Monday, August 10, 2009

Burlesque troupes taking off

It’s 11 on a Friday night. In a dimly lit underground club, girls in stockings, garters and corsets mingle with customers before taking the stage. A smart-mouthed, chain-smoking announcer clad in shirtsleeves and a vest announces the performers to catcalls from the crowd – Mistress Colette, Cherry Von Bomb, Mademoiselle Kashka among them.

Photo courtesy of Shannon J Hager

But it’s not 19th-century Paris, and this isn’t the Moulin Rouge.

Instead, it’s 2009 and the art of burlesque is enjoying a resurgence in Charlotte, thanks to such local troupes as La Petite Mort Burlesque and Big Mamma’s House of Burlesque.

Deana Pendragon (affectionately known as Big Mamma D) started her group in 2006. She puts on a themed show bimonthly at Elizabeth’s Visulite Theatre, drawing a surprisingly female-heavy (and vocal) audience. This month’s theme was “Under the Big Tops,” complete with an act from Sideshow Bennie, a few tricks from Hannibal the Magician and a striptease from “Siamese twins.”

Although the Big Mamma’s girls do take off their heavily sequined and fringed costumes (made by Mamma D herself), there’s no nudity – just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flash of pastie-covered breasts. Instead, Pendragon’s show harkens to classic burlesque: There’s singing, sketch comedy and usually a few tongue-in-cheek stripteases (read: the Siamese twins above).

Mena Killough’s La Petite Mort is a little more risque, at times bordering on crass. Miss Mena’s girls – including Colette, Cherry and Kashka – perform monthly at Halo at the N.C. Music Factory. Pasties here are revealed for longer than just a flash, and dollar bills are thrown onstage.

Performances at their most recent show last month included a strange pas de deux between a naughty nurse and her mentally ill patient, and an equally jarring S&M-laced routine. (To be sure, there’s some classic burlesque mixed in: a cupcake-adorned “baker” stripped down to little more than an apron in a cute dance.)

One word of advice: Don’t go into these shows expecting a Dita Von Teese look-alike in a giant martini glass or a song-and-dance routine a la the Pussycat Dolls. Instead, it’s about classic burlesque that gives women of all shapes and sizes a feeling of empowerment.

Also, there are two rules to every burlesque show:

  1. Applause is encouraged any time an article of clothing -- whether it be a shoe or a corset -- is removed.
  2. No photos once the bras come off.
La Petite Mort Burlesque

Next show: Aug. 21 at 11 p.m. Halo (inside the N.C. Music Factory), 820 Hamilton St. $7.

Big Mamma's House of Burlesque

Next show: Oct. 10 at 8 p.m. Visulite Theatre, 1615 Elizabeth Ave. $12 in advance.