Jeez Loueez. Photo courtesy Bourbontown Burlesque.
1st Annual Bourbontown Burlesque Festival
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
At the #metoo moment in the culture, what is the role of an adult entertainment form like burlesque? Master of Ceremonies Buster Fireel began the evening with an exhortation to “never, ever hoot and holler at women in public,” but that this night, you should feel free to vocalize with enthusiasm in encouragement of the female performers onstage.
So the event was a safe place in which to exercise a healthy appreciation of sensuality, risqué humor, and an honest expression of carnality. The roster of performers included three men, all of whom received an equally raucous response from the audience, but it was the women, who range from skilled aerialists to the best striptease artists, who pushed the bounds of taste to deliver the heart of burlesque, which, whatever its history, seems in 2017 to represent a heady merging of tradition, satire, and alternative culture.
The performers were received with appreciation but, more importantly, respect. The magnificent Ethel Loveless essayed a funny and raunchy striptease that anchored the “Adults Only” foundation of the evening but seemed to move among the crowd in what was left of her costume without fear of harassment. Ethel is local so it’s fair to say the audience was filled with friends and fans (count me as one), but I think it also fair to say that the artists from out-of-town were held in the same regard before the evening’s end. And in the age of the Suicide Girl aesthetic, Pixie Pistola’s beautiful routine on the Lyra touched base with a segment of alternate culture that places great value on such respect. Freaks are clearly at the forefront of #metoo.
Lola Van Ella was also a genuine striptease, albeit one with elegance balanced with low humor and a solid vocal performance of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale”. She brought that voice back for a duet with Jeez Loueez of a hilarious original tune, “Dickens Christmas.”
The men were all “flow artists”, skilled at moving with objects in a magical fashion. Dylan Rodriguez working with contact staffs, fluidly making rigid objects defy the laws of physics, and Mike Hayataka did things with hula-hoops never imagined by kids on the playground. He was masterful. And then Jameson Peligro executed his Superman Cyr wheel routine, a breathtaking technical performance marked by a striptease culminating with the removal of his pants while on the wheel! That means that while Peligro’s body was basically the spokes on the wheel, he removed his trousers. Peligro’s act was also a fully realized narrative that was clever in its execution and charmingly funny.
Two highly contrasting drag performers illustrated the range of possibilities included in that simple description. Uhstel H. Valentine erased the boundaries of gender distinction with a bump-n-grind performance that was all showbiz, while Stevie Dicks’ Garden of Eden drag tease was an outrageous comic parody of female sexuality.
The Sterling Sisters, Pearl, and Alice worked a complex and tightly constructed duet on a suspended Lyra that was startling in its intimacy and suggestiveness. The Sterling’s expertise is without question, but the impact of the piece lay in the thematic flirtation with taboos.
The fierce Ricky J opened the program and returned to render a sexy duet with Vivian La Resistance, and Freya West danced with fans in a classic manner. Elektra’s belly dance was subtle and understated and, honestly, almost too low-key for the overall tone of the evening.
How do you end such a show? What would be impossible to top? When Fireel geared up an overwrought introduction to an 80’s pop superstar, there was no mistaking who was being referenced, and Jeez Loueez’s merciless but wickedly funny take on Whitney Houston’s drug-ravaged final performances was not for the faint of heart.
While some of the performers were undeniably attractive in conventional terms, the joy of a show like this is that a woman you may not look twice at on the street can don a spangled costume, step onto a burlesque stage, and force you to reexamine your assumptions about beauty and sexual attraction. It requires talent and hard work to make it fun and titillating, but none of these performers, all of whom displayed great professionalism, are ever caught taking themselves too seriously. Buster Fireel’s role as MC frees the production from the need for any overriding narrative structure other than, “this will be, without apology, kick-ass adult entertainment.”
The performance Saturday night was a part of a weekend-long schedule of workshops conducted by the artists, who came from various points outside of Louisville to participate.
1st Annual Bourbontown Burlesque Festival
December 16, 2017
Tim Faulkner Gallery
1512 Portland Avenue
Louisville, KY 40202
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.