This week, Dita Von Teese is treating the Sunset Strip to a little old-fashioned sexuality with her burlesque extravaganza, playing at the House of Blues through Friday night.
The show, despite what you might think, is geared for both sexes, provided that you have a sexual affiliation of one form or another. Burlesque is a sultry mix of humor and sex, and yes, the majority of performers are female.
But not so fast.
There are a handful of “boylesque” or “manlesque” performers out there; an art referred to as neo-burlesque. Like Von Teese, they take a new approach, providing innovation to the classic artform.
These male performers love the female body, often incorporating it into their humorous act. The racier, even raunchier, the better. It’s taking the piss out of male stripping. Bear in mind, these guys are not Chippendale-type creeps.
And Von Teese, with international acclaim behind her, only uses the best performers, selecting exclusively from professional dancers and thespians, who know how to be sexy without flexing well-oiled muscles to pop music on a thrust stage.
The act is not solely about gender-bending either, because the costumes and make-up are fine-crafted, elaborate and done with taste.
Some of Dita’s Boylesque dancers explained to us how they got involved. We spoke with Monsieur Romeo, a French-born burlesque veteran, whose act has a film noir theme. You won’t be able to catch Romeo in WeHo (he’s nursing an injury after a hit and run accident), but he will return to tour in New York in March.
Filling in for Monsieur Romeo during the HOB shows will be Duke Lafayette, known for seducing a mannequin leg to Van Halen’s “Drop Dead Legs,” (check it out here), and Prince Poppycock, a Romantic-era fop with operatic vocal range and jaw-dropping costumes who came to national attention when he competed on the fifth season of “America’s Got Talent” (2010).
Here’s what the boys had to say:
Question: How did you become involved with Dita?
Answer: Originally I was hosting a show, L’effleur Des Sens, a French cabaret, and for four years I was the host of it. Dita Von Teese, she came to the show, saw my number and she asked me to join the tour. I’ve be touring with her since then. I’ve been with her for almost three years … She’s very picky about what she chooses. I’m very lucky that she chose me to be a part of her tour.
I like to call it “manlesque” because I’m actually more of a man than a boy. (Laughs.) I created this number, with a director, based on actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, he’s a French actor. Many Americans don’t know him, I think he should be known a little bit more. Very film noir … The number we created is a striptease that has a burlesque vibe, with a very funny energy to it. That’s what makes burlesque very interesting because it has an acting part to it, which I like.
I’m going to speak for myself: burlesque has always had a comedy side of it. There’s some corsi burlesque (coarse burlesque) and then there’s upscale burlesque, which Dita is doing and Gypsy Rose (Lee) was doing, which is more sophisticated. Myself, I mix in the upscale sophisticated numbers but I add a very funny ending to them. I mix in some acting. I’m not dancing in it, I’m a professional dancer, so all my moves are thought of … but I’m not dancing because I don’t think it’s really attractive to have a guy stripping down dancing. It’s more acting. You see a black and white movie.
Q: How does the crowd react to you?
A: Surprisingly, because I’m not very familiar with this kind of crowd, there are a lot of women in it. So it’s pretty awesome, they really enjoy it. I am stripping down towards something unexpected, so that’s why the women get crazy. Who doesn’t like to have tons of girls screaming for you, right?
Q: What are the major differences between boylesque and burlesque?
A: It’s definitely challenging for a men to do burlesque or boylesque because everyone expects to have the woman taking off her clothes. It’s harder for men to make them believe and be taken seriously, but once it starts, I mean, with me they definitely enjoy it. It’s modern. It’s neo-burlesque. Boylesque just started maybe 10-15 years (ago). There are a lot of different guys with different approaches. Some are more grotesque, some are more upscale.
Q: So, we won’t see you perform here in L.A.?
A: No, unfortunately this week, I’m not going to be able to do it. I got into an accident. A hit and run, and I broke my leg. But I will definitely be with Dita in New York this March. Regarding my own burlesque, I’m starting to perform with Lada Nikolska. She was with Crazy Horse, and we are going to start doing duets. So, more to come!
Q: How did you come to work with Dita?
A: I was performing at a club in New York City called “The Box.” I heard that she was there that night and I got excited about it. I got an email a couple months later and have been with the show on and off for the past couple of years. It was that easy, I didn’t do anything. I just licked a leg. I was just doin’ my thing.
Q: How is it working with Dita?
A: It’s awesome. It’s totally clutch. It’s just like a lot of joking backstage and a lot of laughing and fooling around. And Dita’s super cool, obviously. It’s great, it’s kind of a dream job. She just wants everyone to just do what they do best, no micro-managing or anything.
Q: Tell us about your act.
A: I come out with a mannequin leg. Her name’s Deseret, and we get it on man. We go far and dirty and try to make it too much information, to make it too personal. Like the audience is glimpsing into the bedroom at some intimate, raw moment. I try to make it as horrible and raw on stage as possible.
Q: How does the audience react?
A: Depends what city you’re in. (Laughs.) In New Orleans it was like being one of the Beatles. It was totally crazy, like every little gesture, people screaming from the rafters. L.A. crowds can be a little more subdued. New York is always pretty raucous, people yelling and stuff. I see a lot of people staring at me with open mouths like, “I can’t believe this dude is doing this up on stage in front of me.” It’s pretty dirty. I never consider myself boylesque or anything like that. I just do my thing. I’m not about titles; I’m just about imparting sweet passion onstage. I seductively take off the mannequin leg’s clothing … and I just get down.
Poppycock brings his own style of passion, with bourgeois spin.
Q: Tell us about getting involved with Dita.
A: This is my very first performance with Dita but I met her through my former boss, Michael Schmidt. I worked for him for about seven years and met Dita socially and also worked on a couple of pieces for her that Michael designed. I’ve also known quite a few of the burlesque dancers around town: Kitten DeVille, Diamondback Annie, Venus DeMille, and all the girls from the Velvet Hammer. I’m good friends with Michelle Carr, who started the Velvet Hammer, which was one of the first neo-burlesque troupes to start up in the early 90s. And partially responsible for the new craze in burlesque that’s been going on for quite a while. I first started doing burlesque in 2007, as member of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Strip Show. I have a number where I dress as a pink poodle and get lead out on stage and sing “Diamond Dogs” (Bowie) while stripping and crawling around on the floor. I’m also a singer, so my signature number for boylesque was to sing Largo al Factotum, the Figaro aria, and do a striptease to it. That got me a lot of attention in 2008. Then that lead to me being on “America’s Got Talent” in 2010 and I got fourth place.
Q: What act did you perform on AGT?
A: Well, I didn’t strip, it was just singing. And afterwards, I had some managers that strongly discouraged me from continuing to do any boylesque and I listened to them for the time being. So, I put a moratorium on doing striptease. This marks my official return to boylesque. I’m doing my signature number, the Largo al Factotum aria and doing a striptease while I sing it.
I’m excited to be a part of Dita’s show for the first time!