Pasties and Politics

The Toronto Burlesque Festival opens with a Red Carpet Reveal By Grace Wells-Smith
  • Bella Canto / Photo courtesy of Toronto Burlesque Festival

Toronto July 20, 2017, Revival Bar

The Red Carpet Reveal, hosted by the vivacious Beneatha Mann, opened the tenth annual Toronto Burlesque Festival. Described as an evening of classic-style striptease and song, the show included fifteen acts from across North America and Europe. Dressed to the nines and sipping various cocktails, the mingling audience buzzed with anticipation for an evening of old-time glamour.

Headliner Harden Reddy, crowned “Mr. Exotic World” at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender, broke the burlesque mould by beginning the act at the end – in a simple G-string – and ending fully dressed in a suit, complete with a Superman t-shirt and glasses. Throughout the act, the Munich-based performer skilfully dresses, incorporating impressive tricks, such as picking up his jacket during a one-handed cartwheel. Every time an item of clothing is put on, the appeal of Harden Reddy increases as he performs with a slickness that showcases the musculature of his arms and legs.

The featured performer is Toronto’s own Belle Jumelles, previous headliner for the Fierce! International Queer Burlesque Festival. Appearing onstage in silhouette, she is adorned in a black and gold corset that she takes her time artfully removing, building up to the highly anticipated pastie reveal. Performing to music with a classic vaudeville feel, she commands the audience as she slinks across the stage lusciously rotating her hips and moving her arms through space.

From Toronto, Bella Canto makes her entrance by crawling through the audience in a tight-fitting leopard print catsuit, complete with glittering ears. Singing “Everybody Wants to be a Cat,” from Disney’s The Aristocats, Bella Canto performs a well-developed act that not only incorporates the seductive aspects of burlesque but also includes moments of humour, such as getting distracted and pawing at her dangling pastie and even coughing up a furball. These moments of humour highlight her playful personality, timed perfectly among her sultry crawling and rolling along the stage.

The Wily Minxes, from Santa Cruz, are the evening’s first group act. Entering the stage with chairs, the three performers are dressed in hats, white collared shirts and black pants held up with suspenders. The group starts with fun active unison – kicks and fast turns – drastically turning into a seductive chair dance complete with high leg extensions and deep back bends, as they change their costumes into sparkling black bottoms and bright red bras. Although at times effective, the unison-heavy act could have included solo choreography to highlight the performers different personalities.

Dasha Cayenne, member of The Wily Minxes, stands out in her solo act as she dances in a glittering champagne-coloured backless dress bathed in dramatic red lighting. Not only does she slip out of her dress with care, she also interprets the classic jazz music with dynamic movement that includes slowly curving and extending her spine, and bouncing excitedly.

Dante Inferno and Charlotte Webber, from Toronto, are among the evening’s few duets. Dressed as a male schoolteacher and female student, the duo performs what is meant to be a sexy, fun duet about forbidden love, but it comes across as a story of manipulation. With moments of humour used to set the scene, it is left to be questioned whether the performers are aware of what their act portrays – a narrative glamourizing sexual abuse. This act lacked empowerment and self-ownership of sexuality, traits that are both rooted in the core of burlesque and neo-burlesque.

Founder of Boylesque TO, in Toronto, James and the Giant Pasty performs a powerful, socially aware act. Performing to John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me,” he gracefully enters the stage dressed as the Statue of Liberty, with a hidden puppet on his shoulder under a black cloth. He slowly reveals the puppet, a grotesque caricature of United States President Donald Trump. The puppet, controlled by James’ left hand, proceeds to try and inappropriately touch the Statue of Liberty, who desperately fends off his advances. When the Statue of Liberty definitively pushes Trump’s hand away, the audience erupts in a roar of applause. Short and to the point, James and the Giant Pasty performs a relevant act that goes back to the roots of burlesque and political satire.

Solo acts include a bold and strong boxing-themed act by Atomic Pixie, an act of owning one’s confidence and sexuality by Eliza Sidecar, a patriotic act devoted to Canadian stereotypes by Liv Vicariously, a stoic yet humorous act involving a shocking amount of hidden tissues by Lucky Minx, a tulle-skirt wielding act by Santina Spitfire and a hard-hitting performance by Sugar Vixen.

Duets include an intense and fluid act by Dainty Smith and Axel Blows and a sensuous sailor and mermaid love story by Red Herring and Jack Sabbath.

As promised, the evening delivered a show of reminiscent acts, true to the culture of burlesque. Filled with diversity and body positivity, Red Carpet Reveal achieves what some other western styles of dance are still trying to catch up on.


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