With but a wink and a smile and a flash of her thigh, a seasoned burlesque dancer knows how to creep into her spectators’ deepest fantasies. It is therefore not surprising that with time, the word “burlesque” has grown to become synonymous with sensuality. Indeed, although burlesque originally gained popularity for its comedic value, this art form has drastically evolved since the Victorian Era. With the introduction of burlesque to 20th century America, this dance form soon became more sexualised as audience members increasingly sought after nudity. Sadly, after its peak during the American Prohibition (burlesque was particularly popular at bootlegging clubs), American burlesque declined in the ’30s, until dying completely by the ’70s.
The 21st century apparition of neo-burlesque, a revival of the glorious ’20s, has thus become quite sensational to nostalgic jazz aficionados (or huge fans of Boardwalk Empire). Pioneered by lascivious artists such as Dita von Teese, neo-burlesque usually combines pseudo-striptease with theatrical expression.
Until about half a year ago, I had never realized how glamorous the Montreal neo-burlesque scene really was. It was only after seeing an event hosted by Cirquantique at Bain Mathieu that I became truly entranced with live burlesque shows. And that was also where I first saw the famous Lady Josephine.
Lady Josephine is an ambitious artist involved in a million and one neo-burlesque projects of her own. After that night at Bain Mathieu, I started realizing that I keep seeing her at events, and for a reason too. Gifted with eloquent fingers and graceful limbs, Lady Josephine is not only a dancer, but an actress too. Her multi-talent results in performances both erotic and comedic – with expressive eyes and caricature-like facial expressions, Lady Jo radiates a startling sense of self-awareness and light-hearted sense of humour. During each performance, her falsely awkward and shy persona gradually melts away to reveal a cheeky, teasing and electrifying starlet. And besides performing solo acts and offering burlesque classes, this determined artist has recently gathered about a new burlesque troupe: Cabaret Capone. I was even fortunate to ask her a few questions about the project.
Nadia Blostein (NB): When exactly did you begin working on the Cabaret Capone project?
Lady Josephine (LJ): Well, news of the troupe just got announced to the press a week ago, but we have been organizing ourselves for the past couple months. And our first show happened at JoBlo restaurant on May 21.
NB: Okay, and I bet many people wonder this a lot but why name your troupe “Capone”?
LJ: Why, we are naturally referring to the famous ’40s gangster, Al Capone. Our troupe conveys his era.
NB: And I see that this troupe involves five dancers and one singer. How did you six meet and decide to make a team?
LJ: Well, the burlesque community of Montreal is pretty small so when you’re in it, you know pretty much everyone. I basically picked who I wanted to be in a team with.
NB: And what exactly where you looking for in your associates?
LJ: I was looking for people who were creative, professional and trustworthy. All our individual acts cover many different styles, so we are trying to bring them all together and set a particular format. We are drawing on very specific imagery.
NB: Although you’ve been previously involved in many different projects, you have decided to add one more venture to your lengthy resume. However, what is the particular goal of this new troupe?
LJ: First off, we would really like to establish monthly and weekly shows as a collective. When people book us, we guarantee a full, complete show – straight up ready for producers.
NB: And I’m assuming the various acts will be performed to classically ’20s music, right?
LJ: Yes, we are naturally paying tribute to the classic jazz era so our troupe’s music can be described as very vintage.
NB: I bet you get this question a whole lot, but what kind of image of women does your troupe try to convey?
LJ: I personally view burlesque as a feminist art form: the woman is in charge of what is portrayed on stage. In the 21st century, we are way past first wave feminism. Today, we say women can be sexual beings and burlesque presents what women feel is sexual, sexy, funny and light-hearted… Neo-burlesque basically illustrates a female perspective on sexuality. The artist is in charge of her performance, and most neo-burlesque audiences are made up of females in the first place.
NB: Just a general question to conclude the short interview. Where do you believe that the future of neo-burlesque lies? And what direction are you currently trying to take with Cabaret Capone?
LJ: Well in Montreal, neo-burlesque has really been growing for the past five years. You’ve got neo-burlesque at the Wiggle Room, at Atame-Aphrodisiac Restaurant, at Speakeasy electro-swing shows… And more and more people are offering classes. I even teach at Arabesque Burlesque; I welcome anyone to check it out (Montreal Rampage did a review of it HERE). And for the moment, Cabaret Capone is still on the hunt for regular booking, so we’re putting a callout to venues and buyers who are looking for good quality burlesque.
On that note, Lady Jo hung up the phone in a most likely sensuous gesture. And that was it for my first conversation with Lady Josephine from Arabesque Burlesque.
After hearing so much about Cabaret Capone, I couldn’t resist looking up Josephine’s fellow dancers – how fortunate was I to find Youtube footage of each one of them performing! Foxy Lexxi Brown cannot simply be described as foxy; if the idea of sex could take on a human form, it would look something like Lexxi. Seldom have I seen a woman undress so voluptuously to some powerful Queen Latifa vocals. Lavender May, more of a delicate creature with incredibly light footing, has pristine control over her hip movements. Her lovely purple hair simply emphasizes her pseudonym while giving her persona a more modern twist. Ruby Rhapsody’s lusty facial expressions are reminiscent of Betty Boop, as she dances with demonic speed and sharp precision. Lulu les Belles Mirettes, full of self-deprecating mockery, is the most relatable and humane of all the dancers. She looks at the crowd with fearful, shy eyes as she flaunts beautiful curves worthy of a Greek Goddess sculpture. And the singer accompanying the lot, Shy Shy Schullie, entrances listeners with a sweet, nostalgic voice full of raw inflexions.
My interview with Lady Josephine may seem quite insightful, but it is only upon viewing the six artists at work that one may truly appreciate the diversity of this troupe. I love how each artist has her own individuality and charm; may the future bring them gigs and glamour galore.