House of Burlesque raises the January temperature with idol competition
Think of things you’d want to be doing on a cold January night in Soho, and taking your clothes off probably wouldn’t be one of them. Yet that was exactly what 6 brave acts did performing in the inaugural heat of this year’s House of Burlesque: Burlesque Idol competition.
Of course they didn’t have to brave the elements; the setting was Madame JoJo’s club in Soho. A place with an air of nostalgia, the atmosphere feels a little like the jazz age night clubs you see in the films. It is the type of place that seemed rather lost to time until recent years, with a freewheeling attitude but debonair charm one wouldn’t find in an ordinary club.
The competition is the brainchild of burlesque artist Lola Labelle, which was started in 2010. Of the decision to hold the competition, co-producer and judge Tempest Rose said: “We wanted House of Burlesque to show the best of all styles of burlesque and that included showcasing up and coming talent from around UK and the world.”
Compere Barnaby Slater used his quick wit and lack of good taste to warm up the crowd, before judges Tempest Rose, Glory Pearl and Dave the Bear strolled to their positions next to the stage, ready to dispel their wisdom to performers and the audience. Now was the chance for the competitors to show off their skills, choreography, artistry and wit; all in a bid to impress the audience and judges.
First the crowd was struck by Freya Fox, channelling her namesake the Norse goddess in her performance, one which contrasted well with the next performer Alabama Love, who combined hula hoop skills with a pastiche of Uma Thurman’s role in Pulp Fiction that had the crowd descending into raucous laughter. Last in the first half was Peggy PomPom’s doomed attempt to save a stricken Spitfire in World War II London, using only the power of striptease and feathers.
The fact that Burlesque Idol showcases new acts perhaps makes it a good introduction to burlesque: with an emphasis on invention, appeals to the crowd, and acts who really are performing for the love of it, it is a shared experience rather than one with a disconnection between the artists and the audience.
After an interval for the audience to catch its breath and a best dressed competition the second half saw Rainbow Sparkles emerge from ugly duckling followed by The Velveteen Showgirls, a duo who cheekily married a choreographed Italian flavoured routine with some cheeky digs towards an Italian well known for his love of the risqué: Silvio Berlusconi. The final act of Raven Six wowed the crowd with her feather dance to the Hall of the Mountain King.
Tempest Rose said: “I was blown away by the first heat of our third year of the competition! Last year the standard was very high and we had some wonderful audiences, it seems that this year will build on that.”
The sexuality on display is of a different type to the sculpted sullen pin-ups that adorn music videos and lads’ mags; bawdier, self-aware and more all-embracing. Much has been written about whether burlesque represents a celebration of a broader sense of sexuality or merely a sanitisation of women taking their clothes off. At Burlesque Idol these arguments seemed out of kilter as the stripping element was secondary to something far more important: an audience and performers indulging themselves in revelry and performances they love.
After impressive performances by the judges, the acts returned to the stage to hear the final result: The Velveteen Showgirls had won, with final act Raven Six a close second. The victors took away champagne, a tiara, a professional photo shoot plus a paid slot at Volupte Showcase Cabaret Salon as well as expert advice on a possible future career.
On winning Velveteen Showgirl Ruby Tuesday said: “Winning can’t really be described! There’s a lot of disbelief to be honest as the other girls were so good. Ultimately I felt very proud of what we had managed to achieve, and with there being two of us celebrating afterwards was a lot of fun!”
On the last Friday of each month, six more performers will take to the stage to battle it out for the right to do it all again on a night in December. It is doubtful that they will feel the winter cold though, as the atmosphere in Madame JoJo’s will ensure an evening with a temperature well above anything the British weather can provide.
Photos: Courtesy of House of Burlesque
The next heat of Burlesque Idol is on February 24th. For further information visit House of Burlesque’s website here.