Surrounded by silver-grey wallpaper, crumbling art deco sconces, and dusty goldenrod curtains, the women of The Life Erotic transported Seattlites from the JewelBox Theater to a tiny Parisian vaudeville show on the night of October 11, 2013. Yet the raucous audience remained rooted in the present by the theme of the show: Wes Anderson films. The performers worked with ideas from some of his movies, including The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and, of course, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
The show crammed eight artists into about two hours, and each one dealt with the theme in her own way. The show felt diverse enough, funny enough, and participatory enough to earn the name director Jovie DeVoe gave it: cabaret. Each time the heavy red curtains opened, the audience cheered with excitement. And each time, the artists were surprising in their choices on how to use the Wes Anderson theme.
Lolo Ramone’s act was one of the most clever and risky of the evening. She took inspiration from Anjelica Huston’s Royal Tenenbaums character, Etheline Tenenbaum. In full Etheline style, Ramone’s bespectacled face remained completely serious. She pursed her lips slightly into what could be called a “prudish” expression. From an ornately upholstered chair, Ramone removed golden picture frames of varying sizes. In a brilliant departure from the frames’ everyday use, Ramone extended each foot, each leg, and her chest, through the frames. This made for a creative focal point as she removed clothing from each body part. Ramone truly captured the mood of the film and the theme of the evening, without focusing all her attention on getting naked. She even ended up ripping a stocking in order to get it off her leg, to the great delight of the crowd, but she maintained her Etheline composure throughout.
Director Jovie DeVoe won the prize for best costume of the evening. Her interpretation of the theme was loose; her attire was inspired by an ocean creature from The Life Aquatic. Huge sequins were suspended from her flesh-colored fishnet stockings, and an explosion of waving palm fronds danced above her Marilyn Monroe-like head. Thus costumed, DeVoe’s seahorse character pranced and floated among the bubbles blown toward her by the audience. Indeed, she maintained the brightest and most consistent smile of all the artists. She was also the most successful at suspending the moment of reveal, when her breasts were exposed, with only pasties to cover them. When the moment came, it quickly passed again as she exited the stage. In true burlesque style, DeVoe left everyone wanting more: after she left, the ebullient crowd cheered and whistled.
All the artists were capable, at the very least, and many were very skilled performers. Though it was DeVoe’s first go at directing an event like this, she did a great job selecting artists. Each act did feel a bit cramped for time, which forced the artists to strip down more quickly than is usual for a burlesque show. Nevertheless, The Life Erotic was cohesive, perhaps because Anderson’s work is itself quite like burlesque. Anderson’s films tend to be underground works; many of them can be described as cult classics. Burlesque as a dance genre, though wriggling its way into “mainstream” dance more and more these days, is an underground dance form. It is often performed in small venues like the JewelBox for small, diverse crowds like the one at Life Erotic. It features artists who gather cult-like followings from within the burlesque scene. Like Anderson’s films, burlesque also challenges the concept of “normalcy.” It features bodies of all shapes, sizes, and colors that move with sex appeal and humor at the same time, and the strange, the unique, the diverse side of human life is not only accepted, but celebrated.
To learn more about Jovie DeVoe’s projects, visit her Facebook page. Find links to local burlesque events at Burlesque Seattle Press, and check out information on burlesque classes at the Academy of Burlesque.