On pointe | Dance news | October 26
The Kiss Kiss Coquettes have been rompin’ and ravin’ at the Greenhouse Theater Center over the past few weeks, as part of the Kiss Kiss Cabaret's annual Halloween-themed "Peek-A-Boo!" variety show. As a special to On Pointe, we enlisted a few cast and crew members to give us some back-story on the group's newest number, Grim Grinning Ghosts, and shed some light on what it’s like in the provocative world of burlesque. Hopefully it gets you in the Halloween spirit.
Director Chris O. Biddle
It was important that we develop a new Halloween number for this year. Last year, we were worn out from the summer run and didn’t have time to prep something new. We spookied-up our current act with witchy costume accessories and called it a done deal. But for this year, we wanted something more.
For my money, the best opening numbers are visually strong, high energy, clever riffs on the theme and short enough to set the tone. I went through roughly two-dozen Halloween songs—everything from rockabilly Halloween numbers to heavy metal and punk rock. Somewhere along the way, I re-discovered the Barenaked Ladies cover of “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” The song moves at a fast clip. It’s also a tune that I remember from my childhood, which instantly puts me in a Halloween-frame-of-mind—perfect for a burlesque show. I emailed the song to our choreographer Jessica Reschke and managing director Jenn Kincaid. We started brainstorming the concept. Jenn suggested that the Coquettes appear as undead flappers. Our costumer Kristy White, had the idea to project blue light on the girls’ white dresses, to match skin tone with clothing. The number debuted on September 28, and the audience cheered for the shuffling ghosts and screamed with delight when the flapper costumes were revealed. The first few shrieks got a good laugh from the audience and the Charleston got lots of claps. It was an outstanding way to begin the show. Thus, our new Halloween burlesque act, Grim Grinning Ghosts, was born.
Choreographer Jessica Reschke
When creating Grim Grinning Ghosts, we wanted to combine elements of old Hollywood glamour with a bit of silliness. We wanted to incorporate some stage magic to bring these kooky, yet chic characters to life. We’d begin with a farcical number, then reveal the Coquettes in gorgeous costumes. They do, indeed, materialize as they strip their sheets off. It’s a mix of mystery and sophistication, sprinkled with humor. We use glimmers of social dance, and recognizable variations from the Charleston to the mashed-potato. But choreography doesn’t spell success when it comes to Burlesque. The combination of characterization and charisma bring the act to life, thanks mostly to the performer, and the Kiss Kiss Coquettes are charming and seductive as all hell.
Kiss Kiss Coquette Naughty Natanya
Learning a burlesque routine is about more than drilling the steps; it's about finding a character to inhabit. Three years ago, when the "Peek-A-Boo!" show debuted, choreographer Erica Reid created an eerie, seductive number to close the show, set to Nick Cave's “Red Right Hand.” The number takes place mostly in the dark, under the dim glow blacklight. The dancers' bodies get revealed as they slowly coat themselves in red paint. It’s full of languid, sensual movements, punctuated with unnerving twitches and jerks. But there's something unnatural lurking underneath the alluring exterior. As a burlesque dancer, it's great to play with the extremes.
Cigarette Girl Ramona Mourir
I had the good fortune to become one of The Kiss Kiss Cabaret’s Cigarette Girls this past March. While not an official Coquette, one of the Cigarette Girls’ duties is to learn the group dance numbers as an understudy. Grim Grinning Ghosts has the most challenging choreography I’ve had to learn so far. Our choreographer, Jessica, created a fast-paced, sexy, silly routine. I’ve been dancing for most of my life, but being new to burlesque, it’s been a struggle to create an individualized character. When we first started to learn the number, it felt impossible. The steps are fast and formations can be tricky, but by opening night the hard work paid off. It’s safe to say, my inner burlesque character is beginning to come out in full force.
Kiss Kiss Coquette Ray Ray Sunshine
I have to be honest; I was skittish about the new opening number for our Halloween run. I remember the painted-on smile stretched across my face and the faux enthusiastic nods when the producer and choreographer played the music for first time, while in the back of my head that neurotic Woody-Allen voice was saying, “Hold on a minute here, Mr. Minsky. That is fast. Who do you think we are, dancers or something?” But it’s usually best to shove the Nervous Nellie routine and get on with the task at hand. Grim Grinning Ghosts is great. Sure, it’s a challenge and a bit out of my comfort zone, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to perform. One of the elements of Kiss Kiss Cabaret’s approach to burlesque is its willingness to be silly and fun. And why not? What good is Halloween if not for a chance to float under a sheet with cut out eyeholes going “woooooooooo,” before whipping off the sheets and doing the Charleston? For those who haven’t seen a burlesque act, this show is a great way to relax, laugh and settle in for a good time. It’s a magic mixture of zaniness, eroticism and fun. Even that neurotic Nervous Nellie voice from before is nodding its head in approval.
Catch the Coquettes in the last performance of Grim Grinning Ghosts, part of the cabaret's "Peek-A-Boo!" variety show, tonight at 11pm. Go to greenhousetheater.org for tickets.