Land of the Sweets: A Burlesque Tradition

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Attention readers: To all those tired of the Nutcracker—whether that’s performing the Nutcracker, watching the Nutcracker, or feeling weary from the same yearly routine and searching for a new holiday tradition—Land of the Sweets must just be the antidote for you. The brainchild of Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann, this burlesque Nutcracker is a clever, coquettish take on the holiday classic original that turns the ballet on its head and strips it naked—literally.

Photo by POC Photo.
Photo by POC Photo.

The show began innocently enough. The ensemble, clad in light blue leotards, white tutus, and furry ear muffs, entered the wintery snowscape. The dancers, whose impressive artistic credentials included everything from Pacific Northwest Ballet, Spectrum Dance Theater, and San Francisco Ballet, demonstrated their technical expertise as they formed rows of arabesques and pirouetted in seamless cadence. Set to Duke Ellington’s rendition of the Nutcracker score, the dancers inserted their own joviality and jazziness into the choreography. Verlaine, as the regal Snow Queen, disrupted the flurry of dancers by floating on stage with her fingers outstretched and her lips in a perpetual pucker. She coyly undressed herself: first her gloves, then her white gown, until she was nearly nude. The snowflakes danced around her joyfully, grabbing snow from the back of their leotards and tossing it into the air.

The host for the evening, Charles Drosselmingus (McCann), led audience-goers and burlesque aficionados through the Russian, Spanish, and Chinese ‘sweets.’ While his interludes were at times unnecessary, they allowed audience members a moment to take a bite to eat and recollect themselves between the steamy scenes. Verlaine, who played several of the lead roles including the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Arabian coffee dancer, displayed her excellence as a burlesque dancer and choreographer. The strip-tease was tastefully done and many of the suites stood out for their cleverness and elegance.

Photo by POC Photo.
Photo by POC Photo.

Each of the dancers were remarkable in their ability to meld technique with burlesque, especially the Rat King played by Davione Gordon, who fiercely commanded the stage in red stilettos. In another tantalizing act, aerial artist Tova Da Luna latched onto a hanging rope shaped into a golden harp. As the harp rose higher and higher, Da Luna performed impressive feats of strength and agility, all the while posing angelically. Much to the amusement of the crowd, she removed her bra as she hung upside down, mid-straddle. In the shadow act, a longtime crowd favorite, Babette LaFave stood behind a screen in silhouette as a light bounced over her arms and across her body. The light (props to the lighting team!) snaked down her her back, knocked her head, and poked her behind. LaFave reacted playfully, the lights spun around her, and she slowly undressed—an act made all the more alluring with the shadow effect.

Photo by POC Photo.
Photo by POC Photo.

After eleven years, Land of the Sweets is going strong, if not stronger than ever. The performances draw packed houses to the Triple Door because Seattle audience-goers know what to expect: meticulous choreography, humorous burlesque, stunning costumes, and to top it all off, good food and drink. Give Land of the Sweets a try and it might just become a favorite holiday tradition.