The year is 1888, the island of Obsidian serves as a refuge for free thinkers …
WONDERLAND FESTIVAL 2019 w/ Vanguard Burlesque
Saturday, November 24th, 2019
It’s Wonderland Festival 2019, and we begin tonight by walking through the foyer of the Powerhouse to catch Brisbane’s premier burlesque and variety event.
Now, while this certainly isn’t our first rodeo when it comes to the Vanguard Burlesque experience, after multiple sold-out seasons as part of the Wonderland showcase, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect this evening: a flock of world-class performers, fabulous costumes, some banging tracks, crowd participation and a more than decent serving of sass. Making our way into the Visy Theatre downstairs, there’s already a decent showing and a high turn-out of eager supporters. As we make our way up the back to the left of stage, we spy some Vanguard alumni nestled up high in the wings, suitably liquored up and looking resplendent in their finest frockery, as the house lights begin to dim.
Tasked with the inevitable job of MC this evening is the one, the only, the legend herself, Vollie LaVont, 2 x Queens Ball Drag Performer of the Year, who graces the stage in a commanding black dress to perform a cheeky rendition of Pink’s seminal classic, Get The Party Started. Perhaps taking cues from the title itself, LaVont does exactly that, pulling the crowd in with her overzealous miming, rhythmic gyrations and a well-turned ankle, bringing some much-needed fun and flavour to the room. Throughout the night, LaVont’s dry banter keeps the crowd clutching their stomachs to stop their sides from spilling out, as her withering tongue lashes out at targets both near and far: hapless front row victims, Ru Paul aficionados, people using phones up the back, Trump, Pauline Hanson, and, at one point, even her dear old Dad. Nothing like some healthy self-deprecation between newfound friends, right? With her routine out of the way, LaVont speedily dispenses with the pleasantries before introducing the night’s first performer.
Setting the tone from the outset with a dash of glitter-encrusted self-awareness, the ‘Drag Disrupter and Burlesque Supervillain’ Ruby Slippers begins with a parody of the film Burlesque (2010). It’s certainly a subject ripe for a good ol’ skewering and ‘The Artist Formerly Known as Ruby Shoes’ eases the crowd into it, which is probably for the best, considering that there’s a smattering of Karens and Sharons in the front rows who likely use the Christina Aguilera and Cher vehicle as their guide for what a “real” burlesque show actually is. Slippers darts and weaves across the stage, smiling, dancing and peeling off items of clothing, revealing a litany of gold bows and a leopard print undergarment, as the backing track begins to break down from noticeable (and entirely) intentional glitches. Coming up on the third minute of stage time, the prelude is over, and the performance abruptly flips, as both Slippers and the music track grind to a halt before raucous dub-step bursts into the mix and things get loud and colourful and all kinds of weird.
Next up is 3 x Queens Ball Performer of the Year and Hall of Fame legend, Kryptonite, who struts on to stage in one of the most ostentatious outfits we’re likely to see this evening. The heels are pink, dazzling and deadly. The pantaloons are puffy and billowing. The top is ruffled like a dandy aristocrat and atop Kryptonite’s shaved dome is a glittering crown of pink. The performance is somewhat more theatrical in bent, complete with spoken word recitations, sex organ innuendos and even required reading—a stage-hand deftly materialises in the front row mid-scene to hand over the individual items comprising the Fifty Shades trilogy, before being scooped, dismissed out loud and thrown on the stage in a fit of mock disgust.
Miss Burlesque Australia 1st Runner Up 2018, Maple Rose, takes things back to a more classical feel with her Latin-inspired routine. The Melbournite Rose prances and preens in a black-and-white striped number, oozing charisma and demanding attention, stopping at opportune movements to throw a cheeky wink and head nod to patrons. The crowd is loving it, with plenty of cheers and shouts, as her costume rapidly diminishes in size and function. As the stage lights suddenly fade, Rose emerges seconds later with a full-set of butterfly wings, transformation complete and truly a sight to behold.
In one of the more curious performances of the evening, ‘The Tiny Temptress’ Rielle La’Vish spends most of her time on stage playing with a bubble. Okay, well, it kind of looks like a giant gym ball if we’re honest, but we can still wrap our heads around the theme easily enough. As the human component of this delicate union, La’Vish is a little pocket rocket, gracefully flowing across the stage with precarious poise around her bouncing bubble. Holding it up in the air at times like a cherub beneath a burdensome Atlas stone, to our mind, La’Vish’s routine seems like some form of epic Sisyphean ballet, complete with near-Grecian levels of nudity. The crowd appears to be just as rapt as we are and if you dropped a pin in the Visy at this particular moment, we’d all be deafened by the sound.
Maintaining that level of intensity, Vanguard Producer and Co-Creator Lillian Lace follows up with a captivating routine of fire and rebirth. Her dress is all earth-tones, made up of greens and yellows and browns, and as she strips pieces off to flail helplessly towards the ground, we get glimpses of the burning red underneath. Given the recent context and the very real prospect of a burning Mother Earth outside, it’s a prescient theme indeed. Embraced by her crown of thorns, Lace’s cycle completes itself as she emerges from the curtains with dazzling membranous wings. The house lights turn crimson and shine through the folds of fabric, which shimmer and spark with their burning inner light.
Moving on to something a bit more light-hearted, the delightful Dolly Cakes makes her entrance this evening as Wonder Woman. Given that she’s also Miss Burlesque Gold Coast 2014, Cakes certainly fits the part here, with an outfit that’s all stars, stripes and glittering gold. As clothing items are flung across the stage with reckless abandon, Cakes takes up a whip in hand, and we anticipate that things are about to get cracking (literally). However, instead, Cakes takes this opportunity to wind the whip around herself in the form of rope bondage come skimpy Themysciran bodice, while keeping the cape on for good measure.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all when it comes to variety show send-up, in walks Miss Burlesque Entertainer of the Year 2015 Betty Lovecat to show us the universe. Delivering a routine of stellar pageantry, Lovecat’s performance this evening is hilarious in execution, as her backing track begins with dead-pan Miss Universe commentary, before mashing up Jamiroquai’s Cosmic Girl with Intergalactic by The Beastie Boys. In the costume department, Lovecat transitions from a Marie Antoinette-style dress and wig combo by revealing a glowing crown and a LED-rigged hula-hoop ringed with various astrological bodies, including two cratered moon halves for her booty.
As tonight’s guest performer, The Sugar Duchess brings a little Hollywood flare to the proceedings with a picture-perfect pout and a bombshell pink dress. As Miss Burlesque Perth 2015 & 2016, it’s clear that the Duchess is an old hand at working the crowd. With every wink, curl and flesh reveal, patrons in the stands get to clapping and cheering on the sugar-sweet showgirl.
Running down to the end of the show, a handful of performers return to the stage for their round-two routines. Kryptonite graces the Visy with his presence once more, with a blue flower dress as centrepiece, complete with suspenders, a tattoo-chest and a literal golden crown this time around. Meanwhile, Maple Rose brings back the classic burlesque once more, with a taste of the Golden Age—complete with a long dress, feather boa and glorious waterfall fans.
However, the highlight goes to Ruby Slippers, whose second routine is nothing short of manic. Dressed in skin-tight red and purple, Slippers rolls and jumps across the stage, first blowing a party horn with her mouth, then two horns through her nose, before grabbing a leaf-blower and blowing a giant-sized horn into the wide-eyed faces of the roaring crowd. At one point, the blower passes like a torch to a big-time fan up front, who promptly turns the blower back on Slippers, plastic streamers flaring out backwards like luscious locks in a hair commercial. And with that, the fifth year of Vanguard Burlesque at the Wonderland Festival comes to a glorious end. Bravo!