The New York Burlesque Festival is now in its 16th year, a four-night event (Thursday-Sunday) that regularly sells out. Jen Gapay of Thirsty Girl Productions, who co-produces the festival with burlesque legend Angie Pontani, was kind enough to have me at the festival’s Premiere Party at Brooklyn Bowl this past Friday. As ever, the glitter and glamour was more than just a possibility, but a fully realized, nonstop sparkle extravaganza.
Even arriving and perusing vendors, there were intricate rhinestone pasties in the shapes of flames, butterflies, and emojis. Long studded gloves in all manner of colors. Another burlesque legend Jo Weldon with her new book Fierce, about the history of leopard print.
I don’t remember exactly why I went to a burlesque show the first time, but I knew almost instantly I’d be back. I love burlesque for how it creatively parodies or exaggerates (or, uh, burlesques) sexuality, how it’s used to make us laugh, how it spins taboo on its head and asks us to see the theatricality and comedy and even beauty in something we’re so often taught to hide. Performers fully own their bodies, and their pride is inspiring.
Soon, with the rest of the audience, I will be enveloped in a swirl of striptease, of comedic and glamorous (or both) performances by entertainers with deliciously punny names like Broody Valentino, Rosie Cheeks, and Taradise. Their acts will be inspired by the likes of everything from Satanism to peacocks, Space Jam to romance novels, Sunset Boulevard to Jesus Christ Superstar.
But first, go-go dancers shimmy and swivel across the stage in heels, dollars tucked into garters and mouths and corsets. Broadway Brassy, with her red and black hair and gold sequin-encrusted wrap dress opens the show with her band, the Brass Knuckles. She sings covers of tunes like Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto’s “The Girl from Ipanema” and Amy Winehouse’s “Valery.” The evening’s hosting duties will be split between Albert Cadabra (yes…) and Shelly Watson, “The Singing Siren." She’ll be flanked by “her two ginger giraffes,” as she calls them, two sky-high showgirls dripping in red fringe. They will introduce acts from all over the world, as far away as Japan, Argentina, and Montreal, and as close as our own New York City. Aria Delanoche is a glamorous peacock, Miss Orchid Mei is a fluffy leopard kitten, Harvest Moon and Jason Mejias swing across the stage on silks and ropes, and more.
How do they get the glitter to stay on their lips? Their fringe to shiver so sensationally? Their costumes slip away with such style? Headdresses to balance without bouncing? I am, as ever, entranced.
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