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Vancouver International Burlesque Festival blends striptease and theatrics with community and social awareness

By Jennie Orton
Photo: Marco Felix

Photo: Marco Felix

VANCOUVER — Vancouver’s burlesque community is one of the biggest success stories of artistic unity in the city. Vancouver International Burlesque Festival’s President Lola Frost gives credit to not only the local burlesque community, but also to the audience for the art form’s endearing evolution.

“I love Vancouver’s style because it is very diverse,” Frost says. “Like, if someone asks you to define burlesque in Vancouver, you can’t just put your thumb on it. And the audiences in Vancouver are great. And I think that comes from putting together high quality packages for them and giving them what they want to see as well as delivering it at any level. You can see burlesque at a dive bar, you can see it at an underground speakeasy, you can see it at The Vogue Theatre, it’s a multi-reach art form.”

Photo: Rene Blais

Photo: Rene Blais

It isn’t just about pasties and tassels though. Amongst some of the festival highlights this year is TIT Talks — a series of TED Talk-style presentations by performers and academics alike that combine both the art of burlesque with women’s studies, sex work, gender identity, and body image. There will be no shortage of performances, and VIBF has arranged for showcases with some stellar big names, both local and international. Showcases include New York-based multiple burlesque title-holding artist Julie Altas Muz and her husband, and Mat Fraser, who is known for his appearance as Paul on American Horror Story: Freak Show. In relation to Fraser’s thalidomide-induced phocomelia — a malformation of the limbs — his workshops are on body image.

“Julie’s theatrical background and her ferocious strip tease has really brought about her art form into a whole other level,” says Frost. “You’ve never really seen it before, you think you have a narrative about where she is going and then she messes with you!”

It’s this marriage of international stars and local powerhouses that makes the VIBF such a well-rounded triumph. “It’s not only for our audiences, but for our community to come together and get to know each other and learn something. It’s good to know each other on and off stage,” Frost maintains. “We’re very theatrical, we get really weird, but we also have this level of professionalism and polished art that really spans our audiences so that not only people who are into traditional burlesque will understand. Come see us, we’re pretty awesome.”

The Vancouver International Burlesque Festival runs from May 5 -7 at various locations.

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