Chaz Royal’s 2011 London Burlesque Week Newcomers Contest was a less pompous, but certainly more eye-catching opportunity to mark the 29th of April than the other Royal function of the day. Forsaking big screens satellite feeds in Hyde Park for live bump-and-grinding in the finely sculpted turn-of-the-century main room of Bush Hall, a surprising turn-out shows up, considering it was also the first day of a long holiday. If that doesn’t prove the enduring appeal of burlesque, nothing will.
The night’s standards are consistent enough to keep judges Ginger Blush, Beeby Rose, Loula Cherry and Chaz Royal deliberating for 15 minutes after the last performance. Their task is helped by introducing two categories, Best Striptease and Best “Variety”. Debatable in name and nature, they nevertheless acknowledge the diversity of the finalist acts, and allow each for one winner and two runners-up (out of 13 competitors) to take something home. The loot includes a Velda Lauder corset, Dupenny pillows, custom-made tassels and DVD copies of Burlesque Vivo 3D.
Runners-up for both categories sport plenty of variety in every sense. Best Variety First Runner-Up Miss Apple Tart’s consummate clown act, an impression of Chaplin’s Tramp featuring the clever waltzing of a partner with a coat hanger for a body, gains a sensuous self-hugging finale that draws wild cheers as the dancer caresses herself. The other Best Variety runner-up, La Fille, shows remarkable nonchalance by staying in character as a clockwork doll even when one of her pasties falls off.
Duchess Divine snatches the Best Striptease First Runner-Up prize with her playfully narrated Rapunzel parody, working the mammoth bulk of her two most prominent assets into the joke. Second Runner-Up Lady Cherie flaunts confident moves and congenial charm in her cowgirl bit. The ending of her act, however, feels flat and disappointing with the reveal of tassels that do not twirl.
Winners Tabitha Taboo and Shirley Windmill both exude charisma and a solid sense of character. Sporting pointy ears and a fluffy tail, the former wins the Best Striptease prize with a resourceful catnip birthday present routine that includes confetti explosions, powder puffs and a fan dance to the tune of April Stevens’s Teach Me Tiger. Windmill, the only singer among the evening’s competitors, gets away with the Best Variety crown by illustrating the double entendre-laden Marrow Song with vegetables both real and fake. Having seen the number several times, my experience is that something always goes wrong with it, whether it’s a premature reveal or a skipping backing track. Tonight is no different, with Windmill fumbling for her prop marrow and letting out exasperating shrieking bursts while singing too close to the microphone. Her affable humour, however, speaks louder, and the rosettes from her act’s finale end up proving quite prophetic.
Bawdy references are also at the centre of Minxie Mayhem’s Sci-Fi double act, where a silver-clad vamp from outer space scorns her poorly endowed, comically monstrous mate and sets off on a strip-heavy, Earthbound search for more suitable suitors. In a darker note, the balloon-cleaving Candy Coloured-Clown routine sees clown-masked Lucy Longlegs making her way through the crowd (and Roy Orbison’s In Dreams), only to deliver hesitant moves and spoil the surprise of her ending by exposing the contents of her bucket too soon. Miss Amarettease and Trixiebelle Firecracker both display solid turns, the former with her confetti-sprinkling umbrella number and the latter with a nimble, well-paced fan dance.
Three contestants take the risk of changing their entries from the previous rounds. Contortionist Electra grinds away to Destiny’s Child’s Bootylicious before parading her spine-twisting exploits, while Miss Bruise Violet contributes a graceful belly dance that evolves into a hypnotic choreography with Isis wings, boasting breathtaking verve and agility. Never performing the same number twice throughout the different rounds of the competition, Aurora Galore offers yet another tour de force from her savvy repertoire, an energetic hard rock fan dance to Breaking Benjamin’s Dance with the Devil. Combining fierce moves with well-timed strobe lights, the petite powerhouse excels in a language still rare in London’s vintage-dominated burlesque scene and remains a unique treat in local variety stages.
Compèred with inimitable cheek by burlesque veteran Kiki Kaboom (also throwing in a wine-lubricated rendition of her infamous signature tune The Pussycat Song), the climate of competition takes a break with an interlude by Melbourne ‘burlesque aerialist’ Tank. Striking dainty poses between trapeze stunts, the airborne beauty spins, twirls and strips, but reaps wide cheering and applause more for her jaw-dropping acrobatics than her rather hurried last-minute pasty reveal. A stunning act nevertheless, it adds further colour to an already multifarious bill.
And so another London Burlesque Week Newcomers Contest comes to an end. If 2010 winner Ginger Blush’s recent collaborations with the cream of London variety (including Beyond the Cabaret, the Bluestocking Society and The Double R Club) is anything to go by, exciting prospects await the winners in the near future. But most importantly, the contest has proved an enticing, intriguing show, in a charming venue (a music one, incidentally, just like in the contest auditions), with an enthusiastic and receptive crowd. In other words, an entertaining night out with lots of fun. Now that’s something you won’t get easily from most royals.
London Burlesque Week: Newcomers Contest. Bush Hall, London. 29 April, 21:00. £12.50. www.londonburlesqueweek.com
All photos by Sin Bozkurt , exclusively for Erotic Review