Review: THE 11TH ANNUAL NEW YORK ASIAN BURLESQUE FESTIVAL Overflows With Talent and Some Gotta Have a Gimmick

The annual celebration of Asian burlesque goodness

By: May. 06, 2023
Review: THE 11TH ANNUAL NEW YORK ASIAN BURLESQUE FESTIVAL Overflows With Talent and Some Gotta Have a Gimmick
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One of the things I love about New York City is that you can live in your own bubble but all you have to do is turn a different corner, keep your eyes and mind open, and, suddenly, you're immersed in another person's world. This past weekend, I turned the corner and ran right into the New York Asian Burlesque Extravaganza holding their 11th annual celebration at City Winery.

I don't know what my preconception was, but every once-in-a-while during the evening, I literally gasped at the audacity of what a performer did or admired how generous the audience was for each of the 11 artists. Thankfully, we had a wonderful guide in Calamity Chang, our mistress of ceremonies, who was both self-deprecating and totally confident in her role. Her patter almost seemed to have been geared toward me, as she explained the difference between burlesque and stripping (strippers, Chang clarified, make a lot more money); how most of the performers have other talents/interests (as the plethora of marketplace wares on tables can attest), and she even had a chance to give a mini-TED talk to an audience member who didn't know what a diaspora was.

Chang, who has a full-time job and, twice, noted her two college degrees, started the evening with a tongue-in-cheek performance as a human boba tea drink, including little pom-pom bobas stuck to her skirt and a hat that has an extended accessory that looks like a straw, or if you have a different sensibility, something else. You do you.

Review: THE 11TH ANNUAL NEW YORK ASIAN BURLESQUE FESTIVAL Overflows With Talent and Some Gotta Have a Gimmick

From there, Chang, with the help of two stage kittens (the totally game Sunny Moon and Persimmon Peaks) cleared the stage of any discarded accouterment, and kept things moving between the coterie of talented performers, or vamped for time.

This evening's group was all from different Asian backgrounds (if you have one drop of Asian blood, you're in, Chang informs us), across the spectrum of gender and sexual identities displaying a multitude of talents to view.

There were some I consider traditional performers, whose only gimmick is, essentially, no gimmick - the Gypsy Rose Lees of the bunch, if you will. They included Ms. B La Rose from Chicago, whom Chang calls the Goddess with a Heart of Gold, who ended her performance with a jaw-dropping dance in the splits position; Lady Mabuhay, from New York, whose name means To Long Life, doing an inspired drum majorette routine to a cover of Sex and Candy that is very on-brand; and Bebe Demure, subtitled The Tease of the Twilight Zone, who claims to be the only BIPOC performer in Roanoke, Virginia, had athleticism to spare during her quite-impressive act.

Embracing the Asianness of it all were Bamboo, with her oversized feather fans (very Cher), seductively dancing to, among other songs, the theme from the movie House of Flying Daggers, and my personal favorite of the evening, Mercy Masala, whose Bollywood music accompaniment really inspired their costume and dancing.

The "bump it with a trumpet" performers (sorry/not sorry for all the Gypsy references) included Chelsey Ng, who's a Sleep No More cast member and the only vocalist of the evening, delivering a seductive version of Britney Spears's Toxic, the inventive and ambidextrous Glow Job, who was covered with pandemic-worthy PPE, before transforming their outfit plenty of times while interpreting Madonna's Die Another Day - and speaking of glow, Andrea Flow's impressive fluorescent batons looked like lightsabers at certain angles and certainly wins the best special effects moment.

Review: THE 11TH ANNUAL NEW YORK ASIAN BURLESQUE FESTIVAL Overflows With Talent and Some Gotta Have a Gimmick

Then there are artists who really got into a character they created. NYC's own Stiletto Sinclair comes out like a Games of Thrones Queen-in-mourning, before taking control of the stage with her lip-sync of a dance version of Be Prepared, as sung by Jeremy Irons in The Lion King - a lot to process there. And for the big finale of the evening, the King of Burlesque, Broody Valentino, brought his own boylesque to an interpretation of As if We Never Said Goodbye from Sunset Blvd that was an unforgettable Madness of Norma Desmond one-act play.

Review: THE 11TH ANNUAL NEW YORK ASIAN BURLESQUE FESTIVAL Overflows With Talent and Some Gotta Have a Gimmick

Other things I learned during the show? There's a New York School of Burlesque that many of the performers graduated from. There's a place called The Slipper Room, which bills itself as the birthplace of Neo-Burlesque, where many of the performers perform. And the NY Asian Burlesque Festival took their extravaganza on the road to Montreal earlier this week, performing at Le National.

It was quite an eye-opening night. The audience was certainly enthusiastic and welcoming, ranging from young couples on a fun night out (like the one that shared my table) to ready-to-party millennials (many, it seemed, were there for birthday celebrations). And there were people like myself whose curiosity was certainly sated by a diverse and delightful evening. Did I mention the audience participation segment, where three volunteers competed for... well, let's just say what happens in burlesque, stays in burlesque.

Be sure to catch them at next year's NYC edition.

Broadway World Cabaret's Conor Weiss has a photo essay on the evening HERE.

More info on The NY Asian Burlesque Extravaganza here.

More info on The School for Burlesque here.


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