DITA VON TEESE is credited by burlesquers the world over with advancing the visibility of their sparkly subculture—her devotion to lavish stage sets, inimitable costuming, and libidinous choreography have secured her a place as neo-burlesque's most recognized star.
Von Teese's current immersion is her first-ever US tour, Burlesque: Strip Strip Hooray!, which is enjoying sold-out runs on its West Coast leg and will arrive in Portland for two evenings at the Aladdin Theater. Along for the ride is Strip Strip's stellar supporting lineup, which includes such famed ecdysiasts as Catherine D'Lish, Dirty Martini, and Perle Noire, and is emceed by Murray Hill, whom Von Teese describes as a "comedy act that has the feel of classic burlesque, but with hilarious bits that are anything but old-fashioned."
When asked if she can allude to any of the crystal-encrusted spells that Strip Strip Hooray! will be casting on our city, Von Teese says, "I'm really excited to present it to Portland!" Not having graced a stage here in over a decade, she recalls drawing a "very chic" audience during prior visits, and personally requested that PDX be added to the lineup of cities on this tour. (Von Teese's visit provokes a tremor of pride within the local cabaret community, as one of the costumes worn onstage by cast member Perle Noire was crafted by Portland burlesque costumer and performer Charlotte Treuse.)
Diehard fans and casual admirers alike know Von Teese for her martini glass act, which is homaged aplenty in popular culture—for some, a scantily clad Von Teese twirling in a giant martini glass is the very image that the word "burlesque" conjures. She divulges that the act has been entirely reinvented for this tour, "with an all-new costume and martini glass prop covered entirely in Swarovski crystal." Not content to rest there, she has included three more of her signature acts. "We've put the best of my shows into one full-length revue, which is the first time I've ever managed to do this," explains Von Teese, "since many of the sets are dif ficult to travel with and take a lot of manpower to stage." Selection of the Strip Strip Hooray! cast was done carefully over the course of two years, resulting in a range of distinguished neo-burlesque luminaries. "Each and every act is an absolute showstopper," she says.
Preserving burlesque's bountiful history is of great importance to Von Teese. She willfully takes on the task of defending what she feels is the attempted sanitization of burlesque by the mainstream media, stating that she finds "something very powerful and interesting in the confusion of elements—sensuality, elegance, playfulness, vulgarity, high fashion, sex, humor. I enjoy the challenge of making something taboo something chic." Having mastered this blend, Von Teese aims to draw parallels between burlesque's classic and modern representations without replicating those that laid the historic path she and her cast now walk. As the centurial anniversary of burlesque's historic "Golden Era" slowly approaches, the form's contemporary version is attracting escalated attention from mainstream audiences. Of Strip Strip Hooray!, Von Teese says: "This is a show that keeps the spirit of classic burlesque alive, yet shows the possibilities of burlesque seeing a second Golden Age."