The Australian Burlesque Festival

Canberra Tour, Erindale Theatre, Wanniassa. 22 Jun 2012

Co-produced by Dolores Daiquiri and Rosy Rabbit

Canberrans have been treated to an abundance of burlesque events to warm them up in the capital over the past few months, and it seems locals have wholeheartedly embraced the art form – if numbers at recent burlesque events are anything to go by.

In May we were treated to the astoundingly popular Star Wars Burlesque, in June there was Miss Kitka’s House of Burlesque’s hit production of Jungle Fever, and to ice the cake nicely, the Australian Burlesque Festival just shimmied through town for their annual visit.

Now in it’s third year running, the Australian Burlesque Festival toured Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney (with line-ups changing with each city), bringing the public the best of Burly Q the country has to offer, plus a few gems from overseas.

Hosting the event in the ACT was the loveable and inoffensive stand-up comedian Andrew McClelland, who knew exactly how to tickle Canberra’s funny bone with his intelligent banter and cultured participatory games. He gave a wonderfully hearty warm-up and conjured up the appropriate bawdy-but-not sleazy burlesque vibe from the audience before the show, ensuring a supportive but respectful crowd. Performing a few song, dance and sea shanty numbers himself, McClelland even pulled local burlesque dancer Ivy Ambrosia to the stage as muse for his version of Maurice Chevalier’s wrong-town ditty, Thank Heavens for Little Girls.

Headlining the Canberra leg was the internationally acclaimed UK performer, Anna Fur Laxis, who undoubtedly earned her prestigious spot by doing a slick and mischievous tribute to the pin-up and burlesque icon, Bettie Page. Donning a two-sided suit featuring on one half a provocative Bettie, and the other a Christian missionary Bettie complete with flashing crucifix pasties (the real-life Bettie Page became a born-again Christian after years as a bondage model), Anna Fur Laxis pulled out all the stops to show the crowd how burlesque is done by Brits.

Other international performers to grace the stage included Finland’s LouLou D’Vil, who strode across the stage providing a shot of old school glamour up the arm, throwing her skirts back as she peacocked through them in an elegant, Dita-esque manner.

Canada’s delightful Coco Framboise camped up the place with her elaborate showgirl hairpiece, breezy vintage peignoir and cheeky ending to her solo, and the USA’s Peekaboo Pointe, perhaps the most comfortable with her vulgarity, tassel twirled herself into an erotic frenzy with her playful and deliciously insolent sailor piece.

Much anticipated by the crowd was an appearance by Australian burlesque queen, Imogen Kelly. She didn’t disappoint her fans with her extravagant flamingo fan-dance routine, proving that in burlesque, more is more, and cementing her title in the burlesque world for yet another year.

The Australian Burlesque Festival was also notably diverse in terms of burlesque genres. The acts ranged from the comedic and crude, as in Evie Red’s snake charming boobs and Lallah Lamore’s raunchy adventure with the grocery shopping (think egg pasties and a Vegemite moustache), to the dramatic and theatrical neo-burlesque, with Vespa White’s Pan’s Labyrinth inspired epic ending with a phallic party popper blowing it’s glittery load, or Danica Lee’s exotic pagan ritual complete with diamanté skull.

Some were highly technical, as in Tasia’s sharp and highly choreographed geisha samurai dance, Sheena Misdemeanour’s graceful ballet striptease and local dancer Tiffany Blue’s classic chair dance. There was also a bit of good old vintage, va va voom burlesque performed by Dolores Daiquiri and costume-centric pieces such as Rosy Rabbit’s Tease Me Tiger routine and the above mentioned flamingo spectacular by Imogen Kelly.

As much as the ladies respectively owned the stage, the only let down was the choice of venue for the festival. For such an ostentatious art form, it would have paid to add a little razzle-dazzle to the surroundings. Compared to the dancers and their flashy costumes, the Erindale Theatre appeared drab and lifeless and was screaming out for a more flattering lighting makeover and a glitter explosion. A cosier theatre such as The Street would have been perfect for such an occasion, allowing the crowd to engage more with the show and feel part of the experience.

There was also a bit of an uproar regarding the lack of a bar at the venue selling drinks, let alone alcohol, with those looking forward to unwinding that Friday after a long week at work bitterly disappointed. This sentiment was amplified by the fact that there were two twenty-minute intervals – let this be a lesson to any of you potential burlesque producers.

However, nothing could detract from the buzz in the air created by one very well coiffed and devoted audience, an obliging MC, an adorable stage kitten and some out-of-this- world burlesque performers. The Australian Burlesque Festival again made its mark on the Territory and will surely be welcomed with open arms the same time next year.

Deborah Hawke