It's flashy outfits. It's bright lights, numerous props, human flesh, laughter, and dance.
Burlesque is an art form that's been around for centuries, and, in the modern age, is seen as a type of theatrical variety show aimed at entertaining through dance, song, and performance art. New Orleans Drag Diva Bianca Del Rio will host “The Best of New York Burlesque,” which comes to the Mount Airy Casino April 27.
Del Rio will be joined by a gaggle of New York's best performers, including contortionists, acrobats, comedians, and dancers.
Dirty Martini, also known by what she jokes is sometimes referred to as her “slave name” of Linda Marraccini, is a Southern Jersey-born girl who now lives in New York that stumbled upon the art of burlesque in 1995 after spending some time in the city auditioning and dancing everywhere she could.
We caught up with Martini as she was just leaving a photo shoot for a story on burlesque to be featured in the “New Yorker,” a testament to the fact that the oft-forgotten art is making a comeback.
THE WEEKENDER: What made you gravitate towards burlesque, after all that time as a dancer?
DIRTY MARTINI: After all the auditioning and dancing when I got to New York, I thought that I would really like to choreograph something for myself and base it around the drag world that I loved so much. I started looking at these films of old burlesque dancers. I thought about the different shapes and sizes of the women, the different nationalities of the women, and how glorified their glamor was, but kind of kitschy and funny at the same time. I created a fan dance, a classic strip tease routine, and pulled it together with a fast coda at the end; it was all in five minutes. That was my first performance, and it was like, “Well where do I go from here?”
W: Was it hard to get off the ground by performing such a niche form of art?
DM: It turned out there was a handful of people in New York City that were doing experimental theater, performance art, and a couple like myself doing kitschy pin-up stuff, so we banded together and started doing shows. We didn't really care about being famous. I mean, I really still don't care about that; I just want to work. I want to be creative and, most of all, shed light on the forgotten past of the women's strip tease.
W: How would you describe burlesque as it is in today's world?
DM: In this generation, it's kind of more than a retro look back on what was. It's now a re-framing of what women are now. It's done in a theatrical way in venues ranging from theaters to night clubs to bars, and the performances are little short pieces that tell something about the performer, and usually each performer is very individualistic and guards their individuality very tightly.
W: What is your stage persona like?
DM: I'd say it's an extension of who I am in life: a classically trained burlesque dancer. I do some performance art as well, depending on my mood and the venue.
W: You've traveled all over, performed in so many venues – what's your favorite moment of your career?
DM: Honestly, my favorite moment is just sitting backstage with other like-minded crazy people and cooking up shows or even talking about the weather. We have such a good time backstage, and, generally, burlesque is an incredibly supportive art form; we're always cheering each other on. We have a great time together, and I think it translates to the stage.
W: Burlesque is still a bit out of the mainstream. What's a common misconception among people who don't know much about it?
DM: The main thing is that most people, if they look at the word “burlesque” - and this is because it came to mean topless bars in the late '70s and early '80s - it's often equated with stripping and strip clubs. Because of the theatricality of the burlesque and because of the fact that it's women's voices speaking, saying what they want to say rather than things that are controlling women to say on stage, it's different. It's all about a shift of perspective.
W: What can people expect from Friday's show?
DM: If they don't know what to expect, they should keep an open mind and be ready to laugh, cheer, have a good time, and maybe be inclined to drink a little booze. I know I enjoy champagne with my burlesque.