L’irrésistible Cabaret (does it really need a translation?) is the first friendly contest organised by the Cherry Chérie association from Grenoble (France) for amateur burlesque performers. After a preselection, eight performers were invited to Le Cartel Bar, in the centre of the city, to do what they do best: charm the audience.
The eight performers came from France and Switzerland: Bonnie Bee, Vesper Quinn/Thomas Occhio, Néné Anisée, Moxy Malone, Sam Beardy, Vicky St James, Lily Porcelaine, and Lady Arsenic.
In the middle of the audience, a panel of four judges were tasked with the difficult mission of choosing a winner that would be invited to another show in March. While three of them were actual professionals from the burlesque world, the fourth was picked from the audience… and it happened to be a guy who was coming to a burlesque night for the first time! Is that some stroke of luck?
For me too, this was a special event: it was my first time at a proper burlesque night, and my first time photographing burlesque outside of a few interludes at metal festivals last summer. Obviously the conditions were very different: smaller audience, but much more well-dressed, small room, cosy lighting… and of course access to the backstage.
No one should think it is less interesting to see a burlesque artist, drag-king, or drag-queen getting ready for the show than being on stage. Make-up and costume preparation sure do take some time, but it is the best moment for getting a first glimpse of what is to come. And getting access to the backstage (also a first) creates a special bond with the artists.
First up on the stage was Bonnie Bee with a performance that summarizes the whole history of bathing suits. Humor, jazz and floating coloured veils? Cool, sign me up for it. Next is the drag-king Thomas Occhio. This is not jazzy anymore, and it is much more serious. Using “Je déteste ma vie” (“I hate my life,” a song by Canadian artist Pierre Lapointe) as soundtrack, this was a uniquely intense performance with a strong scent of gender identity questions. Next up was Lady Arsenic, a corset-maker from Grenoble, and boy does it show. Who would have thought that so many roses could be fitted onto one? And obviously she gets a bonus point from me for taking a blade out of her corset, because who doesn’t like blades? Her singing definitely is just as amazing as what she’s wearing though, because rarely have I heard someone sing Carmen’s “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” so well.
After a quick break (so that the jury could talk a bit and the audience get some lovely drinks), it was up to Lily Porcelaine to take the stage. Has anyone ever been closer to a classic pin-up figure? Red-haired and smoking a cigarette like a real-life Jessica Rabbit, she’s everything you would have expected from such a show. Following her was Sam Beardy, the glitteriest bearded siren ever. “A siren with a big tail… and a voice” as we learned from the intro. Well, that was true. The siren’s song, this time, was about pleasure. And handcuffs. The third of this set was Vicky St. James, who “had just lost her 7th husband”… but that’s okay because she inherited some money. And therefore undressed to celebrate, revealing a few instruments of death. Just a few. Dark jokes? Just take my vote.
Another cocktail break and it was Moxy Malone who was invited on stage to reenact King Kong’s performance (did my fingers just write “kink kong” there? Maybe…) in a very acrobatic and impressive performance. Finally it was up to Néné Anisée to end the round of performances with a fun and powerful act on eating men… take that as you want.
The final break allowed Cherry Chérie to announce the winners of a raffle, who were lucky enough to go home with various items… who knows, some might want to perform some burlesque for themselves. And then it was the jury’s time to take the stage to announce the winners.
BUT FIRST, of course, all the performers came to the stage, demanding (humorously, obviously) that they be provided a proper podium. After all, that’s what France is famous for, right? Sexyness and social fight. It had to be done.
Anyway, back to the jury, who gave prizes to everyone… but ultimately decided to reinvite, as winner, the funniest dark humor of the evening: Vicky St. James. She will therefore be back in another performance in March, to participate in another Cherry Chérie event.
And so the evening ended with a lovely pizza party, with cocktails and glitter everywhere. All-in-all, a glorious first time.
Photos & text: Louis Tarpin