A burlesque show isn't just stripping with rhinestones, pleather thongs and Kid Rock tunes. To quote contemporary cabaret girl Miss Kitty Crimson, "Burlesque is really an art form. It is sexy without being lurid, racy but not X-rated. Striptease is one thing, but burlesque is much more about the tease than the strip." That said, BurlesqueFest isn't for the prudish or weak of heart. Just because it's not all topless doesn't mean it won't be titillating.
BurlesqueFest is the first national tour of neo-burlesque artists, a motley crew of fan dancers, accordion players, champagne-glass swimmers and other acts featuring young women with pinup girl hair, pouty red lips and fishnets skilled in the kinds of variety acts that went out of style with wing-tipped shoes and watch fobs.
Catherine D'Lish headlines this show with an act that Gypsy Rose Lee and her mama would be proud of. D'Lish (who frequently does burlesque duets with Dita Von Teese, fellow dancer and main squeeze of Marilyn Manson) is known for her excessive props and extravagant costumes. She swings in a giant birdcage, clings to a spider web and takes a bubble bath in a giant mirrored champagne glass for her grand finale. She's called the "founding father" of the neo-burlesque movement and has won many titles, including Miss Nude USA and Showgirl of the Year.
D'Lish's touring gal pals include Miss Kitty Crimson (a World War II era-ish cheesecake dame known as her generation's Mae West for both her cleavage and her cleverness), Lola Lush (who combines punk rock and German opera with stilt-walking and shadow dances, frolicking behind a latex screen with a variety of objects) and Kitten on the Keys (the show's emcee with Clara Bow looks who uses her musical proficiency on piano, ukulele and accordion for Tin Pan Alley, punk and Broadway classics, plus her own cabaret songs).
BurlesqueFest also features two troupes. There's The Empire Burlesque Follies, which takes its name from the Empire theater chain that launched the careers of Harry Houdini, Gypsy Rose Lee and comedians Laurel and Hardy. Using canned and live music, the members perform dance and drama in the style of vaudeville, burlesque and circus sideshows. Second is Oracle Dance, which combines the dark, carnival sounds of Tom Waits with dancers in sequins and feathers dolled up like show girls, snake girls, mermaids, ballerinas and more as they perform circus acts on trapeze, hoops and ropes.
Finally, the whole shebang will feature live music by Boulder, Colorado's, DeVotchKa. The band members play upright bass, tuba, violin, accordion, harmonica and more common instruments such as drums and guitars. Their influences are folk music from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Latin America, plus American punk rock. DeVotchKa's sound mixes the old and obscure with the new and popular. And that's one of the points of BurlesqueFest: Take an old (and in some ways forgotten) art form, add some contemporary elements and make it accessible to a new generation. It's like your grandpappy's burlesque show...but on Viagra.