Burlesque Hall of Fame 2017: The 27th Annual Tournament of Tease, On Debut and Groups
Saturday, June 3, 2017
Orleans Hotel and Casino Showroom
Isn’t BenDeLaCreme just the most? Isn’t she just a delight? Didn’t you just love every minute of her onstage Sunday night?—her cheerfulness, her tossed-off one-liners, her quips, her costume changes, her poise?
Let’s hold that sweet taste in our mouths before we get into Saturday’s pageant, because as fun as it always is, it’s still a contest, and that makes people stress-eat and nail-bite, and the results leave some people feeling less elated than others—and that’s hardly limited to the competitors. One would do well to read the BHOF Rules and Regulations, and re-read the judging criteria and remember why we’re here.
I love the debut category, because that’s where I see people I’ve never heard of. Like Miss Acrolicious from Finland, who opened with a walkover to splits, and did a back handspring in heels—and ain’t no kitten in those heels. A luscious redhead, closing with a headstand twirl, she was a WOW and got a big audience response. Another crowd favorite was Rubyyy Jones’ take on the viral “Potty-mouthed Princesses” video, with Rubyyy in pink lip-synching and flipping us the bird. (Disclosure: Rubyyy Jones contributes to this magazine.) Also flipping us the bird—a trend this year—was Jacqueline Boxx, of Baltimore, who turned in a clever act with micro-aggressions towards disability displayed onscreen, while she worked from a wheelchair and then into floorwork. Calling herself Miss Disa-burly-TEASE, Boxx is a former dancer and trapeze artist who’s become a disability advocate. Note her music choice, “Nugget,” by Cake, with the sardonic refrain: “learn to buck up.”
Nice work from Montreal’s Lou Lou la Duchesse de Riere in a classic act with a big blue boa and tight-fitting blue dress, with a tight spin followed by appearing “faux” dizzy. She gives good face, and ended with a solid backbend twirl. I was excited by the concept and style of New York’s Aurora Black, in a silver tutu and black bob on pointe as Robyn’s titular “Femmebot.” Beautiful, and so very controlled—still “robot-y” down to the the last… yet I wanted to love it more. Does the piece need a “third act?”—the abandon, breaking the mold, as it were?—breaking out of the bot? It reminded me warmly of Miss Tickle’s breathtaking sex doll act from BHOF 2011.
My personal favorite in the debut category was unquestionably Ivory Fox. While she’s a New Yorker, I’d only caught part of one of her acts before. To Woodkid’s “Conquest of Spaces”—an ethereal melody over a pounding drumbeat—she quickly discarded her cape to move into handstands and lifts. A short-haired brunette, with a strong figure, the act was all about control, and culminated in a heartbreakingly long handstand, like, soooo long, during which she crossed and uncrossed her legs, moving our eyes up to her ankles, and finally, turning her head over so slowly to look at us—still in a handstand. Excruciating. Such strength and command, which was not lost on the audience—about a third of the crowd stood up in applause.
Another solid showing by Elle Dorado, set to “Pink Pussycat” by the Del Rays, otherwise known as “Kitten Deville’s Theme.” This act is already notorious for winning the New Orleans Burlesque Festival in 2014, after producer Rick Delaup “helped facilitate” the act (as told to Nola.com), and became a “co-investor” in the synthetic ice-skating rink required for the act. As a former competitive ice-skater, Elle nails the act, unique as she’s literally skating on the stage and executing spins, stripping and showing off her incredible body and twirling—a solid finale to the category.
Winning the debut category—and alliteration challenge—was Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Musette, the Mistress of Mischief. Entering in fog and shaft lighting, to old-timey jazz music, with Erté-influenced style, she was gorgeous and topped with a big feather pheasant headdress that cleverly split to two fans. The crowd was in and gave her a partial standing ovation.
The Big Story in the Small Group category was that Circus de Moccos, of Tokyo, Japan, and a repeat crowd favorite at BHOF, was turned away at the border. I would like to see an investigative piece on this—find out whether this was user error, Trump-era entitled border guards, or WTF. While I understand you’re not allowed to work in this country—even if you’re not getting paid—surely volunteering for a 501(c)3 doesn’t count as anything beyond tourism? Anyone want to take a crack at this?
Otherwise, there was a strong entry from Kitson Sass and Pistol Prudence, an aerial ring act that appeared to be influenced by Gravity Plays Favorites—think mirrored, stacked poses, and elaborate holds, such as one woman hanging from the other’s hyper-extended-leg. Both painful and impressive.
Winning the category was the Chinese dragon act by Frankie Fictitious & her Tattooed Man. The act couldn’t help but remind one of the exquisite Dolls of Doom dragon act from 2012, or Leroi the Girl Boi’s fierce entry from 2011.
Large Group was underwhelming this year as a whole, and one wonders what the shape of the category is to be anymore, or what it could be. Should it be theatrical? Dance? Or a group of people performing burlesque? And is a “group” as good as a “team?” These group categories have shifted over the years—remember Best Variety and Best Duo?—and perhaps they should again. It’s hard to guess how judges weigh acts with such differing aesthetics and goals.
My favorite large group act of the weekend was Screaming Chicken’s step-down, an alien fantasy that was admittedly silly, ridiculous, and wonderfully sloppy and all-over-the-place, with—as told to me by Norm—42 performers onstage, which is itself a space joke.
However, at least one artist whom I respect admitted to “not getting” the act—which I dig. But I didn’t get the Fishnet Follies giant, sprawling “Alice in Wonderland” act. Most disappointing was Jay Siren’s Sizzling Sirens Burlesque Experience—the group who gave us the whimsical, clever “Operation” act in 2015. This year’s submission was a light hip hop dance act to Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky,” and I found myself wishing that the California girls had at least given us some local flavor, like something from Mac Dre.
If nothing else, the category showed a broad range of style: compare Fishnet’s theatricality to Don’t Blink Burlesque’s straight dance-based showgirl act, to Perle Noire presents The House of Noire, a more sultry swing with a rough partial-unison choreo—which ultimately won the category.