Photos by Joe Mays/Alien Twilight Photography.
Va Va Vamp
Va Va Vixens at Art Sanctuary
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
With the mix of people dressed for Halloween, which at some point became a season – the loosest and most anarchic of seasons, but a season nonetheless, and the prevalence of body modifications among the happy denizens of alternate culture, Va Va Vamp has the undeniable feel of a freaks night out; harmless freaks, no danger, no risk; good-natured people whose sense of inclusivity is far-ranging.
Vamp is campier, with a post-Rocky Horror vibe that felt very different from my previous Va Va Vixens experience. There were less acrobatics than some other performances, with a slender narrative thread running through the evening that told the story of the world’s most powerful vampire (Beatrix Beguiling – the performers all go by Vixens stage names) and her mercurial, very UN-Frankenstein-like creation. The scripted humor was relaxed and filled with mostly coarse sexual innuendo (with more than a few groaners) that reminds us that this is billed as burlesque. The only think missing was an occasional rim-shot. It’s a form that always played to the lowest common denominator of human behavior: the scatological and sexual, the Vixens just update it to include LGBTQ themes and a contemporary sensibility.
And a lot of movement. For me, the strength of these shows is in the movement. There was a lot of dancing in Vamp, and the first act was characterized by choreography that never taxed the range of skills available in the overall ensemble, but there were several times that the quality rose to more memorable heights. Scarlet Seville and Tuesday Morning were a standout in a sharp duet involving an oversize mirror, and a terrific take on Michael Jackson’s Thriller led by Seville was a high point of act two.
The lighting and costumes are rich and atmospheric, exemplified in a skeleton dance number that, while it may have been borderline cliché, was nevertheless a clever production.
Meghan Julius belted out Hozier’s Take Me To Church in appropriately dramatic fashion and returned later for an even better interpretation of Shatter Me. Lady Stardust served as something of a Master of Ceremonies and was a member of the dance chorus, but also did an impressive and impassioned vocal performance of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.
The most authentic striptease came from Ethel Lovelace, whose full and curvaceous figure wonderfully evoked the vintage days of burlesque. With a costume of overripe orange and a jack-o-lantern cape that, once she had finished shedding, served as a meaningful nod to Sally Rand and the tradition of the fan dance, Ms. Lovelace brought a healthy dose of titillating sexuality to the proceedings.
And that sexuality is one of the crucial aspects of the show, and a challenge to review. In a time of necessary sensitivity to objectification and rape culture in America, the Vixens seem to offer a safe harbor to exult in an honest, adult expression of sensual and erotic pleasures. And not just of the female variety: Mr. Jingle Pants also delivered a bold striptease, emerging from a rabbit costume with fierce energy, but all the striptease manages to entertain and excite mostly without overstepping into lewdness or becoming crass. Of course, this is all highly subjective, and I’m sure my mother would have thought all of it was rude, crude and offensive…
Yet it seems entirely the point that some of the evening will be…well, Hot! Of course, bodies in motion such as are seen on the lira, or doing a contortion routine after emerging from a coffin are always sensual, in any context, because they are powerful. That coffin, certain masques that carry psycho-sexual overtones, and at least one baroque and delightfully disturbing clown help push Vamp into a very contemporary, post-American Horror Story vein.
The finest moment of the evening was an aerial routine with Tallulah Darling and Madam Michon on a suspended ladder that was a magnificent study of uniform grace and fluidity. As it transitions into an interaction with a werewolf (Mr. Jingle Pants), the piece becomes a horror scene with a degree of kink, a subtle expression of the relationship between fear and sexual excitement that underlies so many horror tropes. It is a stirring realization of the company’s fullest potential, the blending of artistry, overt sexuality, and self-referential pop culture that sets Va Va Vixens apart from any other theatre troupe in town.
Va Va Vamp
October 20-28, 2017
Va Va Vixens
1433 South Shelby Street
Louisville, KY 40217
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.