Rachel Petty & Beth Kannapell. Photo: Joe Mays
Va Va Revolutionary: Cease and Desist
Va Va Vixens at Art Sanctuary
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I came to review a Va Va Vixens show intended to pay tribute to Prince and his music. What I encountered was a story about legality forcing a group of artists to adapt and conquer.
On Thursday, one hour before the doors were due to open for the first performance, Vixens Artistic Director Lisa Frye received a Cease and Desist notice via registered email from representatives of the late musical artist’s estate. After four months of preparation, the company was forced to pull the plug on the show.
Frye affirms that the company always pays royalties for music used in their productions to ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and was taken by surprise by the notice, but confusion in establishing the heirs to Prince’s estate and who would be handling music rights resulted in changes to the licensing for his back catalog. A flurry of communications that included consultation with local attorneys brought Frye to the unfortunate decision to cancel Thursday evening’s performance. Refunds were issued, although some attendees hung out to take advantage of the cash bar and witnessed the first steps in the reinvention of the show. The cast and crew sat in a circle on the stage with pens and paper and went to work reimagining the production.
24 hours later, the Vixens troupe presented the untitled replacement show. From dress rehearsal photographs, it is clear that a few routines remained intact, with an exchange of music, while some other elements were swapped out for other choreography, and songs for three live vocalists were exchanged.
If the new show lacked the overarching, unifying theme of Prince, it remained a worthy catalog of the skills and aesthetic and statement about the determination of the performers. Lady Stardust explained the circumstances before launching into a spirited rendition of “I Will Survive” that set the slightly defiant tone for the evening.
It also left the focus on the skills and sexual expression of the performers. There was an abundance of style and showmanship to be sure, but the structure seemed more episodic, a succession of vignettes less connected thematically. After the bravura opening number, the show did seem to struggle to find its sure footing, but as the evening progressed, the appropriate levels of moxie and empowerment took over, with sharp, precise dancing, and most impressive, some dazzling aerial work.
All of which is to be expected from this company. But the fun comes from a shadow dance behind a white cloth and a riotous bathtub from which emerge a bevy of bathing beauties; the grace comes from a lovely use of hoops in a group dance and offstage performance in silks, and the sexy comes in almost all of it, but unexpectedly in an erotic pas de duex between two women in a suspended cube and a nearly confrontational carnal lira routine with a man and a woman.
While the Vixens are undeniably sexy, if you have not seen a performance, it likely comes off as a problematic opportunity for objectification. The reality is that there are far more empowerment and celebration of the sexuality of a range of body types in motion and the beauty of exposed skin of varying colors than prurient appeal.
And it is for that very reason that one can only imagine that, if Prince himself were still alive, he would approve.
Va Va Revolutionary: Cease And Desist
June 7-9, 2019
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 LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / 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.