LUSH, hosted by Ruby Rockafella, at 13.5% Wine Bar
by Sage Viscovi
I would definitely not call myself a stranger to burlesque. Through attending my alma mater’s own burlesque events and my own involvement in several shadow-cast installments of Rocky Horror, I thought I had seen all I needed of this risqué realm.
I wouldn’t say that my opinions of burlesque solely consisted of “people stripping in an artful fashion”, but for one night only LUSH went above and beyond to completely expand my comprehension of the subject. The variety show was hosted by Charm City’s own Ruby Rockafella – local pageant-winning burlesque performer, burlesque instructor at the Creative Alliance, and event manager at 13.5% Wine Bar where the event was held.
Photo by Steve Parke Burlesque performer and host, Ruby Rockafella
Rockafella began performing burlesque in 2012 after a private mentorship with Miss Joule of DC’s variety show Tilted Torch, and has produced shows in Baltimore since 2014. She won the title of Princess of The Great Southern Exposure Burlesque and Variety Arts Weekend last December, after performing her original act based on the story of the Black Dahlia. She has recently been featured on The Baltimore Sun’s Darkroom blog for her Blaze Starr tribute photo shoot collaboration with Steve Parke, and has been deemed “a master of character and costume” by TheatreBloom. Sporting a flouncy, pastel green dress and lots of glitter, Ruby took the stage as the evening’s mistress of ceremonies as pant-less DJ Danny Cavalier boomed out sultry sounds.
Kicking off the show was fellow burlesque performer and artist Cherie Nuit. Nuit has performed nationwide, including last year’s New York Burlesque Festival and this year’s Burlesque Hall Of Fame in Las Vegas, otherwise known as the “Olympics of burlesque”. Nuit’s act was fast-paced in blue flapper attire, and her teasing, high-energy performance garnered a large reaction from the excited audience.
Photo by Stereo Vision Photography Burlesque performer Cherie Nuit
Next up was salacious comedy singer, Dainty Dandridge. Born and raised in Detroit, Dandridge has teased and pleased audiences around the world with her trashy tunes. She is the co-producer of Best of Burlesqueer and Chocolate City Baltimore and Cabaret, as well as a regular performer at Church Night DC, DC Gurly Show, and Barenaked Comedy. She currently holds a regular gig at DC’s La Boum Boum Room on Saturday nights. The potty-mouthed princess performed not-quite lullabies inspired by Jesus Christ, singing with classy growls and oodles of sass. The crowd was absolutely howling as she strutted her way off the stage.
Then DC-based belly dancer extraordinaire Eva Mystique stepped up to the plate as she jingled past our table to the stage, introduced as “two parts spellbinding, one part ratchet.” Also a member of Chocolate City and co- founder of Serafemme, her act was slow-paced and bass thumping, gradually turning from traditional belly dancing I’ve already seen to something much dirtier. Her flexibility was positively dangerous and at one point she dropped into a split from mid-air! My own thighs hurt just from watching that, but I was blown away regardless.
Eva Mystique performing at Chocolate City Burlesque
Following up was comedy act Pandora’s Box, who graced the stage with a fake mustache while opening her monologue with “Is this thing on? I’m Teddy Roosevelt and it’s 1906.” The grandeur rant went into explicit detail of promising equal fucking rights for all men, the mustache fluttering with each spitting word. Her sexual poetry was powerful with boisterous articulation, as she concluded with “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
Rockafella returned to round off the first act, stripping heartily to Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams”. It was like watching a seductive butterfly glide about, with lots of twists and turns… somehow very Elizabeth Taylor in nature.
The second act began with Mystique once again, who had a change in hairdo! The new number blended elements of belly dance with “twerking”, a combination I never thought I would see myself writing out. It started just as slow-paced as the first dance, but this time more spiritual. As the tempo picked up and rap began to overlay on the track, she death-dropped to the floor to perform a vigorous twerk. Definitely not something you witness every day, but nonetheless it got me jazzed! Mystique was my favorite performer of the night.
Then came a pleasant “bedtime story” from Pandora’s Box: a smut reading of French politics starring Marie Antoinette. She recited the tale of her Scandinavian love affair with passion, and I felt like I was at a pornographic slam poetry session. The reading was a bit somber, which was in part due to its solemn tonality.
Courtesy of Pandora’s Box, Comedy and Cabaret Pandora’s original character: The “Bossy Fat Sack of Shit”
And next, the audience received an unexpected treat: a game show! The game, creatively titled “Plug My Hole”, involved four audience members’ attempts to find ways to plug a cork into Ruby’s “hole” (a wine bottle placed backwards between her legs). My colleague who attended with me actually ended up winning with the use of her breasts, but there were several interesting approaches!
Dandridge then returned to perform a modern “classic”: a raunchy parody of Adele’s “Hello”. The cover beckoned the listener to get high and have sex with her, and gained big laughs, like watching R-rated karaoke.
Dainty Dandridge singing at Chocolate City Burlesque
And last but not least, Cherie Nuit returned to perform an active burlesque number to a vaudeville cover of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” while weaving in and out between tables and chairs to interact with the audience. As the tempo momentarily increased, so did the amount of butt slapping only to come back down again to which Nuit began gnawing into a burger and fries onstage.
Generally speaking, I think this show exposed me to something I had yet to experience to its fullest potential and I’m fortunate that I got that opportunity. The world needs to know that burlesque is so much more than just a bunch of sexy ladies dancing in their underwear (although that’s always good!), that it can tackle larger issues through comedy and satire and be a vehicle of empowerment for those who identify as women.
Special thanks to Ruby Rockafella for putting on this awesome event and allowing BmoreArt to attend! Stay LUSH!
Author Sage Viscovi is a recent MICA graduate and theater critic for BmoreArt.
Top image courtesy of 13.5% Wine Bar