Sweet, sweet burlesque
Burlesque is an art form that is becoming more and more respected each year in our society. With competitions such as Miss Burlesque New Zealand, and Dunedin’s very own Amateur Burlesque Nights, it is gaining popularity and recognition as a creative and valid dance form. The art of the tease is one that encompasses personality, charm, humour and a little sauciness for good measure.
With that in mind I attended Milly Wonka and the Burlesque Factory with high expectations. Ayla’s Angels is a well-known burlesque troupe from Christchurch with a bit of a twist; alongside their classic, vaudeville routines, they are also known for incorporating circus arts.
Milly Wonka and her five golden ticket winners did not disappoint. Nancy Nightshade, who played Augustus Gloop in this sweet, tongue-in-cheek satire, said: “We wanted to portray a well-known story with a quirky, modern twist. [Our troupe] actually started thanks to Dunedin, really – the creation of Ayla’s Angels burlesque was for OUSA Orientation Week in 2009. We wanted to come back and show everyone how far we’ve come.”
The show opened with a guest performance from Dunedin’s own Peachy Keen Burlesque, who performed an act in eye-catching matching costumes – and these girls can really dance. They were perfectly in time, exuded sensuality and even threw in some complicated footwork to finish! They perform regularly around Dunedin, so if you’re living here, there’s really no excuse not to see them at least once (and no doubt you’ll want to see them again afterwards).
The act itself was closely based on the classic children’s tale, except all of the ticket winners (bar Charlie, who on opening night was a lucky student plucked out of the audience) just happened to have a secret talent for – wait for it – burlesque!
Burlesque can be entertaining in itself, but the theatrics were what made this show special. Veruca Salt (Harlow Le’strange) transforming from a prudish girl into a hula-hooping extraordinaire has to be seen to be believed. Nancy Nightshade played the candy-crazy Augustus Gloop, Ruby Ruin took on the role of Violet Beauregarde and Josh Grimaldi (who, when not performing with Ayla’s Angels, is a full-time magician) became the impressive stilt-walking Mike Teavee. Sports Suzi portrayed an insanely wacky Milly Wonka, at times leaving the audience wondering if her claims of “I’m extremely intoxicated!” had perhaps a grain of truth to them.
As a refreshing change from most dance acts, Button-Up to Paradise provided live music for the characters’ routines, playing a range of well-known confectionary-themed songs such as “Candyman” and “Lollipop, Lollipop”, as well as a few other classics with their own spin on them (no points for guessing what song “Hey Milly” parodied). Dancing in time to live music is no mean feat, but the Angels managed it.
The finale of the show was really the icing on the cake though, when our audience member, now dubbed Charlie, helped Milly Wonka onto her unicycle before she proceeded to skip with a skipping rope on the taller than usual one-wheeler. This is an incredibly impressive feat alone, but even more so when you take into account the minimal stage space at Sammy’s!
The creation of the quirky characters prevented any of the boredom that can be associated (for the female population at least) with neo-burlesque, which is often just a stylised version of stripping. Milly Wonka and the Burlesque Factory stayed away from this, producing a concept that was fun, interesting to watch and memorable.
Next time Ayla’s Angels are in town, you best check them out.