Saturday, February 18, 2012
Lola takes the mean girl out
Last night a good friend and I took in the 2nd annual Shimmy Showdown at Jumpin' Jupiter. A Lola Van Ella production, the Shimmy Showdown mashes up burlesque routines with solo improv comedy and the "death match" model of competitive live performance.
It goes like this. After lavish and hilarious introductions, twelve dancers compete in groups of two for the first round. The pairs are drawn one at a time from a bowler hat. For each pair of dancers, Lola goes back to the hat and pulls a prop and a musical genre (big puffy red stuffed heart pillow; "hip-hop classics").
The dancer whose name was pulled first takes the first pass at a solo routine, incorporating the prop and danced to an unexpected piece of music; then the second dancer is handed the same prop (often fresh from the clenched teeth, or some other hinge, of the first dancer) and faces a different, unexpected piece of music within the same genre.
After each pair of dancers is finished, there is no raw instant elimination. Rather, the girls ("girl" is the word when the stage lights are on) giggle their way backstage as the names of the next pair are picked. Only after the first round of twelves dances is completed does Lola move into elimination mode.
She does this with great tact and insight into morale. Half of the dancers sail right through the first round; the other six face a modified dance-off, where two winners advance to the next round while four girls are escorted off-stage. They are escorted (by impeccable-looking stars from the local burlesque scene) to a V.I.P. lounge replete with craft cupcakes, chicken satay and champagne. That's what "losing" is like in Lola's world.
It goes like that until the final dance-off -- the very final round -- which is the first time for any girl the dance is sudden death elimination, with a single winner and a single loser. So the only time the potential hurt is that raw, it's all over right away and the "loser" is being lauded with love and gifts as the second to last girl strutting.
Lola totally takes the mean girl out. That's one of her most sustaining gifts. The production team of wild women (and the odd stray man) that has evolved around her just pulses with love and compassion. She creates a safe space, a sanctuary. It's a major reason why dancers from other cities gravitate to St. Louis. I admire this in Lola dearly and have tried to learn from it as her friend and occasional production colleague.
Okay, so I totally get the more immediately amazing things about the St. Louis burlesque scene -- the pee-your-fishnets hilarity; the dangerously acrobatic dancing; the absurd and fabulous costuming; the incomparable beauty of all these differently sized, shaped, and toned women stripping down nearly to how God made her in the flesh. But if you watch how Lola (and Kyla and Katie and Michelle ...) operate, it starts by taking the mean girl out. I love these girls!
Photo by Alex Rimorin.