Telluride Theatre: Burlesque

Some like it hot:Telluride Theatre presents Burlesque, a fundraiser, live at the historic Sheridan Opera House, 9 p.m. nightly. March 29, Cheap Thrills, $30, $40,&  $75 VIP table seats; March 31 & April 1, Hollywood Burlesque, $40, $50, $125 VIP table seats. Limited number of tickets available here or call 970-708-7629. Ages 21+ only.

 

Leave your trench coat at home. But come with an open mind. (And wallet.) And embrace the ladies (figuratively speaking), who so wholeheartedly embrace the Full Monty and support Telluride Theatre.

What started out as a class for 11 women 7 years ago, Telluride Theatre’s annual fundraiser, Burlesque, has grown into a winter of education, creation and rehearsals, culminating in unforgettable home-grown performances.

The week of events resurrects the raucous and raunchy variety shows of Telluride’s vaudeville era, featuring dancing, comedy, and beautiful local women.

More than 40 ladies are participating in Burlesque this year – and a few brave men. Im January, Telluride’s Theatre’s Sasha Sullivan & Melissa Harris taught 23 women of all ages (the original enrollment boasted 12 beautiful women) beginning burlesque, as they have for seven years. Over a period of eight weeks, these ladies learned to shimmy, shake, strut, strip, and tease. Graduation is marked by the CHEAP THRILLS performance:

“Burlesque has become a celebration of the feminine, a way for women in town to bond, have fun, and explore a different side of themselves,” states the class founder and show director Sullivan. “The women who take this class come out changed. We all do. To be a woman is to be a creator and Burlesque taps into the sensual, beautiful, individual, feminine side of ourselves.” CHEAP THRILLS night is a showcase of their work; each student creates a character, devises her own piece; even makes her own pasties as part of the curriculum.”

The shows on Friday and Saturday, THE HOUSE OF SHIMMY SHAKE, showcases the talents of more experienced Burlesque performers, some of who have performed all seven years. The theme is HOLLYWOOD BURLESQUE: in the world of the silver screen and the walk of fame on the red carpet, clad in their very best designer pasties, they shout … Hooray for Hollywood!

“Four years ago, we started doing the advanced show to give women who wanted to continue to perform the opportunity. And that group has grown and grown. Now we are creating a polished, sexy, fun show each year,” says Sullivan of HOLLYWOOD BURLESQUE. “Based on this year’s theme, audiences will recognize variations of the theme of characters and scenes from movies they have come to love. The show is chock full of surprises and amazing performances.” 

HOLLYWOOD BURLESQUE features 20 women and is, again, directed by Sullivan and choreographed/co-directed by Stephanie Osan and Danielle Jenkins.

Burlesque: A cook’s tour through the history.

According to online sources. burlesque does not twin with stripping.

What’s the difference between a burlesque performer and a stripper?” Burlesque shows often include stripping, but your average strip club will not include any burlesque.But my favorite answer to this question (courtesy of A. Randy Johnson) is “strippers make money; burlesque dancers make costumes”.

The word “burlesque” comes from the Spanish or Italian word “burla” which means to mock, trick, or joke. The original use of the word burlesque was seen in the 16th and 17th century to describe parodies, and grotesque or ridiculous imitations, often of authors or artists of the time.

Victorian burlesque was essentially musical theater parody of popular ballets, operas and plays. For example, Shakespeare plays were common subject for these burlesque shows. Attractive women were included, often dressed as men, but the shows were only moderately risqué in style. At this stage there was no nudity or striptease involved in burlesque. The Victorian burlesque humor was more similar to that of the English pantomime than the burlesque you see on stage today.

When did nudity first become part of burlesque?

In the late 19th century, shows featuring what we now call “striptease” started appearing simultaneously and independently in both America and Paris. In America, stripping was seen on both the vaudeville and burlesque circuits, with the trapeze artist Charmion famously performing a “disrobing” act on stage in 1896 later caught on film by Edison. In Paris theater such as the Moulin Rouge, there were acts featuring scantily clad women dancing and in tableaux vivantes (“living pictures” where performers do not move or speak). It was in this environment in the 1890s that an act was first performed during which a woman slowly removed her clothing … looking for a flea!

In the 1920s and 30s striptease became a predominant part of burlesque. In American burlesque shows, such as those put on by the Minsky brothers, high-profile “star strippers” such as Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, and Blaze Starr were featured.  In the 1930s, in England, Laura Henderson started putting on nude shows in the Windmill Theater (although the law would not allow the performers to move) and Josephine Baker danced in a banana skirt, semi-nude, at the Folies Bergere in Paris.

Prohibition and a crack down on burlesque theaters started the decline of burlesque in America in the 1940s. In England in the 1950s there were still touring striptease shows to try to attract audiences back to the declining music halls. The 1960s, in both England and
the U.S., saw the introduction of topless go-go dancers.  However, by the 1970m, burlesque had all but died out everywhere.

The 1990s saw the formation of the “Neo-burlesque” movement, which pioneered the revival and updating of the traditions of burlesque. The neo-burlesque scene now attracts performers from a range of performance backgrounds. This quote from Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

Neo-burlesque acts can be anything from classic striptease to modern dance to theatrical mini-dramas to comedic mayhem.”

 Where striptease is involved, which it most often is, the emphasis is on the tease rather than the strip and most often performers only go down to G-string and pasties rather than full nudity. Although neo-burlesque performers are often inspired by a nostalgia for the glamor of the old days and enjoy honoring previous burlesque performers in their acts, neo-burlesque is taking its own evolutionary path as newcomers to the scene bring their own perspective and approach.

Today burlesque is nothing short of an art form, embraced by women in this town who push their personal envelopes  – and hips – in front of the whole town.

Telluride Theatre is dedicated to creating a thriving theatrical presence in the Telluride region by producing original company-driven professional work, culturally relevant community theater, and year-round education programs. We create theater that lives in moments of truthful human connection, promotes joyful celebration and is an open dialogue, accessible to all audiences.

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Susan Viebrock

Susan Viebrock

Susan is Telluride Inside… and Out’s founder and editor-in-chief, the visionary on the team, in charge of content, concept and development. For 19+ years, Susan has covered Telluride’s cultural economy, which includes non-profits and special events. Much of her writing features high-profile individuals in the arts, entertainment, business, and politics. She is a former Citibank executive specializing in strategic planning and new business development, and a certified Viniyoga instructor.

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