‘Escape from reality’: Burlesque show meshes horror, love, explores the body

Burlesque performers perform the show ‘My Bloody Valentine: A Dark Burlesque Affair,’ at the Ember Music Hall on Friday, Feb. 16. Photo by Jerry Pleasant.

Ghailah Nyeanchi, Contributing Writer 

“Before we start, may I have your consent to flirt with you?” asked Murphy Lawless, host of “My Bloody Valentine: A Dark Burlesque Affair.” The audience cheered back voraciously. 

“Thank you,” Lawless replied with a smile. 

Ember Music Hall hosted the “My Bloody Valentine: A Dark Burlesque Affair” burlesque show on Friday, Feb. 16 from 7 to 8 p.m. The night featured eight performances.

It is her job as a host to introduce the characters onstage and keep the storyline moving, according to Lawless. 

Lawless loves burlesque because it offers a unique opportunity for a performer to express themselves to the audience, she said. 

“There are some times when words fail and movement makes sense,” Ellie Quinn said. “When your body connects with a song and you want to move — it’s an energy exchange that you don’t get by just talking.”

It is also important to be seen and acknowledged in a multi-dimensional space, Lawless said. 

“Sometimes my body needs to scream and that scream can be beautiful,” Lawless said. 

Lawless thought Valentine’s Day and horror meshed together perfectly, she said. 

“It’s nice to have a holiday where we’re allowed to be frivolous and gooey,” Lawless said “It’s fun to mix that sensuality and cuteness of burlesque with what is meant to elicit fear or creepiness.”

It is interesting to explore how performers can use their bodies, which are occasionally commodified, in a threatening way, Lawless said. 

In this way, horror and burlesque work with and subvert Valentine’s Day quite nicely, Lawless said. 

Ellie Quinn, organizer and performer at “My Bloody Valentine: A Dark Burlesque Affair” created the burlesque show as a contrast to the consumerism of Valentine’s Day and because it allowed her to blend two of her favorite things — horror and burlesque, she said. 

The name “My Bloody Valentine: A Dark Burlesque Affair” is a homage to one of Quinn’s favorite slasher films from the 1980s, according to Quinn

Quinn likes burlesque because it offers an opportunity to take ownership of her mind and body, she said. 

“I started burlesque when I had just got out of an abusive marriage, and it was a way to reclaim my identity,” Quinn said. 

Quinn hopes the show creates a path to attract new eyes to burlesque, she said. 

“I’ve been doing burlesque for 13 years, and I can’t tell you how many people said they didn’t even know it existed in Richmond,” Quinn said. 

Most of all, Quinn hopes attendees use the performance as a chance to escape and have fun, she said. 

“Even if it’s two hours of fun, laughs and scares, it’s beautiful to have the connection that comes with burlesque shows,” Quinn said. “I can make a difference by providing an escape from reality.”

London St. Juniper, a performer at the event, learned about burlesque during her gender studies class as an undergraduate, she said. 

St. Juniper went to a burlesque workshop a couple of years ago and has been performing ever since, she said.  

“I’m a costume maker,” St. Juniper said. “I’ve been making costumes since I was 13 years old. At first, burlesque was a new, unique opportunity to explore a different genre of costuming.”

This genre is about assembling a costume with different layers that coincide with the creation of a character on stage. It’s about knowing when to remove these layers to get the audience’s attention, according to St. Juniper. 

Throughout the night, different performers did just that. A character in a long, crimson dress, armed with a pitchfork transformed into a damsel in a blood-soaked night dress. 

A female Mr. Ghostface with a bedazzled ghoul mask weaved through the crowd with a glittery knife, play-stabbing spectators to “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen. Once onstage, the performer removed her black garb to unveil a bodycon Nokia dress, with a final reveal of Nokia flip phone pasties. 

The night ended just as it had begun with laughter, flirtatious banter and the glint of costumes under the spotlight. 

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