By Jonathan Bradwell
On a typical evening ‘West Street Live’ is a haunt for music lovers by mainstream standards. However, tonight is not typical, and the venue has been teased into a time machine, thrusting us to Berlin, early 1930. I jaunt into the bar nervously as a women clad in an opaque corset struts about unconcernedly, whilst well dressed men lay back at ease amid the immeasurable amount of crimson red and charcoal black décor. An unfamiliar mix of sexiness and reverence arises that today’s culture seems to have disregarded. Ladies and gentlemen, we have just penetrated the world of “Boudoir Burlesque”.
The event I am in attendance for this delightful evening is the “Secrets of the Boudoir Burlesques” production “Secrets of the Boudoir Burlesque goes to the Circus”. This Sheffield Burlesque presentation has been masterminded by none other than Sheffield’s own ‘Deadly Nightshade’ (Bella Donna), a Burlesque manager, organizer, and pin up model. Here is what I experienced…
Running the night sleekly and introducing acts was the elegant Warren Peace, unflinchingly dressed in taut shorts, tights and a brash suit jacket, introducing himself as the ring master of all “SOTBB” nights. Setting the mood thoroughly by speaking about the setting as if it were a mysterious, enchanting circus canopy, Warren commenced the evening with a slightly sardonic, but none the less priceless song. With lyrics revolving around the indications and rewards of being a Circus attendee, it was easy to dismiss that those in attendance were in fact still in the metropolis of one of England’s mechanical cities.
Moving the circus into the burlesque territories is Mrs Depravity Jane, a well accomplished modern virtuoso. Calamity Jane infiltrated the scene in a heavenly fur coat, all eyes affixed upon her upper class aurora and strut. Then this shell was caressed off. What followed was a routine that knew no frontiers, with Jane tumbling off and on the stage, blundering from one margin of the platform to the other; whilst expressing a concomitant approach to dance. With a slight abruptness, the routine dissolved, leaving the onlookers craving for more of this polished standard Burlesque. The night was in full cadence.
It was a lapse back to the delightful musical shades of the proceedings as Duke O’ Growl, tonight’s third and surely the most distinguished act, ascended on to the stage to the sounds of soft, alleviating piano based melodies. With a voice to bewilder, Mr O Growl, dressed acutely in a sombre suit, provided sovereign old fashioned sing a longs which made a fair interlude between the adorable ladies of the Burlesque acts, the side shows in their plethora, and the beats from tonight’s specialist DJ. It seems that SOTBB have something to offer for every taste present this twilight.
Something undoubtedly suggestive appeared in the silhouette of Selina Furevelle. Stripping from a gypsy dress and veil Selina ended up ‘uncloaked’. The Belly Dancing cycle was executed alongside a Tarrot reading table of which she writhed under and around, gaining more impetus as the music proceeded. Letting the beat and facial communication do the talking seemed to have a lasting shock and was both baffling and captivating as a fatal silence fell around the room. Continuing in costume for the most part of the night, Selina was the reminder that these girls are a celebration of a women’s natural elegance.
No circus would be entire without a compeer to take direction. Taking to the stage in a sensuous red circus coat and a meagre whip, Mistress MiMi sang a ravishing song with her sturdy, but darling voice. Undoubtedly well experienced in singing to groups, Mistress MiMi remained entirely dressed, but just as spicy, for this Caberate routine. Tonight’s union of masculine and overly feminine vocals were nothing brief of a scintillating mix, giving something for the audience to swagger too as they indulged in those succulent cocktails and smoked away, truly seizing the essence of an aged conventional Burlesque spectacle!
Due to an unanticipated accident amid the rehearsal previously in the day (supposedly, with a tint of humour, combing a ladies piercing down below and a nail), the first of tonight’s freak demonstrations had to be eradicated as the bed of nail performer remained in Hospital. Not to worry though, as Warren acquainted us to Scarlet Noir and Cherry Du Bois, whose last minute juggling ridicule saw the fledgling twins have the audience erupting with chortles. After failed attempts to juggle, each twin got continuously infuriated with the other, until in archetypal Burlesque fashion, no one was wearing that much! For a last minute effort; marvellous.
Just half way through the performances it was time for Warren Peace to strut back on with his firm pout and heels, for some humour and singing. After badgering the ladies about high heels, Warren burst into a seemingly apathetic and melancholy tune about Ferris Wheels, using his hands artistically to try and compose the picture only he could see. Impressively, after each chorus, the tempo started to accumulate, turning the crowd from voracious listeners into smirking fans. This was, however, only until Warren himself found it too demanding, and the song came to a climax with howls of laughter.
A certain air of tension glooms in the canopy as the events coordinator and Burlesque veteran Deadly Nightshade sits back to back with a parallel performer for a spellbinding ‘Mirror’ exhibition. Keeping in uncanny symmetry through the solid few minutes, the two performers, one in dazzling white attire and the other in a subjugating black corset and suspenders, direct a dance/striptease of utter regard. Although this distinct exhibition has been conducted by deadly Nightshade many times before, and has undoubtedly become renowned, it never seizes to impress how much grind and exuberant practise must go into such a fine cavort.
Threatening, seductive and adventurous. Lexi Sexx migrated from Leeds to make us endure her erratically breathtaking pain routine. Lexi was carefully concealed with two grandiose sapphire feather fans, which danced and quivered as Lexi leaped to sounds that seemed to move through her. Nonchalantly letting the feathers dwindle, she squeamishly settled her feet into real glass. To finish, the artist laid down, body relatively exposed, and (don’t carry on reading if you’re tender), writhed in the fragments to the sounds of her chosen tune. Unearthly, Lexi stood up, grinned, and presented us her back: washed with glass, but cut deprived.
Mistress MiMi recoiled again, unsuspectingly propelling in as a clown, tediously striving to inflate a balloon. In a radical mood change, MiMi retired facing a mirror, exciting us with an uneasy and overwhelming song. The cumbersome swing in mood, with the audience utterly unaware, made MiMi’s clown manifestation more striking than her straightforward earlier show. Although compassionate compared to Lexi, it goes to show that a classy voice and touching acting can be just as engrossing. Leaving the stage as a buoyant clown, the act made us suspiciously evaluate what really lay’s behind the synthetic visage of a clowns veneer.
Warren Peace, with a cloak around his slender frame, kicks off the first of tonight’s terminating acts by pretending to lure supposedly inattentive performers stage bound. Then an apparently random girl is hauled up, and encapsulated in a sombre curtain. Within a matter of minutes, the audience laugh appreciatively as they grasp it couldn’t have been them picked to partake: The curtain is slumped gratifyingly to confess one of the SOTBB squad. At this moment it was clear that Burlesque is more than dancing; it’s an exploration of the creativeness to take a distinct angle to shows and dressing up.
The heartbreaker Duke O Growl honoured the performance space again at about eleven o Clock, accompanied by none other than the voice of an archangel that is Dante Powerhouse. Taking a side of the stage each, Duke and Dante joined causes to conjure a forceful duo which surpassed any of the other more vocally orientated acts tonight. The individuality of this pairs charming harmonies seemed worth more than the relatively humble time slot designated to them. However, making the most out of what they were entrusted; the team wooed the ladies of the evening with their heart tickling flushed sonatas.
Tonight’s most competent routine took to the stage after the song was culminated. Deadly Nightshade, ornamented in an impressive white corselet, was joined on stage by tonight’s early performers Scarlet Noir and Cherry Du Bois, both immersed with black dress. The saga was a perfectly fluent, impressively synchronized dance to the hit ‘Big Spender’. Everything about this routine was evidently honed endlessly: The turns, the unravelling of lace, even tilts of the head and the chattering of bodies. More shockingly was that the statement on Deadly Nightshade and the twin’s faces was not that of study, but just precipitous bliss.
Closing the evening for us, just before Warren’s hindmost word and detailing of where the circus was to vanish too next, was Duke O Growl, for his third round of ravishing the attendees tonight. This time it was more than just a spiritedly dressed young man with a majestic voice… It was the honour of being chosen to close the evening with an arrangement of “Cry me a River”. Although almost unrecognisable because of the conversions undertaken, it was nevertheless premium. With the acts over, it was by no means the end; the bar remained agape until the small hours.
The extravaganza tonight had not been as awkward and erotic as expected, and despite an early apprehension, it was overtly delightful and fulfilling. Once you have accepted that the craft can be lustful, and that being humble is not an exceptional trait, you begin to understand the deepness of Burlesque and why it is completely different to conventional strip joints. At least three nights worth of enjoyment is cast into one, with its combination of live music, dancing, singing, flirtatious striptease and of course circus acts. It is because of this rapture and the flawless talent of the performers that Sheffield has become anchor to an ever expanding Burlesque scene, with “Secrets of the Boudoir Burlesque” fronting the game. In aspiration to learn more about “Secrets of the Boudoir Burlesque”, I decided to stick around and blend with the actors, singers and the strippers on show tonight…
After acquiring vast and well deserved commendations, I spent some time conversing to Deadly Nightshade about how she viewed the evening. Deadly Nightshade told me “Lexi Sexx was my favourite, and the vocal performers”. This answer perplexed me considering this enthusiast is clearly a die hard classic Burlesque fiend, as she continues to decipher: “I don’t like the freaks as much, but it is beginning to bloom in Burlesque”. It seems that SOTBB have the proficiency to acclimatize, to diffuse and to showcase performers for every taste: Even though, according to tonight’s organizer tonight had a lousy attendance, it still makes them the cast iron brand they are on Amateur Burlesque today.
When queried about the circus thesis of tonight, the reflection was serene and transmitted with a smile: “It’s just something different”, an experiment to “Stem out and adopt new levels”. It appears that conglomerations are the key to fortune, with Deadly Nightshade stressing the concern of “Guerrilla Burlesque” (Where unscheduled performers turn up unsolicited and take to the stage). There is always an element of unexpectedness to Burlesque, and that is what preserves it so naturally and rewarding for those who take the time to go gander.
I dwelled on what it was Deadly Nightshade encountered within the walls of Burlesque that she sought gratification in? The retort was: “I believe there is beauty in every shape, size, age, creed and colour”. Further to that, the shows are appointed to provoke laughter with a sense of comedy weaved in every performance: “The satirical part is more important than the ‘striptease’ part so in a lot of my routines I add the twist of modern comedy, to make the routine less of a striptease and more of story which pokes fun at the fact that I will eventually end up wearing very little!”
I also spoke too Warren Peace, the man with the legs who played his part nothing short of thrillingly. I wanted to know what it was like to grow up and become absorbed in a subversive piece of culture. The first time he experienced Burlesque was in a “Dank, Vodka soaked backroom” where he “saw a women singing about the harsh realities of prostitution, completely naked with tears streaming down her face”. On a sombre note, he concluded that it was then he “realized the real tangible power the art form can have”. I stood testament to the might of the show tonight, with some of the music and the passion of the performers clutching me in a melancholy fix, not far from what some call languish or sorrow.
Burlesque does transmit a satirical angle, as Warren asserts “The best burlesque performers are those who are not looking back or being retrospective, but staying true to the original tradition of confronting taboo and mocking the ‘establishment”. This makes burlesque an acquired taste, and although many adore it’s visually and audible displays, I learnt that it has a deeper meaning from that that lies on the skin of its women and in the voices of its singers. It’s about “making a mockery with the obsession with size zero”. The segregation within modelling world, where being emaciated is often the only progressive trait, seems quite the adverse to the all embracing conjecture of Burlesque.
When asked to sum up the evenings antics, Warren Peace revealed to me it would be “Saucy, Sultry and no doubt a little bit silly”. Undoubtedly, each one of these boxes was ticked. The performances were galvanising, the benevolence of those involved was exhilarating and drawing, and not to forget the side show freaks and magicians, well, they filled the time wholly between the stage acts. Looking back at tonight, it would be callous to note an experience more rewarding. There was something for everyone, and everyone relished something! This comes down to the acknowledgement of everyone involved, audience or performer. Deadly Nightshade highlights: “I have been told that there is a lot of pretentiousness within the burlesque industry, but I have been lucky enough to never experience this, because, to me, that would simply destroy the idea of burlesque”. So next time Deadly Nightshade and her “Secrets of the Boudoir Burlesque” mob are in town, will you be there? I know for sure I will.
(Pictures courtesy of Secrets of the Boudoir Burlesque and Laura Dunraven)
Here is a short documentary about Burlesque, with speech from Deadly Nightshade herself…