How does a type of entertainment once denigrated as lowbrow evolve into what is now considered an “art form”?
Ask Rick Delaup, creator of Bustout Burlesque, a New Orleans-based burlesque troupe that has been helping redefine the present-day perception of what was once condescendingly termed “striptease.”
“People ask me what burlesque is, and I’d say it’s a risqué variety show for adults. But it is definitely an art form,” Delaup said. “The main attraction is the dancers, and what differentiates them from modern-day strippers is that they all have talent. They bring their talents and abilities to their performances and a lot of them have ballet backgrounds. Those who do can go en pointe during their acts.”
Some of the most talented ladies — and men! — in the world of burlesque, sporting descriptive stage names, will be converging on the Crescent City this weekend for the 5th annual New Orleans Burlesque Festival. Two shows a night will be staged at Harrah’s Casino and the House of Blues, starting Thursday and ending Saturday. Delaup is the founder and executive producer of the festival.
In addition to the cast of Bustout Burlesque, the festival will be bringing in dancers from all over the United States and the world. This year’s fest also introduces several firsts, including an all-male revue and a special concert starring Athena, a longtime dancer with Bustout whose vocal talents have been featured in past shows. Nicknamed “The Siren of the South,” she will be debuting with her Latin band at the House of Blues on Thursday at 10 p.m.
The all-male revue, STRUT, will precede Athena’s show at Harrah’s Casino Theater at 8 p.m. Thursday. One of the male dancers is from Australia, making his American debut, and four are from Chicago.
Two more shows, one in each location, follow on Friday night. On Saturday is the highlight of the festival, the selection of this year’s “Queen of Burlesque” at Harrah’s and the “Queen’s Ball” immediately following at the House of Blues. Eight of the top classic striptease dancers will be competing for the title in a showcase accompanied by a live jazz band. The winner will be crowned by last year’s queen, Angi B. Lovely.
Dante the Magician will once again emcee most of the shows and entertain with magic tricks between the acts.
Following the Thursday and Friday shows in both locations, author Leslie Zemekis will sign copies of her burlesque book, “Behind the Burly Q.” For those interested in learning the basics of burlesque, two workshops are scheduled from noon to 5:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Hilton Riverside Hotel.
At various times during the festival, burlesque legend Tammi True, a former headliner at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club in Dallas during the 1960s, will make appearances and sign autographed photos.
Colorful, imaginative costumes and splashy choreography are part and parcel of a burlesque dancer’s repertoire. Lighting, props and a set appropriate to the act are also essential elements. Delaup notes that these features are essential to what distinguishes a good burlesque act. There are also elements of comedy incorporated into the acts, he notes.
“I remember a few years ago a dancer did an ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ routine in which she moved her head and blinked her eyes and her bra popped off on its own and fell to the ground,” Delaup recalled. “Somebody offstage operated a remote control to release it.
“There’s an art to stripping properly. How something comes off, when it comes off, the whole tease element of it. Tease the audience, make them want to see more. Creative ways of taking things off that maybe nobody has thought of before.”
A documentary producer whose film on “Ruthie the Duck Lady” made both of them widely known, Delaup became interested in burlesque in the early 1990s while researching its Bourbon Street heyday.
“When I discovered burlesque, it became kind of a calling,” he said. “And now I am driven to bring these shows back. I really wanted to recreate that art form and put on a show for everybody to discover what it used to be like.”
Bustout Burlesque can be seen once a month at the House of Blues. Call (504) 310-4999 or visit the website, www.houseofblues.com/venues/clubvenues/neworleans/.
Fifth annual Burlesque Festival
WHEN: Thursday through Saturday, show times vary
WHERE: Harrah’s Casino, New Orleans; and House of Blues, 225 Decatur St., New Orleans
Fifth Annual Burlesque Festival
WHEN: Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 19-21, show times vary
WHERE: Harrah’s Casino, 8 Canal Street, New Orleans and House of Blues, 225 Decatur Street, New Orleans