When the glittery curtains lifted on the legendary stage of the Casino de Paris for the opening of the Gentry de Paris Revue, a page was turned in the beaudacious book of burlesque. Breaking out of the cozy cabarets and clubs where its best known, burlesque has shimmied and sashayed its way to the fore of a fascinating retro remix and awoken an entire entertainment genre out of its slumber.
Proof of its elegant ascent from obscure fringe movement to mesmerizing main attraction is the Gentry de Paris Revue. Running in Paris for eleven days (buy tickets here) at the theater Josephine Baker made famous, the show is a music-hall extravaganza whose ravishing roots recall the opulence and grandeur of Ziegfeld Follies and the budget-breaking productions of MGM Hollywood musicals. A titillating tribute to the forces of fantasy and escapism, the show (the first revue at the Casino de Paris since the 1960s) is a series of eighteen dance and singing vignettes intertwined with burlesque.
“We spiced up the format and gave it a modern edge by making it faced-paced, and by adding burlesque strip teasers,” explains Gentry Lane (above, and yes, that’s her real name) the artistic director of the show and guest star. “Stylistically it’s incredibly modern too. It’s not like a period piece but more like a super fashion show.” With lavish fashion, golden age glamor and burlesque on the agenda, there was only one woman in the world who could carry the starring role—the inimitable Dita Von Teese. And boy does she! If you’ve ever for one second wondered what all of the fuss over Dita Von Teese is about, you must see her perform live.
“Like Dita, people didn’t really know what to make of Josephine Baker,” says Gentry Lane of her close friend and co-star. “They were like, here’s this girl that dances naked, but when you see her, you’re just blown away. It’s the same with Dita.”
While poured into her slinky, Swarovski crystal costumes and bespoke sky-high Christian Louboutin heels, Dita glides about the stage as if it were her private boudoir. Her delight in tantalizing is written across her face with lively eyes and a sensual smile. She radiates confidence, but you can see that every gesture and pose is calculated, the result of years of study and perfection. Even when she’s propped on her knees in a giant cocktail glass full of pink sudsy water wearing nothing but sparkly pasties and panties, she manages to look elegant (don’t ask how).
“For as long as I’ve been doing shows my goal has been to take burlesque to a different place than it was,” says Dita Von Teese during the press conference before the show. “When I first started performing burlesque there was no internet, there were no references…so I had to base my own idea on what I imagined, instead of what I saw.”
After warming up the crowd with her legendary Cointreauversial retro-inspired dance, Dita pulls out the big guns in Act 2 with what will certainly go down in history as a genre-bending masterpiece of burlesque performance. Trippy, dark and extremely moody, Opium Den (see teaser video below) is a far cry from the happy-go-lucky burlesque acts of yore. Set in a timeless den of debauchery, Dita plays a porcelain-skinned vixen with a giant Chinoiserie fan, a team of glittery tassels and a coterie of red satin gloved arms that stroke her (when she wants) in very naughty places. It’s 20-minutes of immaculate psychedelic teasing (Dita admits she tried opium to enhance her performance).
So, what’s Dita’s advice for turning your bedroom into your own den of debauchery? “Good lighting is the most important thing,” she says. “I have a dimmer switch in my house so that I can turn the lights down to the perfect mood. It’s important not to think about what sexy is, but what makes you feel sexy and really get into that. You just need to know yourself and know that you’re your sexiest when you’re having a good time, happy and confident.”
If counsel just doesn’t cut it, you can study the basics of burlesque at the Ecole Supérieur de Burlesque with the formidable Gentry Lane in Paris. The nine-week program starts September 23rd, but classes can be taken individually.
Q&A with Gentry Lane, Artistic Director and Co-Star of the Gentry de Paris Revue
What inspired you to create such a complex and elaborate show?
I wanted to take burlesque out of the clubs and putting it on stage where it belongs. I’m one of those people who grew up during the Andrew Lloyd Webber era so I love these big opulent productions that were like the Busby Berkely or MGM musicals that I saw when I was growing up. So we’re the anti-trend. The sets are huge and opulent and the costumes are lavish and hideously expensive with crystals and huge feathers. We really spared no expense to make it visually stunning.
Can you tell us a bit more about the costumes and the designers and artisans you used to have them made?
Francois Tamarin made both my corsets, including the diamond dust corset which was created just for the show. I got the idea during the Andy Warhol exhibit that was here in Paris a few months ago. I wanted to recreate the effect of his glittery canvases, and found out that his trick was diamond dust. I know Dita’s Opium Den dress, which is completely covered in Swarovski crystals, weighs more than she does and her shoes were especially designed for her by Christian Louboutin.
What drew you first to burlesque?
When we were doing it we didn’t really call it burlesque. The real story is that I was dancing with a troupe called DecoBelles and we were a bunch of retro-looking girls. We copied Bugsby Burkley routines and performed at christenings of yachts and millionaires parties. It’s something we did for fun and got paid to do as well. Some friends opened a cabaret and put on a show each Sunday. I decided to do a striptease to “Put the Blame on Mame.” I had red hair then and was working the Rita Hayworth look and that’s how it all started. A couple of years later Teaserama was started and burlesque kind of took off. Dita has been dong burlesque non-stop since then, for me it was always a part-time job, and just for fun. I was working at an investment bank by day and then burlesquing at night.
What inspired you to start the Ecole Supérieur de Burlesque?
I’m all about traditional glamor burlesque, really Hollywood style. My mission is to educate. Burlesque is a style of striptease that got really famous in the 1940s and 50s. Anything else that you hear about satire or political commentary is wrong—it’s just a style of striptease. A pretty girl has a big glamorous costume in the beginning of the act, and finishes in a pair of panties and pasties. And that’s burlesque. We all know what’s going to happen but the really great burlesque dancers are the ones that keep you on the edge of your seat because you don’t know how they’re going to go from A to Z. That’s what I teach people—how to captivate an audience, the basics of getting out of your clothes gracefully, and little tricks for making what’s a banal act (because everybody takes off their clothes everyday) into something glamorous and graceful.
What are your secret beauty weapons?
Krylon body makeup pancake, good lighting, MAC false eyelashes, really, really high heels and really, really tight corsets.