Inexorable rise of burlesque

ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 19/12/2013
burlesque
DEAN KOZANIC/ Fairfax NZ
CATCHING ON: Angela Wasley, aka Nancy Nightshade, favours a more comedic tease show. 

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In the last three years burlesque has become so popular that some say the Christchurch industry is almost at saturation.

Angela Wasley, aka Nancy Nightshade, founded Christchurch's first burlesque troupe, Ayla's Angels, in 2009.

Back then, burlesque was only just catching on in Canterbury and the troupe was mostly made up of circus performers and dancers.

Wasley, an ex-circus performer and professional clown, started the Angels almost accidentally to fill a gap in the Otago University Orientation Week entertainment schedule.

The industry has grown since then, with performances on offer from a range of Christchurch troupes almost every weekend. Shows have been staged in restaurants including Burgers and Beers and has become a regular feature at Wunderbar in Lyttelton.

Wasley said the Christchurch burlesque scene was very competitive.

With a reduced number of venues and at least half-a-dozen troupes operating in the city, the Angels have had to cut their shows to monthly or bi-monthly to avoid killing the industry.

"There's so few venues now, I actually need to employ my own sound guy and technician to do shows," Wasley said.

Wasley and a few of the other troupes try to book their shows and venues well in advance to prevent too much pile-up.

"Sometimes we feel like it is quite saturated," she said. "Wellington and Christchurch are quite flooded.

"But, in saying that, the audience levels haven't dropped off yet."

Internationally, burlesque ranges in performance style from cabaret to risque striptease.

Wasley said while Christchurch had embraced burlesque, much of what was on offer was at the more conservative end of the scale.

"The thing I noticed most after the quakes was that people really needed a laugh," Wasley said. "Our first show after February 2011, 300 people showed up."

Ayla's Angels put on a show tending more towards comedy and the art of the tease.

"We like to say it's the kind of show you can bring your grandmother to," she said. "When people think of burlesque they think of nudity, but we're more cabaret.

"I think a good performance leaves the audience not seeing what they thought they were going to see - leave them hanging."

While a lot of the entertainment on offer is more conservative, Wasley said there was a market for more edgy shows in Christchurch.

Burlesque troupes have opened for heavy punk rock bands and some performers have regular spots at strip clubs like Calendar Girls.

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Wasley plans to start an open-mic night for burlesque in Christchurch next year.

Burly Unplugged will offer amateur performers the chance to show their stuff in an open-mic environment.

"We've already got girls lining up for this," Wasley said.

- The Press

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