What I love most about her is not her exquisite beauty, nor her technical grace, nor her sharp wit, nor even her je ne sais quoi charisma, but rather that she understands history. Even in her more fantastical work it is clear at all times that one is in the presence of work that respects tradition deeply.
The latest production of Burlesco DiVino at the Triple Door is an excellent and highly enjoyable proof that connecting one’s work to tradition does not make it sterile but instead draws a boundary within which one can be extraordinarily creative.
Ms. Verlaine and her partner Jasper McCann are intelligent producers. Above all their work distinguishes readily between traditional and merely retro. In the hands of a less gifted choreographer, Burlesco DiVino would descend into kitsch. It would become a series of unconnected “retro” vignettes that are mere pretense to showing off individual performers. Not here. Instead, the production deftly intertwines a pair of historical themes to explore just how much like Ancient Rome was like 1960s dolce vita Rome–and, by implication, how different our present culture is from either of them.
The eternal challenge of story-based burlesque is flow. Ms. Verlaine, Mr. McCann and their cast meet that challenge expertly by taking a simple boy-meets-girl story of innocent love and juxtaposing it against the very not innocent background of 1960s Rome. Insofar as the two characters struggle with finding their place in Rome, they struggle with Rome itself. Rome, of course, wins. It draws them into its respectable high society, then removes the patina of respectability to reveal the bacchanalian abandon that lurks beneath its surface–and, apparently, has lurked for over two thousand years. This approach allows Ms. Verlaine and Mr. McCann to throw at the audience whatever they wish, and during the show I saw, the audience very much went along for the ride.
Particularly lovely in the production is its emphasis on ensemble work rather than solo numbers. The chemistry between Erika Zabelle and Mr. McCann himself as the two neophyte lovers struck me oddly at first but finally fleshed out to a believable sentimental interplay. Most wonderful to me were the male dancers, Paris Original, Trojan Original, and The Luminous Pariah, who have really become impressive individually and when they work together. The Tribellas trio, too, are fantastic to watch, and their combinations with the rest of the cast make me marvel, truly, at how Ms. Verlaine and Mr. McCann can take such diverse styles and such diverse dancers, yet weave their contributions together so seamlessly that it all seems as though it could never have been otherwise.
Though this is very much an ensemble piece, I would be remiss not to praise the climactic solo work of Luminous Pariah in the magical Finale and Ms. Verlaine’s martini bath number that closes the first half with definition. Fosse Jack, too, is brilliant as the obnoxious Dahhh-rio, and The One and Only INGA is her usual luscious self. In the corps de burlesque itself, I’ve really grown to like Tory Tiara, who is becoming more confident and therefore more supple with each show I see. A truly pleasant surprise also was Mr. McCann’s singing which I’ve heard many times before but never quite so warm and sensitive. Quite fabulous, truly.
Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann continue to produce excellent work with excellent collaborators. I look forward to the Burlesque Nutcracker, of course, but even more forward to the next new exploration.