Beware the Ides of March (and The VanDolls)

It started with a foot, a picture, and a hallway. It ended with me, fearing for my life, dragging my terrified body through Vancouver’s streets. I’d peer around corners and squint down alleys. I was avoiding The VanDolls.

Now to be fair, I had slighted them. I’d promised them a review and that review never materialized. It was simple enough: an invite to a burlesque show. I got free admission to come and take some pictures. But a couple of days before the event I was asked, “Could you also write something about the show?”

Sure. I can do that. I remember the language. Hell, I even teach the fucking thing. But something went wrong. I don’t know if I’ve just been pushing a shutter for too long, or I wasn’t able to put into words what I saw, or if I’d just lost it. I broke my 70yr old typewriter a few weeks after birthday and maybe that was the end. Whatever it was, I couldn’t write.

I would try and write things like:

I take my seat and the curtain opens on a tableaux vivant. Originally a way for rich party goers to make an end run around public nudity laws, a tableaux vivant is a living picture, a recreation of a work of art. Look at it this way: you can post a picture of Michaelangelo’s “David” on your Facebook page. Post a picture of yourself with your cock hanging out you’re going to run into some problems. Same idea before the digital age. Raphael would have smiled. Before us stood the Three Graces. Alana Lopez and Miss Via Rose played a Vivaldi piece (on violin and bassoon, respectively) while April O’Peel, Villainy Loveless, and Ruthe Ordare held the pose of Raphael’s muses from five centuries ago.

It just wasn’t coming. I clearly remember entering the Legion Hall on Commercial and being instantly taken by local artists’ pieces covering the walls, turning the large room into a gallery for the night. The real trouble started when I caught a sideways glance and grin from Vanity Feral, pedalling her wares a la “cigarette girl”. When I looked down and saw that her wares were shots of Jagermeister, I should have walked away. Should have but not going to happen.

Skip 20mins ahead, three beers, three shots later…

The stage was cleared for The VanDolls to take the stage as C.M. Coolidge’s “Dog’s Playing Poker”. I got the greater joke instantly. What better way to follow Renaissance masters than with the most vilified painting of all time?

Connie Cahoots, arguably one of Vancouver’s best hosts, led the audience through tributes to a wide range of some of the greatest.

Sherry Hymen was Frida Kahlo. Sweet Sashay introduced us to Toulouse-Latrec’s Clownesse. Kitty Kitty Bang Bang finally solved the mystery of where Mona Lisa’s smile came from, and Scarlet Delirium drew Hylas to the water’s edge in a way John William Waterhouse never could. Velvet Von Doff chose not to play Jackson Pollock but become one of his paintings, while Bunny Mewguns stepped from a Dali painting to be the painter himself.

A personal favourite was Malvina MasVino as Van Gogh, physically fighting his addictive and artistic demons, personified by Veronica Vex. Text clouds were not needed as Rufflesilkskin brought Roy Lichenstein’s art to life. As for life, there was nothing “still” about the still life “Bowl of Fruit” that took to the stage. Riannaconda did not portray an artist; she was one, spontaneously sketching Veronica Vex, one hand on the canvas, one hand on her pen.

I should have known not to run afoul of a group as well choreographed as this. The first time I met them (or, at least, recall meeting them) was Vegas of all places. I was taking pictures of anything that moved. I found myself in one of the top floor suites with some new and some familiar faces shooting away. (In situations like that, it’s good to have a pro-looking camera as opposed to an iPhone because they see that you’re not just some creep but a photographer and, therefore, usually kind of an asshole). We hit the hallway, headed from one party to the next. I walked backwards, clicking away, as these ladies just owned every step. Reviewing the photos, I loved them all (by “all” I’d like to say I mean just the pictures but that’d be a lie). I’d just met some of The VanDolls.

As a troupe, The VanDolls are relatively new. With other outfits in the city celebrating 5 and 10 year anniversaries, they are newly formed, but that still didn’t save me from pissing them off.

Velvet von Doff sent out the original request: “Just send me a link when it’s finished” and left it at that. Or so I thought. What was initially disguised as friendly Facebook chatter between Sweet Sashay and I, soon became calculated interrogation: Are you ever going to write the review?

I had to get off the grid, go underground, literally.

Sitting in Guilt & Co, beneath Chill Winston in Gastown, I thought I had found refuge, but no. As I looked up from my table, I saw Bunny Mewguns smiling back at me from a table across the room. Behind the smile, she was giving me the “stink eye” (this is just paranoid conjecture on my part as her lashes were so massive and awesome that I couldn’t actually see her eyes from that distance). I was actually fearful. I was afraid because the three VanDolls I’d met that first night had presented themselves in the same order as I’d met them in Las Vegas, the desert city where people have been silently removed and disappeared for decades…

Then it stopped. It all went quiet.

This worried me. “Quiet” is not what The VanDolls do. The final piece of “Paint & Pasties” was was as audacious as it was ambitious when The VanDolls managed to combine “The Last Supper” with pretty much every musical ever written about Jesus.

The stage transitions were handled well through Connie Cahoot’s hosting as well as a tribute to Banksy and What’s Her Name’s gloriously hilarious homage to Bob Ross. With Bunny Mewguns as a living easel, Boob Ross, instructed us on “pretty little hills” and “happy bushes”. If you’ve ever seen the way Bob Ross pounds on a canvas, you can imagine how much Bunny enjoyed holding one.

With a show as amazing as this, surely it must be easy to write a review! But alas… Thing is, as well as a person can write, I can only tell you what I saw at these shows. I can’t adequately explain it. You need to see these performances. My written descriptions fall short and it is impossible to shoot dance, only a dancer. The performance is an animal that eludes all attempts at capture.

But I still had to write something, anything! About a month after the review was promised, I got a friendly, unassuming, “Hello” on chat from Malvina MasVino. We didn’t really know each other that well. We’d met in passing a couple of times. I didn’t realize just how calculated a guilt trip these young women could put together until I realized that Malvina MasVino was a new hire in the very same store that I had bought the Vegas Famous Panda Hat in. This crew was good. Very good.

There are two groups of people you don’t ever want to have plotting against you: engineers (of any field) and choreographers. With the possibility of never buying a Panda Hat in this city again, it was time to give in and write. I just don’t know what.

“The show was well choreographed and executed. Some issues of stagecraft should be addressed on a stage as big as the Legion’s but Bunny’s melting clock and Velvet’s living canvas were envisioned from genius and brought to life through passion. The ambitiousness of the scale they aim for is impressive. They know they’re the new kids on the block, but hopefully they are here to stay.”

So there it is. After months of disappointment, The VanDolls get their review. Four sentences. Is this enough to get the seething ball of awesome known as The VanDolls off my back? Probably not. One day, I’ll be walking along, minding my own business and see Sweet Sashay in the distance. She’ll wave, smile. I’ll walk over to say hello. Just as I open my arms for an hug, she’ll nod to someone over my shoulder and before I can turn around to look, I’m a goner. A couple weeks later, the VPD will find me in a back lot somewhere, hands bound with lace, covered in glitter and sequins, with an ostrich feather stuck in my ass. It’ll take the coroner three days to pry the smile off my face… Okay, probably not going to happen that way but a man can dream.

March 29 and 30, The VanDolls return to the Legion on Commercial with a second Video Game Burlesque. I suggest you check it out. I’ll be there, having paid the full price of admission and sitting quietly in a corner… They are a great introduction to an often misunderstood art form. Vancouver is recognized worldwide as a scene pushing the boundaries of style and innovation in the burlesque world. The VanDolls have stepped up to take a deserved place in that growing legacy.

When the Vandals sacked Rome in 455CE, I’m sure the Romans were happy to finally see them leave. When The VanDolls are finished with Vancouver, we’ll be sorry they left.

Now I just need to finish editing the pictures…

Buy tickets for Video Game Burlesque: Reloaded HERE (scroll down for Saturday tickets)


Bunny Mewguns as a living Dali


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