Glorified stripping or true performance art? The debate over the theatrical merits of modern burlesque has been raging — in L.A. anyway — ever since the bump-and-grind-breaking The Velvet Hammer first thrust its ample assets in our faces in the early ’90s. A homage to the bodacious dancers of yore, Hammer, which ceased about five years ago, surely inspired many of new gaggles of girlies cheekily baring it all over town these days at clubs such as the King King, Bordello and Cinegrill, to name a few. They continue to seduce followers and new fans, but we gotta be honest, when you’ve seen as many twirling ta-tas and hip-shimmies as Nightranger has, it can be hard to get excited about the current burlesque bounty, no matter how luscious the ladies or how cool the costumes. Still, when the scene’s most famous figure, Dita Von Teese, offers her first L.A. show in a couple of years at a venue as grand as the Avalon (and sells it out), it’s an event not to be missed.
Speaking with Teese prior to the show, we got the feeling this one was gonna be extraspectacular, and it was. She debuted a sultry bathtub vignette she created for Paris’ Crazy Horse, following it up with a glistening cocktail glass splasher (a Cointreau concoction; the orange-liquor company helped sponsor the show) and then, her blindingly ornate finale, an oriental fantasy/Opium Den extravaganza that included bed play, pipe smoking, groping and sparkle overload. Though it was the only number in which she actually stayed dry, it was the sultriest thing we’ve seen from her, ever. Yes, Dita likes to get wet and she likes shine, which, under bright lights, are one in the same. If you’re not hypnotized by the pale perfection of her form, you are by the copious crystals encrusted on everything around her. (Much of the sparkle for the show was provided by designer Michael Schmidt, including a fabulous giant fan during the Asiana finale).
FOUND MY THRILL
Teese — who put together and planned the whole she-bang essentially on her own — offered a unique cast of supporting players, too, including Mayte García belly dancing (couldn’t get her ex, Prince, and his “7” video out of our minds during the set), Hammer alum Selene Luna doing a hot, biker-chick bitsy bit, and statuesque makeup queen Raja, who offered a classic reverse striptease. When Teese revealed to us prior to the show that she had a “strange crush” on her MC Murray Hill, we were anxious to see him. (Would he be anything like her ex, Marilyn Manson?) Turns out Hill is NYC’s most beloved drag king, a Nathan Lane–like funny (wo)man and a fave party host — and opening act for everyone from Joan Rivers to Le Tigre. Fusing old-school comic flair with modern subject matter (Twitter came up a few times), Hill was a hoot. Loved that when he called out celebs in the crowd (including Margaret Cho and Jewel), he also mentioned Semi Precious Weapons’ singer Justin Tranter — in town for a three-night stand at the Viper Room — but neglected to acknowledge Wilmer Valderama sitting in a VIP table behind us! So not L.A. The chaotic door for the after-party upstairs sure was, though. We were refused and schmoozed at the same time there, though ultimately made it in to hang with Hill and Hammer creator Michelle Carr. Still, the door-deal made us weary for our next planned stop, the BPM/Vapors Party (which ironically, is usually held at Avalon every year), up the street to Playhouse. So, instead, we opted for our house.
BOOM WITH A VIEW
Checked out another liquor-sponsored party and performance by petite, powerhouse actress Taryn Manning, whose band with her bro is called Boomkat. They were celebrating the release of a new single, “Stomp,” at a mansion in the Hollywood Hills last week. The Barcardi-backed bash offered an amazing view of the city and the requisite signature drinks named after the party host (while we liked Dita’s violet-infused “Cointreau Teese” served at her event, the Bacardi “Boomkat,” a jalapeño infusion, was too hot for our party palate). The group kept their set short and sweet, mainly because, as Manning’s Hustle & Flow co-star DJ Qualls announced before they went on, the cops were on the way to break up the bash. Not sure if talk in the crowd about lack of permits was true, but the valet situation outside sure was a mess. As for the music, we dug the sexy electro-pop off Kat’s latest, A Million Trillion Stars, which has evolved from their previous disc’s trip-hoppish groove. The in-your-face synth-heavy style suits Manning’s rasp well, but ultimately it’s her charisma and style that carry the group. As anyone who’s seen her films already knows, the li’l gal’s got tons of both.
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Speaking of style, designer Allison Burns (the gal who had us all carrying metallic crescent bags a few years back) and Caprice Grey have opened shop in Silver Lake’s Sunset Junction, taking over half of the space inside perennial fave Pull My Daisy, which was supposed to be closing but has opted instead to stay put thanks to the new partnership. The opening party Sunday saw a procession of fashionable types (Lisa Edelstein,Rachel Perry,Monah Li,Billy Morrison,Rocco DeLuca,Michael Des Barres and Kari Feinstein) there to well-wish and likely fulfill wish lists for rock star–chic accessories from likes of White Trash Charms, Joseph Brooks,Sid Vintage and Cynthia Vincent (whom Burns currently works with). With a special DJ mix via NYC diva Miss Guy on the stereo, abovementioned Miss Michelle Carr ringin’ up sales, and the art of Maria Penn (best known for her cover piece on the 1984 Siouxsie and the Banshees album, Hyaena) on the walls, this is one eclectic retail haven, indeed, and more art events are to come. Can’t wait to see what they’ll have planned for the SJ Street Festival, which we’re told will return to its old route along Sunset and outside of the shop again this year.