While living in New York City, I went to see a show at The Slipper Room. I was told that the show was a performance with a “few dancing girls”. I assumed dancing girls meant ballerinas, and the name Slipper Room referred to ballet slippers. Instead, what I saw was far more spectacular than any show at Lincoln Centre. A female performer, wearing an elaborate costume of lace, ruffles, balloons, and glitter emerged from a red, velvet curtain. She danced, sang, and performed a creatively choreographed striptease. I will save all of the tantalizing details for another kind of post, but I will say, that the performer was both beautiful and boisterous (a difficult combo to achieve), and inspired me to learn more about (what I later found out to be) the neo-burlesque scene.
Fast forward six years later, I am living in Toronto and hear about the Toronto Burlesque Festival. Not even aware that Toronto has a popular scene, I send a few emails and tweets, and connect with three key players in the Toronto scene: Sauci Calla Horra (Founder/Co-Executive Producer of the Toronto Burlesque Festival and member of Skin Tight Outta Sight), Mysterion the Mind Reader (Co-Executive Producer of the Toronto Burlesque Festival 2011), and Tanya Cheex (Artistic Director of the Toronto Burlesque Festival and Founder/member of Skin Tight Outta Sight).
The Toronto Burlesque Festival was born out of Sauci Calla Horra’s dream to establish Toronto as a burlesque centre akin to New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Inspired by the international community and well received performances with her troupe, Skin Tight Outta Sight (long considered trailblazers of the Canadian scene), Calla Horra established the Burlesque and Vaudeville Alliance in Toronto in 2003 (first a Yahoo Group, now a Facebook Group) for performers and fans. In 2008, with the explosion of the Toronto scene (from only a few performers to 14 troupes), the first Toronto Burlesque Festival was born.
This year, the annual Toronto Burlesque Festival runs July 22-24 and the theme is Canadiana-Rama. Canadian talent will be showcased with special international guests, from as far away as Japan and even including 2011 Miss Exotic World, Miss Indigo Blue. If the June Festival fundraiser at the Gladstone Hotel was any indication, the Toronto scene is thriving. The audience was at capacity and included women, men, old and young. Satirical performances by a cigarette smoking nun, a bombshell in an ‘itty-bitty-yellow-polka-dot-bikini’, a demure Marie Antoinette, and one of my favourite numbers of the night, Honey B. Hind and her carefully placed black balloons and box of tricks.
If you are looking for a night of romp and revelry, check it out.
Tickets available here or in person at Hells Belles (463 Queen Street West, Toronto)
P.S. Wanna know more about the trio bringing the Festival to you? Here are a few of their secrets to entice you to pick up tix to the Festival. If that doesn’t work, then the photos will.
Sauci Calla Horra’s stage name is a playful take on her love of cooking (especially fancy sauces) and a double entendre of the phrase, Call-A-Whore-A, which sounds vaguely Spanish, and was well suited for her debut performance to the Habanera in Bizet’s Carmen.
With a background in dance and theatre, but a long absence from the stage so she could focus on her career as a social worker, it was an invitation (by Tanya Cheex) to perform in an upcoming Skin Tight Outta Sight show that brought Calla Horra back to the spotlight. Burlesque became a way for her to express herself creatively, both through individual acts and producing burlesque shows for the troupe and for the Festival.
Tanya Cheex, a former dominatrix, stole her stage name from a from a character in a movie. She explains the double entendre, “Bend over Ladies and Gentlemen, she’ll Tan-ya Cheex!” was too good to pass up.
Cheex first ‘performance’ was staging a strip show in a friend’s backyard at eight years old (she was busted by parents). Years later, she was the Canadian distributor for UK based latex clothiers Skin Two and developed a creative concept to present a fashion show through burlesque vignettes. This was just the beginning of the neo-burlesque scene, and ten years later, she says “We are still taking our clothes off!”
Mysterion’s name is a variation of The Mysterians (a rock n’ roll band), and a villain from a Captain Scarlett television show. Starting out with an interest in magic as a teenager, it wasn’t until 2000 that Mysterion ventured onto the stage, with his “first real exposure” at a Skin tight Outta Sight show.
Mysterion’s motivation for making an appearance in the spotlight came from the desire to do something artistic (his work as a chef was no longer cutting it). Although his performance style varies (he is not a traditional burlesque peeler) he considers himself most similar to the mind reading acts seen on old vaudeville stages.