The baudy and the burlesque

Conceptual circus, eh?

One the one hand, the word “conceptual” sends icy tingles down my spine. “Conceptual” conjures up images of interpretive dance–bloody antlers being raked across pastel unitards while screeching, new age music gouges trenches through my forebrain. On the other hand, the idea of flaming breasts intrigues me.

So cynicism goes away, bring on Empire Follies.

“It’s the crotch between circus and cabaret,” says Lola Lush, Empire member and sometimes body part immolator. “It has the aesthetic of circus, but it’s not what you might think of. There aren’t any dancing bears, but I do light my breasts on fire.”

From a kitschy nunchuk display to the abrasive comic stylings of Shecky Grey, the six-member show is an attempt to revive a performance art that is almost as dead as the performers who cantered on the original stages of the twenties: the burlesque cabaret. An hour and 45 minute variety show with naughty bits.

“A show like this is so free, there are absolutely no borders,” says Lush. “There’s singing, dancing… Satan makes a guest appearance…”

Satantic cameos aside, balloon evening dresses ignored, is this something new? Something that can’t be seen on ambiguously stained venues across Calgary?

Lush seems to think so.

“This is something Calgary needs,” she insists. “Cabaret fills a gap that hasn’t been filled here before. This is very satirical, very sexy, but there are a lot of ideas and thought too. We’re not two dimensional performers.”

Though fully three-dimensional and coming off of a 21-city tour with fellow Empire member Babette La Fave, Lush’s beginnings in burlesque were almost accidental.

“I was hitchhiking down the West Coast and I ended up in Vancouver with two bags,” she explains. “The very same day that I was in Vancouver, the only person I did know ran a burlesque night and she called me within the hour I arrived and said, ‘Great, you’re coming with us, we’re going on the show.'”

Though her experience with that particular troupe ended less than perfectly, Lush recalls that, at very least, her time had its interesting moments.

“I decided that I was going to do stilt walking,” she recalls. “Part of the act was at the end I would bring out a chainsaw on five foot stilts and cut off the hair that was on my body for a Rapunzel skit. The stage manager forgot to take the chain off of the chainsaw and so, teetering on these five foot stilts with a bottle of rye in one hand, I go to take the beard.

“I cut myself free and the whole thing jammed up and came pretty close to cutting my whole midriff off.”

Ah, a night at the theatre.

“Conceptual” may be a frightening, vaguely artistic word, but chainsaws and rye are a good night out any day of the week. Flashy costumes, accordion playing and light juggling?

Vive burlesque! Bring on the flaming cabaret and the sexiness it promises.

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