For those who fail to dig past the distracting cursory bells and whistles of g-strings and pasties, burlesque must seem quite crass. While the neo-burlesque movement retained the essentials of sexually charged strip tease, Dita Von Teese's Strip Strip Hooray review showed it's an art form that goes far beyond human vulgarity.
Last night at Revolution Live, Von Teese and her troupe of men and women transported a raucous crowd from the seedy streets of downtown Fort Lauderdale to a glamorous realm of live cinema rendered with absolutely devastating style, grace, and humor. Beyond the entertainment the evening provided, the varied cast of characters helped to convey an unspoken message of acceptance and unconditional confidence through performance.
The proceedings were hosted by the affable Murray Hill. He's the drag-king incarnation of Robert Goulet doing a Don Rickles impersonation, though Hill's larger-than-life personality is entirely his own. Hill warmed the audience by playfully jabbing at a crowd member's standoffish body language, polling the audience for homosexuals, and introducing the performers with a signature, sharp humor that provided punctuation between performances.
The evening seemed like a missing scene from the film Swingers: Audience members were dressed to the nines in varying degrees of swank and swag, all vintage informed, of course. Revolution Live itself had been transformed from a concert hall with a rock 'n' roll twist to a proper burlesque club, complete with tables, an extended stage illuminated by brass seashell lighting fixtures, a blue velvet curtain festooned with gold trim. Murray Hill's introduction of the "International Queen of Burlesque" was nearly drowned out by the crowd's uproar as Dita Von Teese took the stage for her first number.
Donning the most form fitting tuxedo possibly ever sewn, Von Teese appeared flanked by a duo of scantily clad blonde women. Vicky and Virginia (Hill introduced them with a vagina joke, naturally) helped the performer as she gently slunk away pieces of the tux and elegantly floated about the stage. Von Teese lip synced a classic sounding jazz number throughout her seductive dance, but every button lost earned a riotous ovation from the audience that forced the focal point away from song and to accessory.
Von Teese was eventually, after an eternity, left in a rhinestone and crystal encrusted bustier, then just a g-string and tasseled pasties -- the only appropriate clothing for someone about to bathe in a 6 foot tall martini glass. The brunette deity of burlesque climbed into the glass, which was now magically filled with green liquid, and proceeded to swirl around in it, bathing with a giant olive that turned out to be a sponge. Von Teese held the sponge high overhead and let the water caress her body to the delight of everyone, ending the first act of the evening stretched over the rim of the glass with a coy smile and wink.
New York's Dirty Martini was the first of Dita's esteemed performers to follow and the zaftig blonde slowly disassembled an elaborate dress to the soundtrack of saucy saxophone. Martini simply radiated confidence and ended her performance with Hill on stage, coaching her through a series of tassel tricks that had the audience in stitches.
Von Teese's longtime confidant and partner, Catherine D'Lish, took the stage next, appearing in front of a gigantic spider web taken straight from Lux Interior's day dreams. The performer wasted no time in losing her red sequined gown and climbing to the top of the web, painting acrobatic seductions that used the entire thing as her canvas. All the accolades and awards Hill rattled off in his introduction of D'Lish made sense by the end of her routine.
Following D'Lish was the first of the evening's two male performers, a French man that went by the name Monsieur Romeo. While the assumption would be that any burlesque routine performed by a man would have to be campy and emasculating, Romeo's was anything but. The man removed pieces of a suit while hiding beneath the shadow of dark hat, and had the ladies (and a few men) in the crowd screaming in absolute glee. They were especially pleased when he removed his wedding band and threw it in the pocket of the pants, pants that were eventually torn away to reveal a pair of fishnets.
Hill appeared on stage and made some jokes about the man's bulge as Romeo stood there in quiet confidence and the ladies in the audience attempted (and failed) to collect themselves. Hill took the opportunity to take a #selfie from between Romeo's legs.
The other male performer of the night came later in the evening and could not have a style further removed from Romeo's own. Mr. Gorgeous, a 6' 5" giant with the face of a teenager showed up wearing high-heeled saddle shoes, suspenders and shorts. Gorgeous' routine was far more humorous, involving a small brass chair, a bit of gymnastic flair, and the occasional circus trick. The tongue-in-cheek nature of it all was not lost on the crowd, which appeared to enjoy the performances greatly.
Von Teese's final acts were all surreal, ethereal routines that felt removed from the rest of the show. The performer appeared to a Morricone-twinged spaghetti Western vamp, the quintessential rhinestone cowgirl, complete with chaps, a ten gallon hat, and boots, all of which seemed to be constructed of nothing but pink crystals. Von Teese slowly writhed atop a plush mechanical bull constructed from what seemed to be a tuck 'n' roll headboards, ending the performance beneath a rain of shiny pink confetti. The scene felt like a dream sequence culled from David Lynch film.
Von Teese also appeared as a bird with beautiful red plumage in a golden cage for her classic fan dance routine, which climaxed during a spinning shower taken from the cage's perch. For her finale she took the form of a dragon lady. The performance had to be witnessed to be truly appreciated. The production aesthetics involved eclipsed anything we've come to expect from a burlesque performance, with a massive shrine built to house the dancer, a stage littered with paper lanterns, and modernized Asian music that added increasing amounts of drama with each gong splash and thunderous drum hit.
Von Teese seemed to move with out moving, floating as an apparition during her dance. The moment was a world class experience that completely changed our perceptions of what burlesque could be and now is. The finale came to an end with a group of red-gloved hands reaching out from the black lining of Von Teese's Asian shrine, holding back and caressing her. She closed her eyes and gently rocked until an explosion of red paper flowers was jettisoned over the crowd.
It's sexual, of course, but no doubt also an art in its own right.
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