Monday, March 3, 2014

Burlesque enjoys revival in New Orleans

Photo credit: Michael Sui

With shows running each and every week, the scene runs the gamut from classy hotel lounges to rough-and-tumble watering holes.
On Bourbon Street, elegant horns underscore sultry moves. Over on St. Claude Avenue, stilt-walking performers slide out of their clothes, and in the next moment, a fire spins rhythmically while a woman in pasties waits in the wings.
Playful evenings send up classic board games and cult movies, and if you stay up late enough, the truly risqué hits the stage on St. Claude and pops the eyeballs.
New Orleans has experienced an explosion of burlesque/variety shows that have made appearances in every entertainment center of the city.
That upsurge is due to the efforts of a number of women who have moved from merely being the attractions to actually running the show. They book venues, handle box office, arrange for talent, secure sponsors and create themes for their shows.
Trixie Minx’s “Fleur de Tease,” Roxie Le Rouge’s “Big Deal Burlesque,” Mistress Kali’s “Freaksheaux to Geaux,” Ginger Licious’ “Cirque d’Licious” and Bella Blue’s “Dirty Dime Peep Show” are just a few examples of entertainment produced by the performers themselves.
Their success is not just because these troupes are run by women,” the high-profile Minx is quick to point out. “These women are performers, not just interested in the bottom line.”
Minx, who mixes smaller appearances along with her “Fleur de Tease” shows at One Eyed Jacks, sees nothing wrong with the commercial aspect of the venture. However, she sees producers too often interested only in the bottom line, “and ultimately, burlesque is an art form.”
“Lose track of that, and it suffers.”
Liberated from traditional formulas offered by more mainstream producers, many of these women present work beyond the genre’s expectations. In doing so, they offer potential collaborators freedom.
The classically trained Le Rouge wants artists to have “the power over their own acts.” Often backed by a pulsing live band, her “Big Deal Burlesque” allows its performers to choose their routines provided they live up to Le Rouge’s personal standards of “polish, confidence and engagement.”
Many offer the adventurous patron an opportunity to see not only the slow tease of the long reveal but also a host of other entertainment.
On any given night, circus acts, vaudeville routines, musical numbers and outright comic bits intermingle with the women who headline the evening.
For Kali and Licious, an opportunity for changing expectations led them to create their own evenings.
A fan of numerous variety shows across the country, the fire-spinning Kali hopes her productions offer patrons more than just “striptease, but instead, a cohesive whole, knitted together by music and showcasing a lot of unique talent.”
Often performing at The Hi-Ho Lounge, Licious’ love of the circus is central to her shows. Believing “creating more opportunities” is the key, the multitalented performer intermingles local and national talent to fashion “a sideshow of an evening with acrobats, aerialists and women using their bodies as an artistic expression.”
Finally, breaking the mold has led to further exploration of the striptease itself.
Playing monthly at The Allways Lounge, Blue’s “Dirty Dime” amplifies the standard burlesque evening by taking a risk-it-all approach to form. Confrontationally comic in its sexual aggressiveness, Blue’s show requires from its performers “an unapologetic honesty.”
She insists her acts not “sugarcoat things for the audience. They perform the acts they feel strong about, regardless of the content.”
It’s a daring request made reasonable by the fact that Blue as a performer does not shy away from the approach in her own work.
That element of shared risk might be the key to each one the evenings: the headliner’s willingness to put themselves in the light. For Minx, that shared risk is the essence of collaboration.
“When I ask someone to do something, I am not asking them to do it for me,” she said. “I am asking them to do it with me. I am creating art with them.”

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