Tag Archives: burlesque

Turn on the Red Light

1 Mar

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 The body is an instrument which only gives off music when it is used as a body. Always an orchestra, and just as music traverses walls, so sensuality traverses the body and reaches up to ecstasy –Anais Nin

Remember me vowing to just put it all out there? Well, this last Saturday’s adventure in Richmond did just that,  metaphorically anyway. How do I write about my minor obsession with neo-burlesque without creating assumptions about my morality or sexual preference? How am I to be appropriately delicate and yet tell the story of the body, for that’s really what this intense love of the tease is all about.

Confession: I have had a long torrid love affair with my body.

Ugly and beautiful, fat and thin, tortured and free, my physical form and expression has been a life long challenge. Without too much revealing, let’s just say I have finally tangoed this frame into a comfortable space, and currently I’m resting until the next passionate onslaught. Saturday night, though, I finally witnessed the next move in resolving this push me ~ pull you battle in reclaiming my own flesh.

Last spring was the beginning of my interest in 40’s/50’s style burlesque after seeing the documentary, A Wink and a Smile. Don’t ask why I decided it would be a good way to spend a Netflix Saturday night, but this story of a Seattle burlesque school totally challenges the concept of the sexual power dynamic between men and women. My idol soon became Vienna LaRouge, one of the most beautifully clad (and unclad) women I think I’ve ever seen. While watching her performance on film, I was captivated first by her gorgeously layered green silk and Chantilly lace costume with its enormous wide brim hat. As an accomplished historical costumer, she creates all her stage clothing. Secondly, however, the structure and elegance of her movements and form are what changed my perceptions about what most people consider “stripping”. While she indeed was peeling off her clothing, the style is about NOT revealing. And it was very much different from the pornographic pole swinging, booty shaking, 10 inch plastic heel wearing lap dancing into which I had pigeon holed all such endeavors. More importantly, I listened to the audience. At one point, a man called out in what almost sounded like pain. I thought, who has the power here? And that juxtaposition of sexuality and power became a conversation my head which has not stopped since.  This is something I needed to find out about and the only way was by. . .gulp…taking it off myself, I thought.

After Internet searches revealed the closest burlesque lessons had been in Richmond and the Institute now closed, I decided to see some shows, then  if classes were really something I wanted to pursue, the search would continue. Last May, Pretty Things Peep Show was my first introduction to the world of sideshow burlesque. Loved it! Every spangled naughty minute of it. But, in this little notch of the bible belt, there isn’t much loosening going on, in public anyway. So nearly a year later when I found out about the Richmond Burlesque Review at Gallery 5, nothing could stop me from attending.

Hosted by a rather relaxed, but racy Ms. Ophelia Derrière and her sidekick Delilah (her own slightly bumptious back end), the performances were everything I had imagined. Her character is one I immediately adored. By societies’ standards, she is not the perfect body type by far, but she is one of the most sexy women I have ever encountered, reminding me of Mae West, a woman who is sexually pragmatic and yet quite comfortable in her own skin. Her persona fits her like the lace bra and tap pant set she wore under an open feathered silk robe. Anyone who can take a dimpled 44-ish inch posterior end, bare it completely and shake it in an “ass off” with fellow friend and boylesque performer, Chris Chaos, has a most enviable self-esteem. I found myself wishing to be that physically self assured. That gal, has sass and Delilah knows it and it’s no show…it’s real.

The sheer creative range of performances was what was most amazing, each act having its own character and tone. From Pandora Von Kit’s dramatic dances to Chris Chaos’ boylesque gender bending showstopper, each performance revealed a completely unique physical and sexual expression. Acts ranged from the quite demure Ziegfeld-esque feather fan dancing of The Garter Snaps to the leather laced Betty Page stylings of Deepa du Jour. The venue is perfect, too. Gallery 5’s space is close and intimate, colorful and eclectic and features a full bar for those in need of a little liquid encouragement. The stage is small and the production not about scenery or a preponderance of props. It’s all about artist, costume and imagination.

Several performers really moved me, but the finale with Pandora Von Kit literally dropped my jaw in awe.  When she emerged onto the stage in a black velvet robe, black platform stilettos and blue bi-level hair shining in the stage lights, the scene was automatically set for drama. Pandora danced to Jose Feliciano’s Tango de Roxanne from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. She is classically trained as a dancer, so it made little difference that she was also removing clothing as she did so. Her expression was in tandem with the music, becoming Roxanne, the woman in the night. And the story she told was one of desire and yearning and shame. Breaking free from laces…a release of passion into the night streets…an emotional baring of desire for a lover who was not present, but obviously with her. We gave her a standing ovation. She earned it. And my first thought was, I want to do that…. I so want to learn to do that.

One caveat quickly became clear during the evening: it doesn’t matter how a person’s body is shaped, big or small, tight or loose, obese or athletic, female or male, all form is celebrated in neo-burlesque. ALL bodies are beautiful. There was a singular absence of judgment. Laughing occurred at jokes, not at the expense of someone’s performing or bareness. All sexual preferences were honored. I could scarcely catch my breath after laughing at a rousing audience participation in sexual position Simon Says with three couples (straight, lesbian, and gay). And suddenly it struck me, this is part of being human. We deny that we are sexual beings a lot of the time and complicate our most basic of human needs and expressions. Our explorations of self in the physical realm become encumbered with social and moral assumptions and restraint. And then expressions become repressions, taking a dangerous and often damaging residence within. I’ve seen others, especially in local culture, be so damaged by should’s and shouldn’ts, being physically and emotionally shamed into silence. Neo-burlesque goes beyond entertainment to me. Its part of empowering the self.

I’ll be going back to the Richmond scene at the end of May for the Virginia Burlesque Review. And maybe I’ll take a class or two….and then, I’ll see how this conversation continues.

Richmond Institute of Burlesque: https://www.facebook.com/RichmondBurlesque

Gallery 5: http://gallery5arts.org/newsitedesign/

Trailer for A Wink and a Smile: (warning: mature audiences )     http://winkthemovie.com/

All that Glitters

23 Dec

Sometimes, something can seem so marvelous …so perfectly exciting. People can be like that. Places can be like that. Experiences can be like that. But tonight, I went to Sax Restaurant and Lounge. Hours before going, I had a nagging feeling about the experience, something that overshadowed my long held anticipation and excitement.  Verdict: It was an expensive lesson in not worth it.

I’ve been wanting to experience the place for a long while, the main draw for me being burlesque and modern dance. First, let me say that the burlesque I have come to enjoy is about NOT revealing rather than revealing. I’m not a fan of pole dancing nor stripping. Twelve inch clear plastic platforms and lap dances are not in the least artistic expressions, in my opinion, nor appealing to me. However, after having watched With a Wink and Smile last year, falling in love with it, and then subsequent reading and research on vintage style burlesque, I found out that this is one of the few places in my area which features anything similar. The shows here are of the highest class, resembling acts from Cirque du Soleil and modern ballet rather than a gentleman’s club. The interior is rich, a literal explosion of bordello red velvet….and I mean 19th century New Orleans style, Moulin Rouge, lavish French baroque golden splendor.

To be sure, the champagne was amazing. After two glasses of Jean Baptiste Adam Rose (Cremant d’Alsace ) I was feeling rather fancy. The manager, Franco, came to my table to greet me and chat, offering a glass of Spanish Cava on the house. Its mossy earthy nose and mineral finish was amazing. You can’t come to a place like this without drinking stars.

To be sure, the food was to die for, small bits and bites in tiny plates, one after the next.  I nibbled and sipped at my table for one all evening. First, an arugula salad with strawberries, goat cheese and pistachio vinaigrette arrived, then some gorgonzola fondue, tiny bites of beef and bread to dip in a small pot just for one. Afterward, as the evening rolled on, three prawns in carrot ginger butter were followed by fried oyster sliders presented on tiny pristine white plates. It sounds like an amazing array of food I’m sure, but truly each small dish was two to three bites and although delicious and artfully presented, not really worth the cost.

To be sure, the service was impeccable. My waitress was so charming, and also so surprised that I was completely there by myself that her first reaction was to exclaim, “Oh…oh my god, you are my new hero.” She attended to me like a loyal waiting gentlewoman and truly made me feel more comfortable. The hovering of the other wait staff, though those to clear away dishes or glasses was oppressive. The pressure of what seemed to me to be constant supervision, or inherent curiosity at my single seating caused me to flinch more than once. There was one moment where one of the other waitresses looked at me, her gaze mixed with sadness and empathy. My instant thought was, “Oh child, don’t look so sadly at me. I’m not lonely.” And to tell the truth I wasn’t. The shows were what I truly went for but there again, the spin and the actual turn part ways.

Each absolutely fabulous, artfully choreographed, and beautifully lighted show was three minutes of pure bliss for me, separated by twenty minutes of blank dark stage. I am still disappointed… a lot. All I can really think about was how much of a better time I had spending twenty bucks dancing to the Rockers last Saturday night at the Topless Oyster community Christmas potluck in Ocracoke, dogs trotting across the dance floor. It was more real, more genuine. When this place turned into a true dance club at 11pm, I paid my check and took a cab home. No one spoke to me all evening; no one but staff acknowledged my presence. I was a ghost seated at the edge of a red velvet dance floor, entirely invisible.

The opulence of this place hides the feeling I could never shake the minute I walked in the door….beautiful…but no heart. And heart and soul are the ingredients to me that make a good dining/ lounge experience as a woman. Its not about the icing. Its about the cake. The elements have to be there, but what makes a woman feel alluring and adventurous and drawn into a sensual conversation with herself isn’t red velvet perfection…its genuine connection. And you can get that in a space like that, but it takes an emphasis on the personal aspect at the core. There is a taste for love, for bravery, for the sheer joy of decadence, but it comes with the expectation that not all diners will be providing their own companions to achieve the perfect mix.

It’s like some people. They create this wonderful exterior that just draws others in and then, when experienced, you can’t really figure out exactly why, but you feel let down. They have all of what seems like the perfect combination of characteristics, but when you really sit down to the table, they can’t provide any depth of heart.

Tonight is the last time I will place myself and my aspirations into fancy and empty rather than real and warm. Sometimes, I do already know better.

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