Whether you’re a holiday lover or a holiday hater, Capital City Burlesque‘s Holiday Fantasy probably has something for you. After all, what’s not to love about a mixture of holiday traditions and burlesque? From glitter to Christmas ornaments to an impressive kick line to a side of Santa you maybe haven’t seen before to a healthy mix of bellydancing thanks to a partnership with Les Trois Femmes (the bellydancing group that runs Bedouin Beats) – Holiday Fantasy runs the gamut of possibilities of what can happen when Christmas intersects with burlesque.
Founded in 2003 by Kim Rackel and Donna Ball, Kim says Capital City Burlesque was one of the first burlesque troupes in Edmonton. Holiday Fantasy has been a staple of their season since the company’s beginning, so when programming the show, Kim has a wide range of material to draw from.
Kim says, “The Christmas show is old and it will always get added on to. It’s a snowball effect with the show. “1812” last year was new – that was our first new addition in a while…. [But] the solos are always new. We update it that way and still keep the crowd-pleasers.”
The Capital City Burlesque troupe members have a wide variety of backgrounds and performance styles (from no dance background to classical training to pole training) that work well together to pull off the variety show feel of Holiday Fantasy.
Two of Capital City Burlesque’s dancers – Kirsten Merle and Emily Barnett – sat down with me to tell me more about Holiday Fantasy.
Emily says, “Our founder Kim likes to describe us as, ‘The Rockettes go to Vegas’. So, it’s a mix of the kick lines and precision dancing and the risqué. There might be thrusting, which you wouldn’t expect The Rockettes to do in their cute little Santa dresses… Overall the whole show promotes how fun the holidays are, no matter what age you are.”
Kirsten agrees, adding that one of her favourite numbers features an appearance from Santa himself and portrays “What he does once he’s home after delivering all the toys – it’s the side of Santa we don’t see. This is the real Santa – maybe it’s what his publicist doesn’t allow us to see.”
Both Emily and Kirsten agree though, that their favourite piece to perform is “1812” which was added last year, when the company performed at the Roxy Theatre as one of the last acts in the space. Of “1812”, Emily says, “It opens with a fan dance and then it turns into a gigantic, almost full troupe number and I think that’s one of the highlights. It’s the ending number and really is the highlight of the show. We were here until three in the morning last year running it just to get the counts down, the precision down. It’s hard with 12 – 14 girls across the stage. We didn’t even know if it would fit on the Roxy’s stage last year…. But we pulled it off last year and it was amazing. Watching the crowd react to the moves and the precision was awesome. I loved doing that number.”
That precision is nothing new for Kirsten, who became interested in burlesque a few years ago and started with Capital City Burlesque after taking a class from the company. Kristen comes from a traditional dance background, and for her, performing burlesque allows her to loosen up a little and truly put on a performance. “From my traditional dance background, whenever we were performing it was really technically based. There was so much focus on are you going to get your fouttés? Are you going to get that grande jeté? And that’s what the focus was. But then I was asked to help out with a beginner tap group and when I was performing on stage with the group, I was able to truly perform, because I wasn’t worried about everything else.” After taking a class with Capital City Burlesque, Kirsten says,”That’s when I found what burlesque has to offer. There’s still some really technical numbers that you need to pull off, but definitely the overall performance package was something I was really drawn to – I felt like I could be focusing more on that than just what my feet and arms are doing and my arms and stressing out about that.”
Emily is from a pole and gymnastics background, but agrees with Kirsten about the aspect of burlesque that encourages you to engage with the audience. “For me, performing burlesque was a bit of stepping outside my comfort zone. I was never really outwardly sexual. I wore really modest clothing… now I wear more showy stuff, I’m more comfortable in my own skin. Years of burlesque has taught me that if other people don’t enjoy the way I look, I don’t care. It’s about me celebrating my body and having fun with it. When I started doing burlesque solos, I was very formulaic – you have to do this, then you take off your glove, and then you smile – and everything was the same, but I’ve noticed over the last year or two when I’m focusing on solos, I’m doing more storytelling and I have more humour in the stuff I do.”
For Holiday Fantasy, the Capital City Burlesque troupe is also joined on stage by Les Trois Femmes, a bellydancing group in Edmonton that has had a relationship with Capital City for the past few years. Of the collaboration, Emily says, “There’s a really solid sense of humour connection. Les Trois Femmes love doing our shows because they get to get away with something they can’t do normally in a festival or bellydancing performance, where they’re very focused on the technique. They get to be more creative working with us. And it’s really nice for us to have that different element coming into our shows because then it’s not just a striptease followed by a cutesy striptease followed by a tap dance number – it’s variety.”
Kirsten adds, “And their costumes are fabulous. Their make up is beautiful. I don’t know how to describe it – metal everywhere, but in the most beautiful way. It adds a completely different element to our show.”