Black Cherry Burlesque girls shimmy & shake through 4 years
Girls offer naughty valentines in celebration
Last Sunday, I had the unique pleasure of attending a dress rehearsal for Black Cherry Burlesque’s Valentine’s Day show, being staged at the Surly Wench Pub this Saturday.
The girls pulled up to the club in jeans under a light drizzle, their retro coifs under kerchiefs, and began the transformation from sisters to sirens with pasties and greasepaint. By early afternoon, each girl had run through her numbers for Saturday.
Each Black Cherry performance requires a different elaborate costume, and most of the performers do two pieces in the show. Feathers were literally flying, as were sequins, garters and the highest of heels.
In 2006, Kate Miners, owner of the Surly Wench, assembled a troupe of dancers and entertainers devoted to reviving the art of burlesque. While troupes were gathering momentum in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, Tucson had shown interest in traveling burlesque shows, and Miners saw an opportunity to create a space where women could express their sensual sides without compromising their artistic integrity.
Make no mistake, burlesque is not the equivalent of what one might see at any number of “gentlemen’s clubs” in Tucson; the aim here is to engage artistically with the long tradition of burlesque entertainment, which extends well into the 19th century in America.
A staple of vaudeville shows that traveled the wild west, the burlesque arguably provided not only titillation for its audience, but an expressive outlet for its performers. The art of the reveal is more than the removal of one’s costume; as burlesque grew in popularity, various styles of the striptease developed, incorporating fan dancing, pantomime, outrageous costumes and comedic turns.
In her way, each Black Cherry Burlesque member speaks to this unsung history. As a valentine to Sentinel readers, I sat down with each bombshell for a brief conversation about their history with the troupe, their take on burlesque and their more private desires.
A founding cast member of Black Cherry Burlesque, Inga takes an organic approach to choreographing her act. While she has some formal dance training, she doesn’t think that she uses any formal principles from the discipline. “Everything in my routine is just natural movement.”
Ms. Kaboom cites European burlesque queen Immodesty Blaze as an influence, but mostly summons the images that fascinated her from childhood as inspiration for her performances. Mythology, mermaids, even “the sexy horse ladies from Disney’s ‘Fantasia’" populate Inga’s imagination.
Known for her “matador” act, for which, according to Kaboom, “the audience is the bull,” and for an undulating Aztec princess routine to Connie Francis’ dramatic “Malaguena,” her routines do engage in the reinvention of the iconic, as well as an exploration of the limits of the feminine.
This siren already has a valentine; on Sunday, Inga Kaboom plans to receive a Swedish massage from Miss Von Snatch.
A serious and formally-trained dancer in ballet, jazz, and tap dancing, Stormy turned to burlesque 3 years ago to explore her comic side. Citing Benny Hill as a major influence, she reminds her audience that “to burlesque” something is to engage in parody: “I really take that to heart for myself. I was always the class clown.”
“I really don’t see myself as the sexy vixen type,” Leigh continues. She is more interested in the theatrical nature of burlesque performance. She has some hefty acting chops, and reveals that she was a featured extra in the iconic film “Tank Girl.”
Stormy’s past performances include a “safecracker” act, during which she must strip in order to adorn herself with pilfered jewels, and a comic turn on a Greek statue that comes to life.
While Stormy is quite the extrovert, she keeps the real dirt to herself. When asked whether she had planned anything with a valentine, she simply cocks her head and quips, “Mum’s the word.”
A founding member of Black Cherry Burlesque, Ginger has always been a bit of a naughty girl. “In high school dance class, I always got in trouble with my teacher. I would rehearse the act straight, then go home and dirty it up the night before a concert.”
Ginger is the troupe’s resident sex kitten. She doesn’t really look to other burlesque acts for inspiration so much as she does to icons of sensuality, like Marilyn Monroe and Tina Louise, whose “Gilligan’s Island” character is the inspiration for her name.
“I’m a Leo, so I am just dramatic by nature,” says SinClaire. Her past performances are both dramatic and über-feminine. Her “Eve” act is as sexy as it gets, as she and the serpent meet at the Tree of Knowledge for a tryst. A “Little Mermaid” number and a turn as Princess Leia are also fondly remembered by audiences.
For SinClaire, burlesque is ultimately about sheer seduction. “As long as you’re half-naked when you’re done, the crowd is happy.”
Ginger plans to spend a quiet evening at home with Mr. SinClaire for Valentine’s Day, including “champagne, candles, rose petals and— well— your imagination.”
As her name suggests, Lola is Black Cherry Burlesque’s torch singer. She has been with the group since its inception. Torch is a bit mysterious about her history: “I worked many a cabaret in my day, singing and dancing to pay the bills.”
Lola is interested in the darker side of sexuality and the feminine, bringing her seductive contralto and hourglass figure to the stage in order to create a moodier burlesque. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, though. “ Lola Torch was born to sing and bring people into a mood, but there is a little parody, too.”
Lola cites Josephine Baker as a major influence. “She did it all,” she says. “She had that mysterious quality, and tantalizing moves, and that voice.”
Her name comes from two more antecedents, Lola from Marlene Dietrich’s “Lola Lola,” and Torch as a tribute to Liza Minelli’s character from “Cabaret,” Sally Bowles. Recently, she performed “Mein Herr” as a burlesque version of Sally Bowles, and is also known for her rendition of April Stevens’ “Teach Me Tiger.”
As for her overall view on burlesque, and on living, Torch rolls her enormous eyes and quips, “Nothing can be taken too seriously. It’s just life, honey.”
Lola plans to spend Valentine’s Day at home with an ice-cold martini as her sole companion.
Fanny Galore is in her second year with Black Cherry Burlesque. A dance teacher, she has been training as a dancer since she was 12. Her routines are the troupe’s most athletic and body-driven.
The accoutrements of burlesque have loosed Miss Galore from the strictures of other dance forms, she says. “I think that burlesque is more freeing. The kind of movements I do here, I am not allowed to do in other forms of dance.”
She finds the use of props and the elaborate costumes central and inspiring elements of burlesque. She draws inspiration equally from the likes of choreographers Bob Fosse and Alvin Ailey, and the other members of Black Cherry.
When asked what sort of burlesque dancer she embodies, she claims, “I’m the whole package, where dance meets bump and grind, where elegance meets the down-and-dirty.”
Known for her tango burlesque and for a gender-bending “pimp act,” complete with leopard jacket and gold cane, Galore’s got more in store for Saturday’s audience.
As for her Valentine’s plans, look for Fanny at a local club, dancing all night with whoever comes her way.
Approaching her 2-year mark with Black Cherry, Natasha Noir is classic 50s burlesque. She trained in Latin ballroom and swing dancing with Gene Kelly’s granddaughter, and feels her link to mid-century burlesque is that much more direct.
Miss Noir thinks of her act as tastefully naughty: “I’m trying to keep the art of classic burlesque alive, when it was still a little forbidden.”
Also a trained opera singer, Natasha has taken to singing in her act, and plans to stage an operatic aria as a burlesque number in the near future. Her influences are brave, strong singers like Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald and Wanda Jackson.
Onstage, Natasha embodies the diva and the starlet in equal measure. One standout number in her repertoire is “The Girl Can’t Help It,” which according to Noir is just “me, a stool and a pencil dress, doing some work.”
Natasha claims she doesn’t like to do anything halfway: “I’m a showoff, a big champagne-drinking dame. With me, it’s got to be good.”
Noir will spend her Valentine’s day seducing someone in an alley and taking him home. “I’ve got my eye on a guy with a greasy pompadour.”
For those with a penchant for horror and the macabre, founding Black Cherry member Diamonda Morgue is your girl.
Born on the isle of Crete, she has embraced performance for as long as she can remember. She has a strong background in theatre and competitive dancing, but her longtime obsession with werewolves provides an extra, darker element to her routines, which frequently enter the world of the fantastic, and even the terrible.
Morgue sees performing with that gory sensibility as integral to the balance in the group’s performances. “I think burlesque should represent all forms of the erotic imagination. The cool thing about Black Cherry is that you can make even your darkest dreams happen here. If you can dream it, you can make it happen.”
Though her name suggests an obsession with musician and performance artist, Diamanda Galas, her real inspiration is much less esoteric. At 12 years old, Morgue became obsessed with Michael Jackson, and his “Thriller” video in particular. Like Jackson, Morgue is keenly aware of her level of engagement with her audience. She enjoys toying with the spectator: “I will make you feel special, or I will make you feel ignored.”
A crowd favorite from her repertoire is her “Jack the Stripper” routine, where she removed each garment with a knife. She is also an imaginative costumer, having built pasties that looked like spinning wheel rims for her rendition of War’s “Low Rider.”
Diamonda plans to spend her Valentine’s day at a candlelight dinner with her werewolf lover.
A new addition to Black Cherry Burlesque, Veda Fatale is a Swedish pinup model. Fatale recently relocated to Tucson. She met Inga Kaboom at a pinup photo shoot, and when Inga invited her to join the troupe, she fell in love with burlesque as a new venue for her to enact her 40s pinup archetype.
The transition to performing has been exciting for Fatale. “Burlesque is different from pinup modeling in that you can feed off the audience’s energy.”
A fan of the high concept, Miss Fatale has a “Foxy” act and a “Little Miss Muffet” under her belt, and has much more in store for Saturday’s audience. Citing fellow troupe members and especially Miss Kaboom as her major burlesque influences, she is making a lovely transition from still-photo model to live entertainer.
Fatale’s husband is her valentine. She plans a steamy night for Sunday, complete with champagne and handcuffs.