The New York Burlesque Festival blows into town this weekend for the amazing 15th year in a row. Did festival producers and co-founders Angie Pontani and Jen Gapay ever think it would survive this long? “I don’t think I ever even thought about it!” says Pontani. “In the beginning we were lucky to go year to year. Looking back, I can’t believe it’s been 15 years and how much burlesque has grown and changed. It’s been an amazing evolution to have a front row seat to.” Gapay adds, “I remember joking with Angie about the festival’s 20th Anniversary during the fourth or fifth year, and I don’t think either of us were expecting the scene to last this long, but I’m sure glad it has!”
For anyone who’s been under a rock, the “current burlesque revival” started bubbling in New York in the late ‘90s, when Pontani was dancing for Dutch Weismann’s follies and Ami Goodheart was showgirling it up (does anyone else remember her Shadow Parties in Williamsburg?). Now, every city in the country seems to have a “Burlesque Festival” and none starve for applicants.
But NYBF is still NYBF. “People dream of performing in the Big Apple,” says Pontani, “and it’s awesome to be able to facilitate that for performers who travel from as far away as places like Australia, Japan and Hawaii.” Pontani, who has deep roots in New York nightlife and composes, with husband Brian Newman, one of New York’s most illustrious alt-power couples, knows that we’re flush with “headlining performers right here in our own bad-ass city. Julie Atlas Muz, Murray Hill, Dirty Martini, Tigger!, the list goes on.” She adds, “We were also one of the first neo-festivals. The only other national events happening when we started were Exotic World (now the Burlesque Hall of Fame) and Tease-O-Rama.” The last Tease-O-Rama event was in 2012, after a long hiatus, giving the NYBF some serious street cred for longevity and — so uncommon in nightlife — continuity.
But forget history, as most punters will crowd into the Brooklyn Bowl Friday to see gorgeous men and women. Aurora Black killed it at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas this year with a balletic act to Robyn’s “Fembot,” and says she’s “super excited to go out with a bang,” as she’s moving to Orlando after the Fest. New York keeps shedding good performers to (coincidence?) cheaper climes —Bunny Love and Lefty Lucy decamped to New Orleans, Bettina May moved to Vegas, Evelyn Vinyl moved to Nashville last year, and we just recently lost Rosie 151 to California.
Joey Martini, of Philadelphia’s The Peek-A-Boo-Revue, tells me they’re coming to New York hot off the Munich Burlesque festival with the sizzling act they created for the Burlesque Hall of Fame. He says they’re “ready with song, dance and some seltzer in my pants—without those pesky pants!”
Jenny Rocha, founder and choreographer of The Painted Ladies, says that “as usual, I have a parody up my sleeve…or under my dress…and this time, I’ll be doing more than just winking at political.” Her troupe’s last trouncing took on breast augmentation surgery— to some controversy—so hold tight with what she calls, “Dirty dancing with a twist.”
Gigi Bonbon, one of The Painted Ladies, who is also performing a solo act Friday, says that she’s bringing something “colorful, comedic, full of thrills,” “Brooklyn-inspired” with “a side of Gigi that you don’t get to see often—and I know you’ve seen almost every inch of me.”
With 25 acts on Friday night alone, prepare to be overwhelmed. Gapay is excited to see Izhonny from Portland and New York’s own Portia Control. Celebrating my 10th year at the NYBF (disclosure: Burlesque Beat has hosted the festival afterparty for seven years), I strongly suggest not missing The Painted Ladies, Hazel Honeysuckle—whom I was fortunate to see during her springtime stint in the “Absinthe” run in L.A.—or Boo Boo Darlin’, who’s celebrating her seventh consecutive year performing and seems more excited about offstage antics: “I love tromping around the city with fellow burlesquers leaving a trail of glitter and bystanders wide eyed!”
New York Burlesque Festival’s premiere party is Sept. 22 at Brooklyn Bowl, 61 Wythe Ave; doors at 6pm, show at 8pm, tickets $12 in advance, $15 at the door.
Bradley Spinelli is the author of the novels “The Painted Gun” and “Killing Williamsburg,” and the writer/director of “#AnnieHall.” He contributes to Burlesque Beat as J.D. Oxblood.