Saturday, September 26th, 2015
BB Kings, NYC
Another fabulous New York Burlesque Festival is almost over, and as I pull up my chair this morning I’m sort of emotional. I’m like, bowled over by all the incredible artists who come together to create weekends like this, by the generosity and dedication of people with such varied backgrounds who do all that they do for #verylittle or #nomoney. And just how wonderful it is to get to hang with people I love—people I wouldn’t even know if Will Kenton at Cultural Capitol hadn’t dragged me into “blogging” seven years ago, if my “girlfriend” Melody Mudd hadn’t picked up a camera, if supporters like Jen Gapay and Angie Pontani hadn’t given me free tickets to shows I was totally unqualified to write about. ANYhoosie, big love to the scene, and big thanks to our whole team at BurlesqueBeat—get ready to see fab fotos from Toronto’s Photolena and scribblings from our cub reporter Astoria.
Sidenote: I did see part of Friday night’s show and have to say that Ivory Fox’s swinging pole act was fucking fierce. You can’t fake that shit, people, that’s some serious strength.
Last night WAS bittersweet—as the New York Burlesque Festival turns thirteen and hits adolescence, the core contributors are hitting a DIFFERENT age milestone, and life is changing. Last night was the FIRST Saturday Spectacular WITHOUT Murray Hill, who finally got a better gig. And last night was the FIRST Saturday Spectacular WITHOUT co-producer and resident all-star Angie Pontani, who finally got a better gig. (She was “nursing a baby,” which is a circus act requiring very specific body modifications and almost a year of training.)
There are other things to get misty about if you dig deeper—Leroi the Girlboi was in the house, not on stage; photographers Ed Barnas and Don Spiro were noticeably absent, and no Angie means no Pontani Sisters act. BUT, New York changes, New York never changes. With maybe half the audience being total Newbs, that’s some fresh audience, which is a good thing, and we had NYBF devotee World Famous *BOB* at the wheel, which is always a Very Good Thing.
Ok, the highlights:
The night opened with a blistering set from Mr. Old New York himself, the always-amazing Brian Newman, who’s basically having the best year ever and is now Angie Pontani’s baby-Daddy-O. Newman came this year with special guest Frank Basile on the baritone sax, along with his regular bandmates Steve Kortyka, Alex Smith, and Paul Francis, who did a Muppet Show Animal bit during a pounding drum solo. The dinner set down front was eating up every ounce of their set.
Can we talk about the duos? There were two back-to-back back-to-backs: first Dallas dames Ginger Valentine and Missy Lisa as dueling hair-pulling stripping Bettie Pages, and then the husky beefcake man-meat of 2 To Fly doing a strip/reverse strip as one dressed the other while the other undressed the one—all through duo acrobatics. This quadratic equation means all the audience members—regardless of sexual identity or orientation or Mood Ring Indicator—were able to get their dirtiest threesome fantasies going at once. No matter who you are, you want to be in the middle of one of those couplings, if not both. I mean, DAMN, Ginger Valentine is so classically beautiful it’s insulting to half the Renaissance, and Missy Lisa is what everyone thinks of when they think “hot Texas blonde.” (I went to high school in Texas, so I know they make ‘em hot down there, but these two are effin Twitterpating.) And these two boys—fun, hot, strong as hell, and making me question my number on the Kinsey scale. Like Tigger says, “I don’t care if what your sexual preference is—is it SEXUAL?”
We also got a letter-perfect “New York, New York” top and tails act from Missy Lisa, backed by a kick line of Tansy, Francine, Ginger Valentine, and Renee Holiday.
Ginger Valentine’s solo turn featured so much bling on the top half of her dress, shed for a beaded bikini, and a slow-mo finger in her mouth that was… jaw-dropping. Swift stocking pulls and stretches and a backbend tassel twirl, and getting to see her up close, was perhaps the most provocative and evocative I’ve seen her. I hope somebody invites me to Texas—looks good down there, and I could hit John’s Café for chicken fried steak and eggs.
Philadelphia’s Peekaboo Revue’s tight Tina Turner tribute was gold tassels a go-go. Midnite Martini brought her “finger fans”—a feather on each finger, enabling her to finger-tap her body while Jimi Hendrix fingered his strings—a fun, innovative device deftly utilized. Donna Denise, who gives good face—a sneering smirk—and has incredible pectoral control—focused single and double tassel twirls with no movement but a flex. Some serious sweat from Lux LaCroix (who’s resume makes you feel unworthy), and that astonishing Leda and the Swan puppet act from Dirty Martini.
Gal Friday just keeps getting better, and her routine to Isaac Hayes’ “Walk On By” was almost noir in its raw sensuality. Striking in her short hair, gal took a hand gesture that intensified into a full-body shiver. She has a command of the slow gyration, and a long-distance stare that is haunting. (Note: I’m told the mood lighting was too dark on Gal, and didn’t photograph well.)
Kitty Bang Bang and Phil Ingud’s duo—a classy ballroom “Cheek to Cheek” turned Hunter S. Thompson, with hidden drugs and body flipping—seemed to falter at the needle scratch moment and never fully recovered.
The Maine Attraction gave us some personal vintage with her tribute to Josephine Baker using grapes instead of bananas, with balloon pops and an onstage headstand with grape shaking to Basement Jaxx’s “Do Your Thing.” And, as expected, Judith Stein fucking wowed in her red dress—dig how she slowly bites her glove, gets one finger erect, strokes it, and then blows it over. She got a Standing O and I’m heartened to see new burlesque fans respect the Legends.
Kitten LaRue came out to Tones on Tail’s “Go!” in a giant muff that hid her entire body, then revealed a dress in the same yellow red and black, like a fucking coral snake—her hat box and telephone were in the same motif—stripping to various bra and panty sets and letting her long braid brush the top of her ass. It sounds silly to say this, but it’s almost unusual to think of actually having sex with someone during a burlesque show—it becomes so much T & A it’s more spectacle than arousing—but I thought about it. This character—this coked-up trashy diva, stumbling with her panties stuck around her thighs, still rolling and reaching for the phone at 5 in the morning—y’know? Can’t you just imagine sleeping this hot mess and, like, not asking for her phone number? Some of us DID sleep with this girl in the ‘80s or ‘90s.
Kitten and Lou’s 90’s club kid-inspired romp as commedia dell’arte clowns to “F for You,” by Disclosure, was sheer slick silliness. Skirt hoops over heads, “censored” bars over tits, a break while wearing barrels, ditching dunce caps for tiny cone hats with tassels—and a climax with Kitten twirling tassels and Lou twirling assels. Tight, excellent, eye-candy. Take Kitten & Lou’s act, draw a box around it, draw arrows pointing to that box, and add the caption: This is what unison choreography looks like. And yes, they have very different-shaped bodies. If you think you’re doing unison choreography and it doesn’t look like that, you’re not. To quote the sage Martha Graham: “Either the foot is pointed or it is not. No amount of dreaming will point it for you.”
Also, go see their show at Joe’s Pub.
Jenny Rocha and Her Painted Ladies won in Vegas this year with their breast augmentation act, and I was able to sit back last night and truly soak it up. This may be one of the best burlesque acts of recent memory. It has everything: a clear story, humor, great musical choices perfectly blended, incredible choreography, exactingly executed, politics, and of course, a group of super-hot ladies (who, collectively, are fantasy fodder for lovers of small-breasted women like myself.) It’s also hard NOT to read this act as commentary on the recent rash of boob jobs in burlesque—an interesting epidemic considering the “body-positive,” “accept all comers,” and “love yourself” mantras that burlesque practitioners like to throw around. (This is a whole piece, probably, definitely written by someone with breasts, and I’ve said too much already.) I can’t say it enough: This Act Is The Shit. Congrats again, ladies, you are superlative.
I actually cried—real tears, from laughing too hard at Julie Atlas Muz. So depressed at the death of her dog, with whom she starred in (pornographic?) films, performance artist Juicy Hardcore—speaking in the heaviest of Slavic accents, and coming from next door to a country called Jenniferanniston—said, “I can no longer make feels.” Ok, maybe she said “films,” but I couldn’t stop laughing either way. She gave us an interpretive dance… then sat in a chair, spread her legs, slapped Wonderbread on her vajayjay, smeared peanut butter on it, and threw a sandwich into the audience. And another. I’m pretty sure the last one was open-faced. This shit was funny on so many levels, like a Warner Brothers cartoon about an opera. Muz is burlesquing performance artists—which she fucking is—while burlesquing burlesque—which she’s doing—while unglamorizing her own body—homegrown or merkin, that thong-split hairpie was not intended to arouse—while alluding to the old “peanut butter on the pussy,” “my dog ate my homework” trope—while distributing pussy souvenirs—“dude, you can buy used underwear on the internet, bro”—while also giving out free snacks.BECAUSE JULIE ATLAS MUZ. Still earning her place on that stage, every fucking time. Go see her show with Basil Twist and Joey Arias.
Ohmygod, somebody get me a snack.
Also—first 40 guests at the Burlesque Beat after-party tonight get a $50 gift certificate to Pinup Girl Clothing, and hookers, lemme tell ya, their sizes go up to 4X and THAT is body-positive.
This is just a tease. Stay tuned for the full photo gallery of the Saturday Spectacular and the rest of our New York Burlesque Festival coverage.
All photos ©Olena “Photolena” Sullivan for Burlesque Beat. Performers may use shots for promotional purposes, but please credit properly with photographer’s full name and a link to this piece. All other requests please contact us to acquire permission.