Calamity Chang, once a fixture at the old Galapagos with the Beatles Burlesque show she produced, rarely performs in Brooklyn these days. But she makes an exception for the New York Burlesque Festival, which will inundate the city with glitter this weekend for the 13th year in a row. “As for Brooklyn,” she told us, “well, let’s just say that burlesque died when the hipsters moved into Williamsburg. They are too sexually repressed to appreciate sexuality and too cool to appreciate camp.”
Nevertheless, the NYBF’s Friday Night Premiere Party will be at Williamsburg’s own Brooklyn Bowl. For burlesque aficionados, the venue’s rock n’ roll lighting and crackling pins may not be ideal — but for the casual pastie peeper, it’s a fine spot to jostle friends and strangers in the crowd, grab a lane or a snack or a drink, and watch a burlesque act or two.
There will be 25 performers tonight, from LA, Japan, New Zealand, and New York, so watch all you want. Host Albert Cadabra, whose carnival-barker style is well-suited to yelling over drunk bowlers and rumbling balls, will almost certainly make some dick jokes, and perhaps some Pope jokes — and who knows, maybe even both at once.
Festival producer Angie Pontani, who just became a new mom with the help of her Daddy-O Brian Newman, is happy to be back in the hood. “Williamsburg was such a hot spot for burlesque in the early 2000s with the late Galapagos hosting acts like my sisters and I, the Wau Wau Sisters and so many more,” she told us. “It’s only fitting we return to the now super-sized area by bringing our Friday night party to the Brooklyn Bowl. Over the past decade burlesque has evolved, changed and grown as much at the 11211 zip code!”
The old Galapagos art space (now home to Black Bear’s skate bowl, on a stretch equally known for its American Apparel and Urban Outfitters stores), was an early home for the current burlesque resurgence. After threatening a jump to Berlin, Galapagos moved to DUMBO in 2008, and closed last December to reopen in Detroit. Robert Elmes’ answer to the question “Why Detroit?” reads like a manifesto on why New York is finished as an artist-cultivating city—and why more young artists should consider Detroit.
We reached out to some of the stubborn New Yorkers performing on Friday to see what we’re in for. Tansy, who knocked everyone out at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas this summer, is performing a tribute to burlesque legend Dee Milo. Francine the Lucid Dream, the creator of David Lynch Burlesque, will reveal an Agent Dana Scully act, and said, “It’s the perfect time and place to do it, with X-Files coming back on the air this winter.” Chris Harder, boylesque performer-cum-porn actor, is bringing a “fresh, hot” act that is “basically my burlesque parody for the unsung hero of porn: the pizza boy!” And Aurora Black will blend burlesque with classical ballet, executing an entire one-minute variation from The Firebird— “a contemporary short ballet by Stravinsky about a mythical bird with magical powers”—before her striptease.
Mr. Gorgeous, last year’s King of Burlesque, said that the NYBF is “kind of like the start of school or the start of a new year.” He elaborated: “It gives me a chance to become inspired by performers from all around the world and a check point for myself to see where I hope my work grows within the next year.” Aerialist Jason Mejias said that he loves performing in Williamsburg, “especially at Brooklyn Bowl, since it’s next to one of the older circus and cabaret training and performing places in Williamsburg—Big Sky Works, Tanya’s studio from the Wau Wau sisters.”
Calamity Chang, a producer in her own right, feels that the NYBF does draw a different vibe in Williamsburg, and added that “because Williamsburg has changed so much, there are no events that cater to the off-beat and non-mainstream cultures anymore, so when NYBF goes there, it draws out the people who do not belong to this ‘nouveau riche’ world order.”
Bradley Spinelli is the author of “Killing Williamsburg.” He contributes to Burlesque Beat as J.D. Oxblood and is the writer/director of “#AnnieHall.”