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The art of tease: burlesque at The Cultch

As we ring in a New Year, it's out with the old and in with the new. So we decided to try something a little different at the Cultch's Burlesque Extravaganza on December 31st.

As two burlesque "virgins," VO's Social Media Director, Anja Konjicanin, and I weren't entirely sure what to expect from the show. But we discovered that it was colourful, sexy, comical and, most of all, highly entertaining.

At the popular event - tickets to the sold-out show were going for $200 on craigslist - the audience dressed almost as playfully as the performers. In the line-up, we spotted a number of 1930s flappers with brightly coloured feathers and flowers in their hair.

Burlesque, for the uninitiated, isn't simply a high class strip tease. The genre subverts social norms, by uniting elements of high art and popular entertainment. The 1930s are considered the classical period of burlesque, but the performance style was revitalized in the 1990s with a new generation of post-feminist performers.

Vancouver has its own burlesque festival, founded in 2006. Melody Mangler, one of its creators, explains what she loves about the genre and why it's so popular with women in this Georgia Straight article.

At the Cultch's Burlesque Extravaganza, each of the seven performers - Melody Mangler, April O’Peel, Madame Mae I, Burgundy Brixx, Nicky Ninedoors, Lydia Decarllo and Lola Frost - offered something different.

April O'Peel's wacky and whimsical unicorn dance delighted the entire audience. Dressed in a flowing purple gown with a horn attached to her head, O'Peel trotted across the stage and pawed at the air as an innocent unicorn. When a creepy, disembodied voice commanded her to dance, she bounced her hips to "Me so Horny." Utterly unexpected and very amusing.

As the only performer to sing her own music, Nicky Ninedoors stood out with her low, seductive voice. A master of tease, Nicky hid behind two giant red feathers while purring the Rosemary Clooney song "Come on-a my House," unveiling herself as she sang the very last notes.

To watch Burgundy Brixx, was to see an artist at the top of her craft. In a sparkling green dress that set off her flaming red hair, Brixx was in total control of the audience, expertly choosing when and what to reveal.

At intermission, we were invited backstage to photograph and chat with a few of the performers and the evening's host, the very charming Purrrfessor.

Onstage Lydia Decarllo was all drama with a touch of danger, but in person she was down-to-earth and approachable. We asked her, and fellow performer Madame Mae I, what they thought of the recent film Burlesque, starring Cher and Christina Aguilera.

"They were so sure that they had it right, but they really didn't," Madame Mae said. Her own performance earlier in the evening recalled burlesque's 1930's heyday. "There's supposed to be a big reveal at the end. It's not just about singing."

Throughout history burlesque has been performed by women of all different sizes and ages, and by men too, said Mae. "It's not an extended pussycat doll video."

Madame Mae, whose day job involves working with children with disabilities, told us that you find many people who perform burlesque are in the helping profession. "They've already had to take themselves out of the real world. And you have to be a little bit weird to do burlesque."

Decarllo pointed out that burlesque is about the theatrical, the dramatic and not intended to mimic reality. "Burlesque is absolutely ridiculous. It's fun, but it's not what actually happens at home," she said.

"It's about the joke. The tongue and cheek aspect of it," Madame Mae added.

***

If you're still a burlesque virgin, you can catch many of the performers from the New Year's Eve show at the SandyBone and the Breakdown CD release party February 14th, presented by Drive Productions.

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