The gears are in motion. Chaz Royal’s London Burlesque Week is once more set to take London by storm, in the last week of April. Judging from last year’s festival, all eyes in the international variety and exotic dancing circuits will turn to the Big Smoke. Judging from this year’s auditions, bump-and-grinding will be represented in its fullest range, from the daintiest cheesecake to the most vicious satire.
Ready for more bump-and-grinding? Don’t miss the London Burlesque Week 2011 Winter Warm Up Teaser at the Scala (275 Pentonville Road, London).
19 February, 22:30. Free
Chaz Royal’s London Burlesque Week 2011 runs from April 26 to 30 at various London venues. Early bookings recommended.
There could hardly have been a more appropriate choice of venue than the Fiddlers Elbow: both nights attracted a tightly packed tattooed, black-clad crowd, virtually indistinguishable from the usual mosh pits cornering the stage of the illustrious Camden rock haunt on a nightly basis. Boasting an in-house sound engineer, the Elbow also treated auditioners with crisp and reliable backing tracks – sadly, still a luxury for most professional performers in the scene.
Cheesecake in Many Flavours
Many of the auditioners were familiar faces from London’s monthly cabaret shows.Duchess Divine and Lucy Longlegsperformed their Rapunzel and Candy-Colored Clown numbers, as seen in Elysian Nights. In the former, the diminutive Divine breaks away from a cursed tower after a hilarious monologue narration about her unfulfilled urges. The act culminates in one of the most lascivious tassel-twirling turns in the scene, as Miss Divine’s colossal breasts contrast with her innocent, twinkly-eyed smile. Ms. Longlegs, on the other hand, went for all-out weirdness. Donning an eerie clown mask and covered in balloons, she popped them with a meat cleaver, fashioned balloons into animals and other less decorous shapes and smeared herself in paint, among other shenanigans in a frantic, unevenly paced routine with enough material for three acts.
Miss Conduct and Miss Apple Tartcontributed their signature numbers, both of which made it into the final Tournament of Tease in November: the teacher number, where Conduct punishes a student from the audience by dancing to Christina Aguilera’sNasty Naughty Boy, and the Chaplin number, now with a trimmed soundtrack (Aretha Franklin’s You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman and Ray Charles’s I Got a Woman, down from five songs in its previous incarnation) that lends more punch to her perfectly timed clown antics, culminating in a heartfelt finale where she waltzes a dress on a coat hanger. Miss Demeanour, anotherTournament of Tease survivor, reprised her frustrated date act, an escalation of broken-hearted despair (with impressively mask-like comic faces) with a messy, if not entirely unhappy ending: who needs pasties when you have cake?
On the cheesecake end of the spectrum, Miss Amarettease stood out with a slow, captivating umbrella choreography to Buddy Holly’s Raining in my Heart. By the same token, Bruise Violet delivered some provocative ribbon-twirling, mischievously enlisting male help from the audience to untie her corset. Forsaking all vintage affectations in favour of a modern feel, Burlesque Idol’s 2010 winner Aurora Galore stormed the stage to the sound of Lady Gaga’s Telephone. Wearing beer cans for hair curlers, her act was a fresh, electrifying tour de force in aggressive sensuality, brimming with the confident exuberance and sharp moves that only a professional dancer can pull off.
While Ms. Galore was the undeniable highlight of the second round of auditions, the first night belonged to Carmella de la Minx. The brunette performed Spanish Tantrum, a sumptuous, flamenco-inspired slow burner, matching stylized melodramatic gesture with a straightforward, elegantly paced strip. In an intricate dance of overwhelming heartache, De la Minx makes her red fan disappear and reappear, struts proudly with stomping defiance, then drops down, beating the floor in despair. The simplicity of her premise and its nimble, intrepid execution illustrate the inherent versatility and dramatic reach of burlesque, even in its most traditional form.
Starting Some Drama
On the experimental front, La Fille contributed her Forgotten Doll act, in which the belle, carried onto and off the stage by a male assistant, performs a touchingly melancholic clockwork dance, surrounding her lifeless, mechanical moves with a vivid pathos. Hitting another sombre note, Jeu Jeu La Foille went to the crossroads to barter for her talent, Robert Johnson-style. Signing her contract on the back of the Devil (a rather cute puppet, which she manipulates to great comic effect), the dancer began to experiment with her newfound powers, hesitantly stripping to Me and the Devil and a heavier rock version ofLove in Vain, collapsing from too much Jack Daniel’s in a sudden, disappointingly facile conclusion.
The limits of the genre were further probed by Electra, a petite acrobat performing a two-cane balancing act with no strip-tease. More than one contestant broke into song, withShirley Windmill presenting the vegetable cornucopia of her marrow number (last seen in The Night of the Blue Stockings) and Veronica Blacklace treating Cry Me a River to her deep, languorous voice.
The London Burlesque Week auditions were hosted by not one, but two boisterous bombshells from London’s cabaret circuit. Ophelia Bitz kept the raunch up during the first round, wringing loud laughter with the filthiest banter this side of the docks, as well as an indecorous set list including Danny La Rue’s Red Riding Hood and Come See Me When The Sun Goes Down from the musical Tequila Vampire Matinee. The second night fell into the pernicious hands of Ivy Paige, who struck a more languid tone with a mellow rendition of Ruth Brown’s If I Can’t Sell It I’ll Sit On It.
Burlesque shows can be beautiful or shocking, delicate or confrontational. These acts supply ample evidence that all those varieties have the ability to surprise and captivate viewers within very tight constraints. If the London Burlesque Week auditions are anything to go by, Chaz Royal’s festival will prove to be a vantage point to watch the bustling developments of a restless, ever-shifting art form that enchants and intrigues with every move. Dabbler or connoisseur, this is the one you don’t want to miss.
London Burlesque Week Auditions. Fiddlers Elbow, Camden, London. 21 January and 4 February, 21:00. £12.50. www.londonburlesqueweek.com