A couple weekends ago, I had the pleasure of hitting I-5 South for a visit to Seattle’s southern neighbour Portland, Oregon. My intention was to check out the burlesque scene, see a few shows, meet with a couple folks and enjoy the funky vibe of the Rose City. I’ve always loved Portland. It’s a beautiful city that has done a great job of keeping a down-home feel despite massive growth. The music culture’s great, the food culture is incredible and, as I found out on my trip, the burlesque scene is thriving.
I got to town on a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon. After a wonderful feast of oysters and clams within the vintage, nautically-themed confines of Dan and Louis’ Oyster Bar and Spanish Coffees at Huber’s, my friends and I headed over the Crush Bar, a nondescript bar in the Belmont area of Southeast Portland.
I was anxious to check out their monthly burlesque revue Burlesque S’il Vous Plait which is produced and hosted by the incomparable Zora Phoenix. Zora had us all rolling in our seats with her incredible musical bits and off-color humor, reminding my friends and I of a raunchy, drag version of Vicki Lawrence. Portland burlesque fans know Zora well. She won Willamette Week‘s 2011 “Best of Portland” award and hosts two other monthly burlesque revues, the Phoenix Variety Revue and Burlescape. Zora was definitely the glue that held this show together, as she introduced performances by Brown Paper Ticket’s producer and performer Miss Kennedy, who did an amazing Frida Kahlo-inspired routine, Zora Von Pavonine, Stilletta Maraschino and, for me and my friends, the star of the show: Angelique DeVil.
Miss DeVil did a great “bee” routine which started with her in a nerdy bee outfit dancing to Blind Lemon and ended with her popping and locking to a hip-hop number. She pretty much stole the show for us with her quirky, high-energy, yet still incredibly sexy stage presence. We were sure to write down her name because this was one dancer we wanted to keep our eyes on. It was a great night and a perfect sampler of some of the great burlesque talent that is currently gracing stages in the Rose City.
The next day, I had the pleasure of sharing drinks with Rayleen and Sophie, the producers of Sinn Savvy Productions, the Portland chapter of Naked Girls Reading, Critical Hit Burlesque and a whole slew of other events. They were awesome and super helpful in giving me some insight into the Portland burly scene. They both seemed to have a strong desire to take Portland burlesque to the next level, incorporating more theatrical production elements, and taking cues from what they see going on in the rest of the country. They both hinted at exciting things in the future and I think they have the vision to make Portland one of the top burlesque scenes in the country. Can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves. I featured their next performance below so if you’re in the Portland area or headed that way, do not miss their show!
They also told me that the Orchestre L’Pow show I would be attending that evening at the Bossanova Ballroom was an especially sad night for the Portland burlesque scene as they would be losing Charlotte Treuse, who is moving to New Orleans. We arrived shortly before curtain at the second floor ballroom on Burnside (with an especially cool, vintage-style ticket booth). I was familiar with Orchestre L’Pow’s raunchy, post-punk, big band sounds. They were spot on that night and provided the perfect soundtrack for the girls to shimmy and shake to. I especially loved the saxophonist, who nailed that raunchy growl that harkens right back to the burlesque pit bands of the 50s.
The MC was a Seattle native, Vincent Drambuie who proved why his MC skills are in such demand around the world. He’s the perfect balance between style, sleaze and comedy and like Zora Phoenix the night before, he kept the show running like a well-oiled machine. The performers for the night included the aforementioned Charlotte Treuse alongside Portland burlesque stalwarts Madison Moone, Itty Bitty Bang Bang and stage kittens Hyacinth Lee and Lady Loaded Guns.
The two stand outs of the evening, in my opinion, were Lydia DeCarllo from Vancouver, BC and our girl from the night before, Angelique DeVil. Angelique’s routines for this show were more in the classic burlesque style (one of which was the music box dancer routine, featured in the video above); a stark contrast to the modern and quirky style of the night before, proving the versatility of this incredible performer. The other highlight was Lydia DeCarllo. Her moves were flawless and she had the look of a classic Hollywood starlet or one of the legends of burlesque in their prime. In fact burlesque legend Satan’s Angel (featured in an earlier Tuesday Tease) had this to say about her: “Lydia DeCarlo is one of my favorite exotic dancers in the new world of burlezk…she [is] beautiful, with fabulicious wardrobe, a gorgeous body and she sparkles like a diamond in a pile of rhinestones!” Couldn’t agree more. The show was amazing with a great turnout and the evening really showed me how supportive the Portland burlesque scene is, as I saw many other dancers in the audience hooting and hollering for their friends on stage.
On my last night in town I headed down to Kelly’s Olympian, a hundred-plus-year-old dive bar to check out the Stolen Sweets show which was produced by Russell Bruner who heads up Swing Time PDX, a production company that puts on circus, cabaret, burlesque, vaudeville, variety shows and swing-related events in Portland and up and down the West Coast. Russell was also recently crowned “King of Burlesque” at this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame and he really knows how to put on a show. The Stolen Sweets specialize in the 3-part harmony arrangements of the 1930’s girl group, The Boswell Sisters and they really do transport you back in time. The three piece band comprised of vocalists Jen Bernard, Lara Michell and Erin Sutherland alongside legendary Portland guitarist Pete Krebs, guitarist David Langenes and upright bassist Keith Brush.
Russell led the dancing and the floor was packed all night with dancers switching partners and swingin’ the night away. I gotta say, I was pretty envious of the sweet moves folks were pulling off and was way too intimidated to bring my two left feet out on the dancefloor. So, I sat back and let the experts do the work and man, it was great to watch. Russell and his dancing partners looked like characters straight out of “Boardwalk Empire” and moved with effortless grace and style. Brown Paper Tickets ticketed the event and it’s an honor to have a producer with such a clear vision and a finely-tuned, aesthetic like Russell working with us. If you can, head over to the Swing Time PDX website and check out all the other great events he’s involved in.
Here’s a video of Russell doing his thing with the Sweets.
As I headed back to Seattle, I kept thinking of what a great, supportive and unique culture Portland has. While Seattle tries very hard to be upwardly mobile, sometimes to its disadvantage, Portland maintains a funky DIY vibe, while still boasting amazing talent. Not one performer that I saw felt like they were going through the motions or blindly following a trend. Each performer owned what they were on and off stage and in our modern, throwaway culture that thrives on weekly trends, it’s refreshing to see folks that are steeped in their culture of choice. I see great things for the Rose City and I can’t wait to come back.
And if you’re in Portland, or headed that way, here are some upcoming Portland burlesque events that you should not miss:
Thursday, October 18 I Miss Kennedy Presents: A Rocky Horror Pastie Show Brad! Janet! Boobs! Miss Kennedy once again revives her wildly popular “Rocky Horror Pastie Show” this time bringing it to the historic Star Theater. Adapted for the stage with a little less dialogue and a LOT more T&A, Miss Kennedy rounds up the best dancers in Portland for one evening only!
Tuesday, October 30 I Critical Hit Burlesque and Naked Girls Reading PDX join forces! A chill is creeping into the air, the days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting longer. Strange things are afoot in the days leading up to Halloween. All sorts of ghosts and goblins are waiting to trick you into a fright but fear not, because there’s a treat in store for Portland on October 30th at the historic Star Theater! The evening starts with the lovely, literary-obsessed ladies from the Portland chapter of Naked Girls Reading, who will present their fourth installment, this time with a horror theme, to put you in the proper mindset for All Hallows’ Eve. This titillating treat will be hosted by local erotic luminary, Angelique DeVil, and will feature both classic and modern tales of horror from: Baby Le’Strange, The Infamous Nina Nightshade, Kai Mera, Coco Lectric (in her NGR debut!) and NGRpdx co-producers Rayleen Courtney and Sophie Maltease. Then, after the readings, stay for a bit of burlesque with a “Devilish Night of Dancing Ghouls.” Hosted by Critical Hit’s own Mad Marquis, this portion of the evening will feature local burlesque beauties, as well as Austin’s own Coco Lectric. This show is sure to dazzle and amaze with performances by: Coco Lectric, Angelique DeVil, The Infamous Nina Nightshade, Baby Le’Strange and Kai Mera.
Saturday, November 17 I The 2012 Swashbuckler’s Ball The Swashbuckler’s Ball returns for a glorious third year! A portion of proceeds raised will go to benefit DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital. Featuring music by Tempest and Chervona, plus more to be announced soon. Also, the incredibly popular Belowdecks Bar returns and will serve as a showcase for the sultry performers of CRITICAL HIT BURLESQUE. This year, the Belowdecks Bar will expand to include a full buffet of grub and ballast for all attendees.