Sunday, October 02, 2011

As bare-breasted, high-kicking musical entertainment, burlesque owes its origins to Paris cabarets, but “New Burlesque” performers like Dirty Martini, Kitten on the Keys and Mimi Le Meaux are the stars of a renewed interest in the art form that comes straight from the clubs of New York and San Francisco. These ladies are XXL, in cup-size and attitude, and play on American culture iconography from cowboys to ‘50s starlets, with cascades of platinum ringlets, and cleavage stuffed with greenbacks, Kentucky Fried Chicken and fistfuls of glitter.

Striptease and tassel-twirling seem as natural to the performers of the Cabaret New Burlesque as pulling clothes ON seem to the rest of us. Comprised of the above mentioned three, joined by Julie Atlas Muz, Evie Lovelle and, the one male, Roky Roulette, the company has strutted its voluptuous forms across stages in France since 2004, but it is the success of Mathieu Almaric’s film “Tournée” (Prix de la mise en scène at Cannes last year), a fictionalized road movie capturing them on tour across France’s west coast, that explains their breakthrough to a larger public in Paris since late December. The crowd at the Théâtre de la Cité International, where the Cabaret is currently playing to sold out crowds before moving briefly to the CentQuatre, knows what it is in for, eager to see the larger than life stars of Almaric’s film in the flesh (the more the better).

The assembled company certainly obliges. Led by emcee Kitten on the Keys, who sports a mind-boggling array of boas, stilettos, head-dresses, and gowns, each ensemble more outlandish than the next, while lending some titillating humoristic and musical interludes, the rest of the troupe takes it off, again and again, with his or her own style, whether grotesque/fantastical (Julie Atlas Muz), Rita Hayworth elegant (Evie Lovelle), rockabilly (Roky Roulette) or overtly political (Dirty Martini’s “Patriot Act” number). But it is far less any indirect eroticism of the acts (the thrills are knowingly tongue-in-cheek) than their performance quality that is the measure of New Burlesque, and this show measures up very well in the genre : dazzling in sequins, lamé and satin but not too polished, a whisper of mystery but a good dose of self-deprecating humor, physiques corresponding to perceived notions of physical beauty and others rather more, well, full-formed, plenty of atmosphere and audience interaction, a bit raunchy in its jokes but poised in its striptease sequences. Gender wars and feminist theory take a back seat for an hour of unadulterated entertainment.

Photo Credit: Eve Saint-Ramon

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