Mahogony Queen Perle Noire headlines a growing and freer Calgary International Burlesque Festival

By B. Simm

image-07-03-16-10-08-2CALGARY — One of the big upgrades this year to the Calgary International Burlesque Festival is that they will be occupying and enjoying the extravagance of Flames Central. What a glorious place to have a burlesque show.

“I know!” says CIBF president, Ruby Demure, squeezing out bursts of joy. “That’s our big Saturday night show. On Friday we’re at the Chinese Cultural Centre. Under the big dome inside, it’s so lovely.”

In the past Demure says the festival was constrained because there were a wide range of rules set by the AGLC that put everyone on edge, including venue owners who could be fined up to $10,000 for certain violations. But this year, a recent AGLC ruling change, which doesn’t discriminate between exposed breasts for male and females, allows for full frontal nudity making things far more relaxed and exciting.

Asked whether they plan to take full advantage of the topless opportunity, Demure quietly says, “Noooo, we’re going keep those boundaries tucked in a nice little box for now. But it makes it so much easier. I can’t tell you how many times a pastie flies off and a venue could get fined ten grand. And we just never knew about some of these rules because they were so vague and it could vary how each [AGLC] officer interpreted things. You never really knew you were safe.”

Demure notes that the pressure relief is not just for the festival, but also for the burlesque community. There’s a number of venues that feel more comfortable welcoming shows, such as Flames Central and the Chinese Cultural Centre opening up their doors and all the splendor inside. Demure adds that with the ruling change burlesque is getting more exposure in the city because of existing patrons in the new locations. As a result, there’s a better understanding and appreciation for burlesque.

“Within the last year there’s been a big growth of people watching, taking it in, and also the number of performers. It’s so amazing because you’re now seeing people come watch the shows that weren’t in the community already. A whole new audience is opening up, enjoying performances and becoming regulars.”

image-07-03-16-10-08-6The relaxation of laws, as well as bigger and more promising venues have allowed burlesque in town not only to gain a wider audience, but it has also helped the art form develop to become more enticing and entertaining.

“When the burlesque revival first started in Calgary, we felt all we needed was a stage. We just wanted to be onstage. The women who started this movement just wanted to be able to perform. There was a time you just do what you gotta do. 
And now that it’s matured and there’s more community support, and the people performing have honed their art, they know to ask and expect and demand a little bit more as well. It’s nice to go to a venue and say, ‘These are our requirements. We need lights, we need space for this, that and the other thing.’ So it’s become a production. And I think there’s value in that and obviously Calgary is responding.”

The evolution of the local burlesque community spills over into bringing respected performers from other parts of the globe and raising the bar for the CIBF. One of the headliners this year is Perle Noire. Originally from Texas, Noire gravitated to that showgirl capital, glitzy ole Las Vegas, then was drawn to the rich, exotic tapestry of New Orleans. There she become fascinated with Josephine Baker, whose star rose rapidly in the 1920s and ‘30s as one of the world’s most celebrated silver screen beauty and burlesque dancer, then later on an outspoken activist who raged against racism. Known as “The Black Pearl,” Baker was the inspiration for Perle Noire’s stage name.

On Cosmopolitan’s website, Noire spoke at length discussing her love of burlesque and its importance to her as a performer, artist and black woman under the gaze of diverse and growing audience. Boldly expressing her sexuality that ranges from jazzy to tribal, Noire basks in a dazzling display of silk, feathers, grace and elegance. The Mahogany Queen of Burlesque is unquestionably one of the world’s most compelling burlesque dancers intent on breaking all kinds of boundaries. Here are some snippets from the Cosmo interview:

Burlesque as Art

Burlesque, to me, is the epitome of artistry. There’s comedy, there’s people dancing, there’s opulence. Growing up, I loved ballet, I loved ballroom, I loved opera — and burlesque was all of that in one.

Burlesque is Bold

Society has always had a negative attitude about women who are free, whether they’re free with their bodies or free with their minds. Strong, outspoken, unapologetic women are not celebrated. And burlesque is the epitome of a bold and uninhibited woman.

Burlesque as Beautiful Imperfection

My mission is to help women in burlesque who don’t have traditional bodies or conventional beauty. I want to help heal the audience member who feels like she’s alone. Burlesque makes me feel powerful instead of powerless, and I want to make the audience feel that way too. I’m making a choice with my body, embodying strength and happiness with the beauty of my imperfections, and sharing that with the world.

The Calgary International Burlesque Festival happens Oct. 14-16. See website for details.

BeatRoute Magazine October 2016 Alberta print edition cover.

BeatRoute Magazine October 2016 Alberta print edition cover.

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