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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cheesecake Burlesque Revue

Cheesecake Burlesque RevueSmoke hangs in the air of the dimly lit-club when on cue, the swinging beat of Shivas Regal (Theme for Gypsy) starts to play. A red velvet curtain slides open to reveal corseted dancing girls wrapped in feather boas, and not much else.

The women proceed to tease the audience with a flash of leg and a smile from painted ruby red lips.

Save for the cigarette smoke, this scene – from more than 80 years ago in some vaudeville club – could easily be from today with the resurgence of burlesque as a popular form of entertainment.

Local audiences will be able to see for themselves when Cheesecake Burlesque Revue reveals itself behind the red velvet curtain at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Jan. 31.

Hailing from the B.C. provincial capital – once known for its tea, crumpets and conservatism – Cheesecake has served up burlesque to crowds ranging in age from 20 to 80, said founding member Champagne Sparkles (her stage name), who originally hails from Winfield.

“My grandma has sat front and centre at my shows. In fact, both my parents and grandma will be there (in Vernon.) It’s for almost everybody. It’s fun and taking enjoyment in our bodies. It’s sexy but not sexual,” she said.

The girls have performed from Vancouver Island to Las Vegas, and recently did a PG performance at a roller derby in Victoria.

“We wore underwear up to our chins,” laughed Sparkles. “We also did a show at the Sid Williams Theatre (in Courtenay) and it was a sea of grey hair.”

Although influenced by the golden age of burlesque (the girls do an homage to past performers such as Sally Rand, known for her ostrich feather fan and balloon bubble dances), Cheesecake is part of the burgeoning neo-burlesque scene.

“It has gone over fabulously. We are well-supported by audiences and sponsors. We have businesses that like to work with us,” said Sparkles whose cohorts go by such colourful monikers as Kitten Kaboodle, Lolly Lushbottom and Mz. B Haven.

Since forming two-and-a-half years ago, Cheesecake artists have been able to learn from some of the best burlesque performers of the ‘50s and ’60s.

At the recent Miss World Exotic Pageant, an annual burlesque pageant and convention in Las Vegas, the women met such artists as Tempest Storm, who appeared in Russ Meyer’s cult classic film Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill!

“The younger women hosted the older women, and we were able to ask them what they like and don’t like about neo-burlesque,” said Sparkles. “It’s a different environment now. It was even more risqué then than what we do now.”

To keep up with the times, the girls have added modern touches to their shows, from pumpin’ electro music, slow and sensual moves, cute comedy and lavish costumes, which they create themselves.

“We would be drag queens if we could, but we can’t,” joked Sparkles. “We have some modern themes in our shows. Some are crazy and out there and some are sultry.”

Proud and passionate, the girls share a love of performing and come in all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and experiences.

Sparkles, who during the day is a biologist with her own environmental consulting company, was first influenced to perform after she saw burlesque artist Catherine Delish twirl her tassels at a club in Vancouver.

Her first performance, in a friend’s living room, came after attending a burlesque workshop, where participants made their own pasties, and learned the history and choreography of the art form.

“It started with a group of friends and went from there to be a professional group,” she said. “Our first performance was at a party in Victoria. The place was packed with 250 people. I was terrified. I was shaking so hard, but the audience went crazy. They loved it.”

For those still a little shy about the words “strip” and “tease” – this is a burlesque show, after all, and not the Superbowl – Cheesecake performers don’t bare much beyond garter belts, bustiers and well-placed pasties.

“It’s about the tease and the occasional peak.”

To add even more spice to the mix, audience members are encouraged to join the girls on stage for the KamiKasi Burlesque contest.

This is the perfect chance for those who want to join in, be in the spotlight, and do something they have always secretly wanted to do, said Sparkles.

After the show, the girls will be selling pasties, fringe panties, tassels, T-shirts and other naughty and nice gifts.

“We want to make people feel good about themselves, to go home and shake it,” said Sparkles.

The Cheesecake Burlesque Revue happens Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and $20 for students at the Ticket Seller, 549-SHOW.

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