Time is a Gordian knot in Mobile, where tradition is a tangible force and the word “historic” draws genuflection. So in an era where Gilded Age facial hair mixes with revered rites only 50 years old — looking at you, Chief Slac — a new twist of the clock would seem welcome.
That is if you can call a ribald parallel to vaudeville truly “new.” Enter Camellia Bay Burlesque.
“I started getting into this about three years ago, as far as studying and educating myself and making an effort to go to shows. When I saw how many people came to burlesque shows around here, it was a ‘no brainer,’” founder Takillya Sunrise said.
Originally from San Diego, Sunrise was always drawn to vintage style. After seeing a visiting show by New Orleans’ Big Deal Burlesque troupe, she felt a connection.
Sunrise quickly cited the female confidence she saw as a draw. Historically, burlesque challenged gender roles with immodestly dressed women playing sexual aggressors and exercising bawdy humor in shows they created and managed themselves.
Sunrise carried the new passion into her workaday world. A fitness trainer, she began a burlesque fitness class at her Detour Fitness facility and continued to plan for a troupe.
“Finally, Camellia Bay had auditions in June and July of last year and our first show in November,” Sunrise said. She found a niche, as video footage from that performance showed a packed house at Alchemy Tavern.
Their next show is slated for April 16 at 9 p.m. at The Merry Widow (51 S. Conception St.). The homage, entitled “David Boa,” was in the works long before its namesake’s January death.
“I had always been a huge David Bowie fan and I wanted to do this since we formed the troupe. When he passed so suddenly, I wanted to do it sooner,” Sunrise said.
The coordinator assigned music for each of the seven performers, each of whom who will perform a pair of acts. She choreographed all but three of the routines they have been practicing for months.
As a dance student and instructor for most of her life, burlesque came as second nature to Sunrise. Other members have dance backgrounds as well, ranging from musical theater to studio.
The membership stands at six now. All carry creative stage names of their own choosing — Ginger Grenade, Kitty Valentina, etc. There’s also a vocalist, Sera Nade.
Sunrise has employed gifted local costumer R.C. Stringfellow for her attire. This show allowed her a different route.
“I’m using Bowie-inspired clothing based on the actual songs, not his stage wear. Some of the girls in the show are using more Bowie-specific looks, though,” Sunrise said. She also noted there will be a costume contest for “Best Bowie.”
Also on the bill is guest performer Vita DeVoid from Tampa, Florida, whose talents are specifically suited for this show.
“She does a lot of impersonations and she’s really known for her Lucille Ball. She’s like Bowie because she’s such a chameleon and does a little David Bowie,” Sunrise said.
The shows still lack some of the breadth of traditional burlesque reviews which featured jugglers, satire and comics. Legendary performers such as Jackie Gleason, Fanny Brice, Bert Lahr, W.C. Fields, Red Skelton, Phil Silvers and Bob Hope perfected their crafts on burlesque stages.
“We’re just dancers right now and I try to leave the comic aspect to the emcee. Of course, if a girl wants to come out and do a comedy burlesque routine, that’s fine. But we also have special guests like sword swallowers and stuff like that. I love the sideshow acts and all of that goes hand in hand with burlesque’s ties to vaudeville,” Sunrise said.
Is it adult-themed? Yep, just like other nuanced embodiments of cultural expression involving the full range of human behavior.
Is it just a bygone version of modern strip clubs? At routine’s end, the dancers are wearing roughly what can be found on surf-side bodies.
Yet the blending of the theatrical with the risqué seemed to entertain the couples cozied up stageside at Camellia Bay’s opening Alchemy show. If sensibilities were ruffled, it isn’t apparent on video.
Tickets range from $12 to $42.50 and are available on ticketfly.com. The upper end buys front-row seating and table service.
So spruce up your suspenders and break out the new tin of moustache wax. There’s some brazen ladies with bold ideas who want to conjure a Starman, a Thin White Duke, a Goblin King and a Man Who Fell to Earth in downtown Mobile.