious lift and almost floating across the space. Bazooka admitted to me later that this act was far less fun to perform in a smaller space in Chicago, ducking his head to avoid hitting the ceiling. A gorgeous act, both hot and straight-up strange.
For the second act, we get the slaphappy newlywed Mat Fraser, who’s still so high on being “just married” that his intoxication is contagious (or maybe that’s just me, since I’m still so high on being “just married”). The Thalidomide Kid gives us the story of his specialness, and slides right into a tale of performing as a kid and hearing an adult say about a young girl, “couldn’t you just eat her up?” Mat counters that there’s something disturbing about suggesting cunnilingus on a ten year-old in a leather helmet. Audience groans. Mat: “What? This is my material.” And with that, he charms the pants off the crowd for the next two hours, a truly seductive maneuver that I hope will get him booked at next year’s BHOF. And it’s not just the English accent—I’m immune to that shit and I still think this guy ruled the roost.
Anyflipper, his job is to introduce the acts and he resoundingly dishes up Iva Handfull, “The Albino Grace Jones,” a tagline I’m proud to say she didn’t write herself—seriously, I’m so tired of the New York taglines, which tend towards “The ______ of Burlesque.” Sigh. Fucking Iva—she’s like a dragqueen on E with real equipment, and has us at the first downbeat with the 80s club classic “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. I was 13 and living in England when this song came out, and I’ll never forget the T-shirts spelling “RELAX” across the nubile bumps of my classmates, so imagine my elders who were sniffing blow off body parts to “when you wanna COME!” Iva is rocking it in a big black duster, black boots, chaps and a cowboy hat. As she flashes the coat the bright silver lining is blinding, and as she strips down she chooses her moment to stop and freeze, then drawing guns and grinding, now whipping the crowd as she wilds on all fours. The hat comes off last, hiding her—gulp—double Handfull—until the final beat.
The deliriously silly Anita Cookie hums and da-da-da’s her own music, beating a deconstructed drumset for effect as she strips, even brushing the cymbals with her twirling tassels. The act is a voyeuristic visage, as if peeking in on a stripper who just forgot to bring her music. As always, it’s done with Cookie’s own signature drunken aplomb. Sadly, New York has recently lost Cookie to San Diego—we hope she comes to visit.
San Francisco’s Alotta Boutté brings her A-game with a dazzling, twirling mass of operatic red to “El Tango de Roxanne” from “Moulin Rouge,” that Tom Waits-ian growl of desire over beseeching violins. A favorite act with photographers, Alotta’s dancing was impeccable, her costumes downright photogenic, presenting the overall effect of a tidal wave of crimson desire.
I will cop to having a personal crush on Seattle’s own Inga Ingenue—every time I see her in the lobby, I’m thinking, “Damn, she is just so pretty,” her face stunning, her prominent nose so alluring, and her lithe, firm body so… I’m gonna go with Prince on this one—so “Heck-a slammin’.” I got it bad for Inga, and it doesn’t hurt that she’s both dedicated to her maniacally skilled costumer Danial Webster and damned good at what she does. Hatted with veil, poised to “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle,” from “Carmen,” likely the Maria Callas version, hitting the “ba dum dum DUM!” with three pops of her cuff snaps. The music dictates the action flawlessly, shifting to a jazzy version of the same tune, tossing off her dress for a big cape, now a corset and another musical shift into Regina Spector as she pops it down to a pink bra and panties, crawling on the floor like a twisted escapee from a French fantasist’s asylum, now standing bare to replace her hat, ass tight as a ball peen hammer, biting her glove. “Little Blonde Bomb?” Nah… I’m thinking “The Quick Blonde Switchblade.” Cuts so deep.
Mile-High Midnite Martini shows us why she needs a higher altitude to breathe freely, climbing to the grid on her drapes to an ambient techno soundtrack, moving into a foot hold and a stunning pose, to a mummy wrap and a quick drop, a bra and pastie reveal and yes, that signature split that exceeds 180 degrees. My favorite gesture of hers is as sexy as it is minimal, a simple rotation of her wrist while the arm is still, like winding an invisible wind. Midnite always brings the goods, and should be hailed for taking a circus act—oft attempted by burlesquers—and making it, undeniably, a striptease that only happens to be set twenty feet above the stage.
Let’s not forget the fierceness that is Camille 2000, all done up in leather, complete with gimp mask, cracking her whip from wing to wing, bringing out Tigger on a leash and pegging the poor boy, unleashing her final reveal by stripping off her mask and letting her blond hair and wide smile rule the stage. And newlyweds Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz turned in a duet for the ages—Mat singing an Elvis medley while Julie orbited him in “interpretive dance.” The only thing funnier than your average dancer attempting interpretive dance is a highly skilled dancer DOING interpretive dance and playing it straight. All of which gave us the added bonus of hearing Mat say “cock sock” about six fucking times. My rib cage was aching, yet what stuck with me more than anything I saw all evening was Mat’s existential joke about not wanting to be like the punters on the casino floor, and how they wouldn’t want to be him after seeing “flipper boy” drop his drink for the fourth time. More on this when we’re not already in hour 4 of the opening night show.
If you had been there Thursday night, you would also have seen Audrey DeLuxe shaking her lovely blond fuck-me hair; Red Hot Annie finishing up with a series of twirls—basic twirl, bounce twirl, one-boob twirl and a lie-down backbend twirl; the amazing Dusty Summers making more doves appear and disappear than Stevie Nicks on a cross-country tour; Cherry Typhoon once again imprinting her own peculiar brand of hyper-cutie hullabaloo on the minds of the unsuspecting un-Japanese; and Minnie Tonka absolutely slaying her otherworldly and holistically evocative “Planet Claire” number, previously raved over in these pages.
And, far less fun, reality redolently crashing in as Blanche DeBris raises a glass to two men well-known to the Seattle burlesque community—Joe “Vito” Albanese and Drew Keriakedes, members of the band God’s Favorite Beefcake, who were struck down in that awful Café Racer shooting.
Just another not-so-gentle reminder that we have very little time here together, and we all have to choose how to spend it. Me, I’m gonna pass on the chain-smoking slot-jockeying, and endeavor to spend more time with freaks like Mat Fraser, living it up in an excess of love, glitter and nudity.
All photos ©2012 Melody Mudd for Burlesque Beat. Please respect copyrights and contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permissions. Performers may use shots for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece in all instances. Performers who would like hi-rez images, get in touch.