September 27, 2012
Club Soda, Montréal, Québec
When most people think of autumn in Montreal, they might imagine smoked meat sandwiches stacked as high as the eye can see, bowls of poutine slathered with the tastiest gravy and chunks of cheese curd, romantic walks along cobblestone streets in Old Montreal, or the newest touring art show to hit the Musée des Beaux-Arts. They’re right, of course. These are all fantastic images that engage the senses in amusing ways.
When I think of autumn in Montreal, I think of cleavage. Large ample bosoms enveloped in the silkiest of fabrics, covered in mounds of glitter and glam. I think of long, lean, well-muscled male specimens strutting across the velvet stage to the whoops and hollers of both ladies and lads. I think of pretty little French stage kittens sweeping up glittery residue and discarded feathers. And let’s not forget the booze, lots and lots of cocktails to get the creative juices flowing.
I think of Le Festival de Burlesque de Montréal – or, the Montreal Burlesque Festival for the rest of you (but it sounds so much more exotic in French, n’est-ce pas?). Held for the past several years at Club Soda in Montreal’s bustling St. Laurent Boulevard neighbourhood, this gorgeous event space has hosted many great Canadian artists such as The Tragically Hip, the Barenaked Ladies, and Holly Cole, as well as many international artists such as Oasis, Soundgarden, and even Jay Leno. Appropriate then, that producer and ultra-talented burlesque performer Miss Scarlett James chose this spot to put on her big extravaganza.
With 3 evenings of cabaret shows plus a midnight finale, there were so many fantastic performances throughout the weekend, giving me a chance to watch performers I had never seen before. On to highlights of our first night…
If you attended the Great Boston Burlesque Expo in 2011, then you may have seen this statuesque blonde win the “Most Beautiful” award. The Lady Josephine – one of my all-time favourites – is a regular at the Montreal Festival and the Toronto Festival as well. It was 3 years ago that I first saw her perform on the Club Soda stage and I was blown away by her eclectic mix of cabaret and mime. I was enthralled by her performance this year – I’ve always thought that her statuesque beauty and classic features were suited to times past, and her 1920s-themed routine definitely cemented that in my mind. Her performance unfolded like a silent era melodrama, full of flamboyant body language and facial expressions. Our long and lean heroine was draped in sheer black layers, striking against her ceramic skin and platinum hair. This was the first time I’ve ever seen a 1920s striptease, but it was truly fantastic – burlesque peels and reveals can be performed both slowly and sensually or with raw energy and in your face, depending on the character and music, but throw in some Lillian Gish melodrama and the reveal is brought to a totally different level of theatre. Considering how flexible this Amazon is, I’m never surprised to see her literally bend over backwards for her audience.
A performer that I hadn’t seen before had me hooting and hollering through her entire performance. The gorgeous Vivian MirAnn, producer of Albuquerque’s Gilded Cage Burlesk & Varieté, amazed us with her Dia de Los… Hell! routine. Dancing across the stage in a beautiful black dress adorned with glittery red flames, you couldn’t help but admire her unique fascinator – rich flowers attached to a Phantom Of The Opera-style half face mask. A burlesque mystery – whatcha got hiding under that mask, lady? Boy, this gal can sure can rock out her burlesque, working her beautiful skirt like a cape. I love me a gal with tattoos and she had beautiful ones that stood out in stunning blue accents against her black outfit. Mrowr! To me, her big reveal wasn’t at the end of the act at the pasties stage, but just before when in black corset, fishnet stockings and red fringe, she ripped off her half mask to reveal a beautiful Dia De los Muertos half-face makeup job.
One of my absolute favourite performers and a local Montrealer, is the eclectic – there’s that word again, I seem to have a pattern here – and dark BonBon Bombay. I am always excited when I hear that she’ll be performing in a show that I’m going to as she always brings a new, and sometimes dark character to the party. From a potion-making clown to a mime ballerina, her performances are always engaging eye candy. She really brought her A-game to the festival this year with this first of two performances. Channeling her inner Marilyn, she performed an homage to the scene from Let’s Make Love, looking ever the beautiful vixen as she sang My Heart Belongs to Daddy – a song that brings up a whole boatload of sinful and kinky visuals. So many tasty manly-men were under BonBon’s complete control throughout the song, caressing her, holding her, lifting her high up into the air. I have to say, having seen the original film version, she did a fantastic job of modifying the scene to work with her props, the stage space, and push the implied sexuality up a thousand notches with some striptease – not that it wasn’t hot, hot, hot for the 60s to begin with.
If I could afford to have my house cleaned, I would want it to be by L’Diablo’s naughty little maid. You knew right off the bat when she came on stage dressed in her comfortable footwear and pink maid uniform carrying a pink feather duster in her matching pink rubber gloved hands that she was a vamp trapped in a serf’s body. And boy, did she ever have an awakening! Off came the rubber gloves – an interesting peel to say the least – and the comfort gave over to style with a nice sexy pair of black heels. So what was under that horrible pink uniform? I shouldn’t have been surprised to see a very revealing and sexy little French maid’s outfit that came off to reveal the smallest, cutest pink bra and matching fringed bottoms. I’m sensing a theme here… something pink, I think. Lifting her mop bucket over her head, she showered herself, and some of the audience, in the sparkling glitter of glory!
I originally had the pleasure of seeing Holly Gauthier at the festival a couple of years back, when she performed a stunning hot burlesque act and later showed us her singing skills. Nowadays, she’s focusing on her soulful sound and for the third year in a row has wowed the audience with some sizzling bluesy tunes and a little striptease thrown in – just enough to get everyone hot and bothered. Poured into a sultry black gown, she was quite the vision of elegance and poise on the darkened stage. Her blues set had me wanting to get up and dance, but alas I had no partner and… well, there was no dance floor. I had to be happy with tapping my feet, shimmying my hips, and having another drink.
Jett Adore – he’s the No-Pantser Romancer, and it seems that this is how most of us prefer to see him. But the slow and sensual journey to catch just a glimpse of perfection is such sweet agony. And this was a new act, at least for me. Huge, butterfly-like feather wings spanned the entire stage, making him the focal point of the scene. All eyes were on this gorgeous specimen – an alpha of the species – announcing his beauty and stature for all to see. As if this display was not enough to attract, he cocooned himself within his feathery wings to emerge born anew, molted of his bothersome clothes, in full Jett Adore burlesque glory.
We all know that Miss Exotic World (2005) Michelle L’Amour has the most beautiful and creamy skin ever to be seen, so I can see why she’s “the most naked woman” in burlesque. With her skin as white as snow, how appropriate that she performed her Snow White routine. With her adorable black bob and red bow, she bounced onto the stage in a perfect replica costume. But that’s where any similarity to the Disney Princess ended – apparently eating a poison apple in the city known for it’s Super Sexe won’t put you into a coma. This is the forbidden fruit, opening your mind, lowering your inhibitions, ramping up your libido, and apparently turning little Snow White into Red Hot! Off came the foot length princess skirt, ditched was the restrictive tailored jacket and out came the snowy white legs that led up to those milky thighs, leading up to those creamy b… Where was I? Little miss innocent rocked out in a black sheer little nothing, letting her inner vamp rule the day.
Also appearing in the first night of the festival (you’ll read about their outstanding performances on Day 2 and 3): Scarlett James, Loulou La Duchess du Rière, and the Pink Chardonnays. A big shoutout to the other performers this evening: St. Stella and James & the Giant Pasty, Lili Beth, Dr. Mysterion, and Jazz Dance Factory.
Kudos go out to those that made the Festival such a big success: founder and producer Miss Scarlett James, stage manager Domenic Castelli, emcee Benjamin Marquis, and stage kittens Audrey Ivory and Annabelle.
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.