22 Mar 2013: Highline Ballroom New York
On March 25th, New Yorkers could choose between at least two large circus spectaculars going on that evening. There was the three ring circus of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey starting a several night run at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Over in Queens, Cirque du Soleil was in the midst of two months of their ‘Totem’ event. But neither of those options seemed a likely choice for a night out for New Yorkers with discerning tastes. Those large shows can prove to be over stimulating and you have to crane your neck too much just to see what is going on. So it seems more sensible to choose an event that could be intimate or revealing; or rather the most intimate and the most revealing, a burlesque performance.
A classy dressed crowd (save for this writer) turned out for the biggest event of the Wasabassco Burlesque troupe’s career at the Highline Ballroom on March 25th. As birthed by the infamous Doc Wasabassco, his namesake outfit has been teasing and titillating audiences in New York for the past nine years. And over that period, both the Wasabassco prominence and the product have gotten grander. The performances have been scaled for anything from small bars to seated venues like City Winery and to bigger spaces like The Bell House. And of the burlesque outfits on the NY scene, or ‘neo-burlesque’ as some have dubbed it, Wasabassco is recognized amongst the top (another recommendation might be Gotham but I haven’t caught one of those performances).
The night began with remarks and gratitude from Doc Wasabassco before he brought out the MC and ringleader for the evening, Albert Cadabra. Cadabra’s role throughout the night included a few magic tricks (like swallowing a balloon and asking an audience member to pick a card), providing comic relief (making fun of his size, compared to Mr. Gorgeous, and his pallor on occasion), and ogling the luscious stage kitten Amanda Whip. Cadabra could easily have held the stage for longer, but if you recall, it was the burlesque the audience came for. And there was plenty to come with an extensive lineup including two chromosomally XY entertainers, Go-Go Harder and Mr. Gorgeous, amongst seven ladies, Nasty Canasta, Evelyn Vinyl, Go-Go Harder, Medianoche, Marlo Marquise, Natasha King, Peekaboo Pointe and Stella Chuu (plus Whip). Each and every one of them brought a different routine to the stage, treating the audience to a variety of themes.
When considering burlesque performance, the art is in the reveal. And this 21st century incarnation shows that the tantalizingly slow baring of flesh doesn’t happen quietly in the vacuum of absorbing a sensual or erotic act. Disrobing becomes an act to cheer on. And you don’t want to have to stop when the dancer reaches her pasties. In many cases, you want the the artistry to keep on going.
The act that seemed the least thematically developed, but no less demanding of its performer, came from Natasha King. With her shirt tied up to bare her midriff and cut off shorts, exposing a red string bikini underneath, King showed off her assets (yeah I went there). But she really demonstrated her flexibility in a routine built around contortions, gymnastics and doing the worm on stage, while occasionally dumping water on herself from a red bucket.
Another bucket served as a tawdry prop in Go-Go Harder’s routine. The first of two male performers, Harder had a gay trucker/mechanic look going on which he disassembled appendage by appendage. The bucket ended up containing the tiny shorts and thong Harder was wearing, and surprisingly found itself the base for Harder, as he hilariously helicoptered himself on top. The right music is also a great prop, and Harder used The Beatles and the “Car Wash” song in his routine.
But music can also inspire the theme (though in this routine I won’t say it necessarily did). Stella Chuu took the iconic cyberpunk look from Tron complete with glowing identity disc and used a bit of Daft Punk’s soundtrack from the second movie. With all the passion that surrounds Daft Punk, one might have felt pressure to work them into a routine. But Chuu made it work in an ultimate cosplay performance. Her skintight black suit, lined with glowing stripes, derezzed as she whirled around deftly handling small radiant blades. Ambient light on Chuu was minimal; the halo cast upon her came from the disc. And her routine just left me awestruck.
Another sci-fi inspired performance came from Nasty Canasta, who did a Dr. Who tribute in a routine that was sparkling, astounding and had her almost entirely in the shadows. You’ll be more dazzled if it’s a surprise (in case you do get a chance to see it) but let me just say that if you were in the front row, you might have needed safety goggles.
As I’m going out of the order performances, I’d like to end with thoughts on Mr. Gorgeous. The dapper gent came out with the attire and accoutrements of a soda jerk. Gorgeous received loud applause as he undressed and managed to keep a candy cane staff leading up from his chin balanced, no small feat with the plate and cups atop it. When pants were off, revealing sprinkled underpants, Gorgeous continued to tease the audience as he waved some waffle cone shaped bits around his bits. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought I’d enjoy the male performances as much as the females’ but this one was a comic highlight.
Commenting on that delightfully sweet routine, Cadabra mentioned that the much taller Gorgeous had put together his costume on his own. With such an intricate attention to detail, Gorgeous proves how hard the entertainers will exert themselves to perform on the level of a Wasabassco show. The Wasabassco brand possesses a high level of cachet in the burlesque circle, so seeing one of the Doc’s shows means you’ll get top notch entertainment. Though I’m afraid it may reach the point where you’ll be craning your neck—Wasasbassco is beginning to end their nights with a three ring circus routine. That may mean they’ll need a big top soon…
Three Ring Finale w/ Canasta, Marquise and Vinyl
Now that you’ve gotten a taste of what neo-burlesque is all about, be sure to visit the Wasabassco site and see what exciting shows are coming up. From the sound of the post below, it seems something awesome is in the works…
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