Burlesco Divino Delivers a Timeless Journey in the Eternal City

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Lily Verlaine and corps du burlesque in Burlesco DiVino

Photo courtesy of Verlaine•McCann Presents

Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann, the Seattle-based burlesque artists, showcased the timeless spirit of Rome in Burlesco DiVino: Wine in Rome to a near-full audience at The Triple Door on Wednesday, August 22, 2013. The two one-act pieces transported the crowd to the Eternal City and took them on a journey from ancient times to the mid-twentieth-century period. Though the show played out as two separate stories, Verlaine and McCann connected them with strong ensemble dances (danced by the corps du burlesque), exquisite costumes by designer Danial Hellmann, andthe spirit and frivolity of burlesque combined with hints of jazz, ballet, flamenco, and even belly dance.

 

The curtain opened on Act I with a herald setting the scene through Italian narration and English translation. Then came three priestesses, played by the fusion belly-dance trio TriBella, who danced to waken the grapevines. The trio captivated with their impeccable musicality, precision, and commanding stage presence while performing the rich fusion of belly dance, flamenco, and ballet.

 

Following TriBella’s number was a ballet trio of two women and one man, all in pointe shoes, playing the role of grapevines. The mood turned playful. The choreography appeared to draw inspiration from Swan Lake’s Cygnet’s pas de quatre, where four little swans exectue a spirited and intricate footwork sequence while holding hands. The trio’s routine, however, had energetic jumping or waltzing solos in between them. Though the solos need smoother plié transitions and more supple feet, the sequences were made up for singlehandedly by dancer Paris Original (Sylvain Boulet), who did a promenade on pointe, one leg in a sky-high extension behind him, while the two women rotated him around. Their nude leotard with grape leaves weaving around their bodies accentuated the movements well.

 

After the grapevines’ trio, came the Harvesters of Bounty: two women in blue dresses, harvesting the grapevines and turning them into wine. The choreography cleverly incorporated water-splashing with the hair or squirting it with the mouth in between jazzy sequences. The rest of Act I flew by without much highlight in the dance. The curtain rose on the Temple of Bacchus after three muses blessed the wine from afar. Priestesses and fire dancers conjured Bacchus, the God of Wine, who was accompanied by his leopard attendants weaving together acrobatic, athletic, and balletic movements. As frivolity and vulgarity took over, the curtain came down on the scene.
Burlesco DiVino Photo courtesy of Verlaine•McCann Presents
This last section of Act I started to showcase the power of the corps, though not enough. As the corps dancers’ bodies reached and heaved to illustrate frivolity and eroticism, the image of colorful waves breaking and cresting appeared. Yet, McCann and Verlaine broke the spell as the image lasted a few minutes too long with little variation in the rest of the sequence. Overall, the first half focused more attention on exhibiting the prowess of the dancers and less attention on developing a narrative. For a crowd filled with people enjoying a night out, maybe impressive visuals were just enough.

 

After intermission, the curtain opened a scene set in Fellini’s Rome circa 1964, where American reporter Babs Lawson (played by musical-theatre actress Erika Zabelle) resides. The story, undoubtedly inspired by classic films such as La Dolce Vita and Roman Holiday, followed Babs’ endeavor to document the lifestyles of Rome’s young women in the hopes of inspiring American women’s lives. She woke up one morning and met with her friend, singer Lanzo Travaglio (played by McCann). They discussed her newest goal: to photograph socialite Donatella Bianchi (played by Verlaine), who had yet to be photographed by the paparazzi. They decided to disguise Babs as Lanzo’s manager in order to sneak her into a party that Donatella will attend later that night.
Inge Ingenue in Burlesco DiVino Photo courtesy of Verlaine•McCann Presents
In the second act, Verlaine and McCann not only took full advantage of the corps’s potential, but also exhibited their own talents in singing and dancing. The narrative, itself a commentary on the social situations of women in the ‘60s, was efficiently driven by witty banters from the characters. The dancers’ personalities also shone in Act II. When “the little blonde bomb” Inga Ingenue entered as a fashion model, the stage lit up (literally and figuratively). Though Ingenue came to the stage holding two leopards (or “felines untamed”) dancing in seamless acrobatic leaps and tricks across the stage, this didn’t distract from her commanding presence. Classical ballet movements meshed well with the thrills of burlesque dancing thanks to Ingenue’s graceful yet kinky personality.

 

The highlight of the night, however, was Verlaine’s martini-glass burlesque finale with corps dancers in the background. Verlaine’s effervescent persona and effortless striptease were decorated by corps dancers seamlessly weaving in and out of formation blending ballroom dancing, flamenco, jive, and jazz. After Act I’s more intense, and seductive ambience, Act II was a refreshing, feel-good show. From the music to the choreography to the dialogues, Act II involved more textured and complex material that offered not only beautiful imagery and but also thought-provoking concepts with a hint of fabulousness.
Lily Verlaine in Burlesco DiVino Photo courtesy of Verlaine•McCann Presents
Burlesco DiVino: Wine in Rome continues at The Triple Door through Saturday, August 24, 2013. For more info, go towww.burlescodivino.com.