By Sean K. Young – Photos By Tonya Armbruster
Thursday, September 13, 2012
The New Orleans Burlesque Fest was finally here and I was a little excited. Okay, I was a lot excited. I mean come on, who wouldn’t be? Granted, I like a themed show better than the slow glove revues, but the chance to see some international burly stars had me feverish.
Walking into Harrah’s was a bit of a scene. It’s not like a casino doesn’t have its share of characters, but the burlesque folk stood out among the everyday gamblers like peacocks in a hen house. Normally ladies of this caliber are draped all over the high rollers. I could have just sat and watched the old men at the slot machines get whiplash as the parade of high heels and corsets seemed never ending.
We guiltily slinked past the standing line to pick up our press credentials. Once inside the theater lobby, the visual delights continued. I did my best not to look like a complete fanboy, but damn it was hard with that much concentrated burlesque boobage. Thank god it is New Orleans and a bar is never too far away – two in the lobby in this case. Scotch please!
Arriving early provided the opportunity to mingle with some of the performers and sponsors. Dan, from Secrets in Lace, could not have been cooler. Poor Rick Delaup, the event’s producer, appeared a bit frazzled, but who could blame him? I cannot imagine the stress of opening night. The coordination efforts of five shows at two different venues with well over 50 performers has to be crazy. Once the lights dimmed, he relaxed a little.
A great sign, for me at least, was the band. I know I go on and on about the energy a live band adds, but I think for a revue style show it is simply fantastic. Seasoned performers know how to work with the band so that every bump, every grind is musically highlighted.
Vincent Drambuie opened the evening with just the right amount of cheese factor. Before we could begin the bevy of beauties, we had to be blessed by David Equality Bishop, the Bishop of Burlesque. His decidedly unholy hymn of “Pastie-um, Tassel-um, G-String-um” would be oft repeated throughout the festival.
Looking as if she stepped right out of the 1950’s, Kitten De Ville, a perfect Monroe meets Mansfield, gyrated her way across the stage in a classic strip that mirrored her mid-century bombshell looks, all the while sporting a sneering lip curl that would make Elvis blush.
Our first local representation was the Goddess of the Bodice, the always sexy, Athena. She started with her Voodoo priestess routine that gets hotter every time I see it. Athena may work with the band better than other performers, but given her vocal abilities, I would expect no less. At one point she was actually cuing the band for the aural accents. Speaking of her voice, she treated us to a song later in the evening – proving once again that she is even sexier when she is singing.
Athena was not the only musical act however. Hailing all the way from Victoria, Canada, Betsy Bottom Dollar took the stage and took over the show. With a guttural powerful voice, she performed a naughty original – The Dirty Gardner Blues. Betsy lamented about her gardener that “only came twice year” and that she needed a gardener that was dirty all year long. When she finally starts to peel away her leaf green gown, Betsy reveals’ a daisy that needed tending in her backyard. As she sauntered off the stage the crowd went wild.
I wasn’t sure how Betsy’s act would be followed and I was fairly certain I would feel bad for whoever it was. That is, until the embodiment of sex oozed out on stage to the tunes of “Stormy Weather.” Por Cel Ain sinuously snaked her body through the air bewitching the crowd, myself included. I half-expected Tonya to have pictures of me turned into a toad.
As I came out of my fog, I was delighted to see New Orleans’ own (by way of Austin, by way of St Louis, by way of all over the damn country) GoGo McGregor. No matter how many times I witness her bed of nails act, it never gets old. There is something so alluring about gorgeous supple flesh lying on those impregnable spikes of doom.
As long as I am on the subject of gorgeous supple flesh, have you people seen Gypsy Wood? When she appeared in her ruby red outfit reminiscent of Dorothy’s shoes, the only home I was longing for was one with her in it. By the time she had revealed all and was dancing with red feather boa fans, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.
Taking the burlesque world by storm is the newly formed Acromantics from New Orleans, LA. Aaron Lind and Ginger Licious are bringing AcroYoga to the burlesque stage. Having watched this act develop over the last few months, the improvements are noticeable. They seem to be more comfortable with each other and the level of difficulty just keeps increasing. There were times as she spun around on Aaron’s feet that I thought Ginger’s lovely derriere was destined to hit the floor, but they pulled it off without a hitch.
The guest star of the night was the legend, Bambi Jones. From the 1950’s through the 1070’s, Bambi appeared on international burlesque stages including the famous 500 Club on Bourbon Street in the Big Easy. At 8o+ years old, Bambi still brings it. She may not strip down to pasties anymore, but she moves pretty well all the while cracking age jokes. She started off declaring, “I am going to take it all off because you rat bastards deserve it.”
Rounding out the evening were the previous Queens of the New Orleans Burlesque Festival; Coco Lectric, Perle Noire, and Ginger Valentine. Coco was a sensuous Cleopatra in a classic burlesque with an Egyptian flair and ballerina’s twist – a fan dance en pointe. I am still amazed when dancers pull this off and Coco was flawless. Perle– dear god– Perle. Electrifying. Dynamic. Dangerous. Mesmerizing. Words do not do justice. No one moves like Perle, so fast, so controlled, so fine. She reminds me of Tina Turner only Tina is subdued in comparison. Perle is a magnificent powerhouse of a woman.
Ginger Valentine allowed us to witness a special moment in Burlesque history as a torch was passed down through burly generations. Ginger became the new Evangeline the Oyster Girl. While there have been many Oyster Girl acts through the ages, very few can say they were approved by– much less taught by– the original, Ms Kitty West. Ginger can. I can think of no better performer today that should have this honor. Ginger epitomizes everything burlesque, a beautiful girl with sumptuous moves. This act is made for her. A perfect vision as she rose from the oyster shell with glowing pearl in hand. The crowd was captivated as she hypnotically rolled that pearl over her luscious curves. Such a climatic way to end the evening.
New to the burlesque scene, Sean K. Young is the managing partner of a New Orleans-based I.T. firm. He and Tonya Armbruster have recently launched the NOLA culture blog Southern Babylon.
All photos ©Tonya Armbruster and used with express 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 in all instances.