Grin and bare it

Walking into Club Soda on the gala night of the third annual Montreal Burlesque Festival, there is an inevitable sense of nostalgia. The concert hall is draped from the ceiling and furnished with glittering, high-heeled showgirls. Even the soundman is wearing suspenders. There is an indiscernible feeling of longing in the room – a wanting for another time when concert halls were indeed draped from the ceiling and furnished with glittering, high-heeled showgirls.
Burlesque entertainment is the love child of Victorian parodies of more serious works, as well as American 19th century vaudeville acts. The shows are a variety of exaggerated, theatrical (sometimes absurd) acts.
The evening opened with the wacky master of ceremonies Benjamin Marquis dressed as a ringleader and ready to guide the revellers into bizarre and foundation-heavy fantasy. As promised, the bill was quite eclectic and novel, with acts including comedic beat-boxer Charlypop to magician Sebastien-Louis XVI. Through gimmicks, tricks and slapstick, these acts entertained the audience while staying honest about how their act is simply a deception, like watching Mickey Mouse on a cigarette break.
Of course, the bulk of the programme was set aside for the striptease – a routine where the performer slowly removes an outrageous costume until she is mostly naked.
The performances were wildly diverse as the ladies moved, danced, and stripped in their own unique way, with performers varying greatly in styles, shapes, and number of tattoos. There were gorilla suits and ice queen characters that the performers slowly peeled away, revealing their bodies in all their glory. Musical choices varied sultry big band tunes to Jay-Z’s “Death to Auto-tune,” and presentations spanned from acrobatic to glow-in-the-dark.
Despite the elaborate and over-the-top superficiality of the costumes, the performances came off as incredibly genuine as the props and gimmicks surprisingly took a back seat to the performers themselves.
The show itself seemed to embody this sentiment as the audience hurled encouraging catcalls toward the performers as they interacted with the audience by dancing with — and sometimes on — different audience members. The whole process broke down many barriers that often make stage performances incredibly distant and difficult to relate to.
As it turned out, burlesque isn’t about escape and delusion into fantasy, but deliverance. By stripping away the fluff that fills entertainment through parody and exaggeration, burlesque allows for an unusually close connection with the performer. The Burlesque Festival isn’t simply a longing to be in another time or a purely nostalgic festival. Rather, it’s about longing for another place where stage magic isn’t lost to props and costumes.

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