Thursday, December 1, 2016
Review by John Lombard
Burlesque, perhaps surprisingly, is the natural home of nerds: it is, after all, a place of obsession and passion. Many burlesque performers are also closet (or not-so-closet) fans of sci-fi, fantasy, comics, videogames, and everything else kids were picked on for liking back in high school.
Producer (and enthusiastic performer) Bambi Rey's debut show Nerdlesque explores the meeting of these two worlds, with a night of burlesque performances inspired by geek pop culture.
With vivid, larger-than-life characters such as Jessica Rabbit and Harley Quinn to draw on for inspiration, the performances were infused with a vitality that was only matched by the enthusiasm of the performers.
When the Amazonian Violet Grey came on stage for a Darth Vader-inspired piece, I knew both that I was in for an entertaining night, and that I would never look at the dark lord of the Sith quite the same way again. Fi Bonnaci also took inspiration from a fantasy epic with her Samwise Gamgee - a welcome comic interlude that reminded us that feet aren't the only part of the hobbit that is hairy. Eve La Reine's Jessica Rabbit also drew on film for inspiration and somehow managed a waistline normally only seen in cartoons.
Other performers took inspiration from videogames, with Bambi Rey's D.Va and Painted Doll's Samus Aran both abandoning power suits for skinsuits before slipping out of those as well.
Comics were however the most strongly represented group, with multiple acts themed around Batman's world - although the caped crusader was conspicuously absent. Katarina Klaw's Catwoman lathered herself with milk, Scarlett Mustang's Batgirl transformed the burlesque staple fan dance into a clever whirling cape strip, and the night finished with a Joker and Harley (Bambi Rey again) double act that evoked the French Apache dance between pimp and prostitute.
Other comic book-inspired acts included an additional performance by Scarlet Mustang as Black Widow, an act that began with the performer in prudish office attire scattering her paperwork into the audience (actually, as it so happens, Hulk/Iron Man #Labromance erotic fic) before stripping down to her cat suit. The most accomplished performance of the night was also comic inspired, with bonus points for extra obscurity: Joey's gender-blending take on Daredevil foe/lover Typhoid Mary. Joey's acrobatic, ultra-flexible performance was a show-stopper, let down only because the lack of Typhoid Mary's iconic make-up made his character unclear.
Overall the acts were extremely well-rehearsed and polished, with the detailed and elaborate costuming a particular delight. While Joey was handily the best dancer, Scarlett Mustang's creative use of burlesque staples was striking, and the interplay between Bambi Rey's Harley and her Joker was beautifully observed.
The MCs were less strong, the pair sustaining decent patter but visibly lost in all this nerdiness. They made jokes about Rod Stewart and Amy Winehouse with a crowd that might have been more comfortable with digs at Kamandi or Dragon Age's Morrigan. They at least admitted to being disoriented by Overwatch's backstory (aren't we all?) but the show would have benefited from hosts that were as unabashedly geeky as the performers.
Reload was also a strong choice for the venue. Although it was stuffy and a bit packed for space, the atmosphere was perfect, and every time an act mounted the bar top I wondered whether it was actually going to take the load. The themed cocktails were also fun: I tried the Darth Vader which promised to contain "rebel blood", and it indeed tasted a little like the joy of crushing rebel scum.
Nerdlesque was a strong debut show that understood and loved its target audience - my inner teenage boy was thrilled. Marvel movies and Apple have made nerd mainstream. Nerdlesque reminds us that nerds, when they choose to, can bring the same obsessive focus to sexy.