NAUGHTY in the NEWS
“Tucked away in the basement of Rush Street fixture Original Mother’s is the Naughty Little Cabaret, a raucous burlesque revue with a heftier dose of testosterone than most. Hosted and produced by effortless showman and crooner Rob Racine, the show has proven to be a go-to option for rowdy bachelorette parties, couples, and others looking to whoop and holler as a troupe of sinewy male-burlesque types (along with a contingent of “traditional” female burlesque acts) and female impersonators go through their paces. As with many such cabarets, the show features a smattering of acrobatic or variety acts, but the emphasis here is very much on the naughty. Peppered throughout the proceedings are party games, wicked banter and the occasional torch song, before another appearance from such hot show regulars as Bazuka Joe or Devon Aire. The perfect show for a girl’s night out (including girls who like girls) or if you just want to let your freak flag fly.”
Dance Review from Laura Malzon – Chicago Tribune
“Simply put, neo-burlesque consists of the many routes that contemporary performers have taken to honor the historic traditions of burlesque. So it’s not easy to define: It appeals to men and women, gay, straight and other. It can be classy or raunchy, funny or serious — or a bizarre mix. Just consider Chicago burlesque artist Michelle L’amour’s viral video, “Butthoven’s 5th Symphony.”
Is burlesque dance? Well, in a society where people literally have nightmares about being naked in public, burlesque is going to have emotional and sexual subtexts, different for each viewer. That in itself is enough to make me think it’s dance. And if the dance universe encompasses Alzheimer’s patients waltzing, young folks breaking, immigrants performing their native dances, and babies bopping along to Beyonce — and why would they be excluded? — then surely burlesque is dance.
From what I observed in my admittedly small one-night sample of two shows, burlesque dance isn’t necessarily polished technically, or even performed with the utmost energy or charisma. But when it is, watch out. This can be a quadruple-threat art form, potentially involving comedy, theater and social protest.
The relative modesty of burlesque, as opposed to hard-core stripping, might be what makes it attractive for bachelorette parties, a major component of burlesque’s audience.
“It’s just a fun alternative to going out and having some gross guy on steroids who doesn’t know how to dance just grind on you,” says Rob Racine (aka “Rob the Pup”), MC and producer of Naughty Little Cabaret, which counts itself the city’s first male-burlesque (“boylesque”) troupe.
Male burlesque is relatively new and undefined. “A lot of people see burlesque as this highly feminine, super-stylized version of glamour,” Racine says. “There’s no one to look back to for ideas on being highly charged in a masculine way.”
Naughty Little Cabaret apparently achieved that goal right off the bat, though. When the troupe first started performing — in 2013, with three male dancers (the award-winning Stage Door Johnnies), one female, and one drag performer, at the Original Mother’s — they attracted mostly bachelorettes, says Racine. In that first year, female audience members would regularly get onstage uninvited, but these days Racine announces that they must be asked, and audiences are about “50 percent bachelorettes and 50 percent all over the board: couples, birthday parties, divorce parties,” he says.
But despite the blowout atmosphere, sexuality and nudity aren’t Naughty Little Cabaret’s only calling cards.
“I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t see this as art when we started,” says Racine. “But now burlesque means so much to me. It can’t just be someone who knows how to dance and takes their clothes off. There has to be a story line, or something that another performer couldn’t do.”
Ultimately, my sample hetero-male population — my husband — and I agreed that the dancer’s gender mattered less to his or her appeal than charisma, theatricality, dance expertise and wit. He loved Bazuka Joe’s fan dance; I adored Kiss Kiss Cabaret’s Cheeky Charlie, playing a lonesome cowgirl; and we were both awed by acrobatic wonder and 2013 King of Burlesque Ray Gunn, aka Christopher McCray, former Chicago Dance Crash performer and artistic director.
But whatever our assessments, Chicago’s burlesque dancers clearly aren’t competing with one another. Taking their creative freedom to heart, they don’t judge. Or, as Racine puts it, “burlesque is different for each of us. And you can’t say your art is better than somebody else’s when that’s what they are, who they are.”
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