Damn. Let me tell you about Queens.
Working under the name ‘Simone Pin Productions’, Annya Pin & Shay Simone have spent the past two years making a name for themselves in the Seattle burlesque scene, first with BLACK SILK, then Dollhouse and now with Queens. The Chess-inspired drama packed the house at the Northwest Film Forum (NWFF) its opening weekend in June, prompting an encore performance of the production this past weekend. If you missed it, you missed out, but the pair will be restaging Dollhouse at NWFF this Fall, so you have another chance to see these incredible performers in action (get your tickets here).
Queens is about women and specifically women of color. From beginning to end, the audience is gifted a peek into the power of liberated female sexuality, with women of color very deliberately at the center of it all—a gift not to be taken lightly. In a world that uses women’s sexuality against them, and continues to devalue the centuries of fundamental contributions made by women of color in every field, it’s no small thing that Simone and Pin are using the art of burlesque to center the sexuality of women of color and take control of the narrative.
The show opens with musician, performer, and emcee Adra Boo hyping the crowd, making sure the audience is up to the task of receiving the glory and eroticism of these performers. Prompting us to practice expressing our admiration, she fingers the strap of her bright red lingerie, bending over coyly. She tests us a few more times, until the audience responds loudly enough to satisfy her. Unafraid to improvise and talk to the crowd, Boo’s talent and magnetism punctuate the evening as she moves effortlessly between narrating and performing, temptingly repeating that she can “show us” better than she can “tell us,” although both her show and her tell are equally mesmerizing.
In the course of the next couple of hours, Simone and Pin pack each minute of choreography and song with the level of opulence befitting this group of queens, including local performers Caela Bailey, TAQUEET$!, Elise, Boo, and Simone and Pin themselves. The performances progress cabaret style, rotating between solo, duet, and group pieces that all have their own style but refer back to the theme of the evening – the game of Chess. Performers wield swords, jab, punch, and dodge one another as they vie for control of the board and access to the queens.
Brilliantly, the choreography uses every inch of both the main floor and an upper room normally hidden behind the forum’s projection screen. The two-tiered stage allows reveals and pacing that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, especially with the intricacies of the set design and costuming. The detail of adornment is jaw dropping. Swords, medieval head and chest pieces, heels, garters, sparkly pasties, feathered head-dresses, giant chess pieces and a tiered chess board podium. Short, sheer, glittering pantyhose over black thongs and curves, with flowing, wing-like ribbons of organza. It’s high femme magic at its most captivating and alluring.
My favorite piece of the night featured Bailey and TAQUEET$! In the upper section of the stage and Elise and Simone in the lower portion. Up top, the pair engage in a playful seduction on a couch, with Bailey treating TAQUEET$! To a sensual lap dance before TAQUEET$! removed Bailey’s stockings one by one, bending her over from behind. Simultaneously down below, Elise and Simone are engrossed in a more adversarial attraction, ending with their legs wrapped around one another and writhing as the curtains close.
The night is surely about pleasure, but pleasure is political, and Simone and Pin do not shy away from addressing important issues even within the lighthearted atmosphere of the evening. Their message is clear: women of color matter and deserve to be the center of attention. Their pleasure matters, their voices matter, and their creativity matters. And there’s just no room for those that choose not to understand that. There’s also a queer ethos to Queens that drives its underlying political nature. Men are present on stage, but only as support for the women and never as objects of sexual desire. The male gaze was refreshingly absent from the entire show. These were women sliding, jiggling, grabbing, rolling, stomping, humping, and reaching for one another. It makes me both teary eyed and turned on just thinking about it. I can’t wait to see more of Simone Pin.