Halloween weekend 2009 was as Halloweenie as you can get. The night itself, when ghouls and ghosts walk the spooky streets of New York, fell on a Saturday. The moon was almost (but not quite) full, and by all accounts it was more debauched than a Night on Bald Mountain. November 1st — All Saints Day — fell respectfully on a gray, cold Sunday, perfect weather for nursing a hangover with comforting dim sum and a bloody mary.
Cold sobriety is the kind of thing you have to ease into though — as hostess-with-the-mostest Calamity Chang knows very well. Tasty eats and visual treats are necessary on Sunday eve to ease a soul back into the work-a-day Purgatory awaiting on Monday. That is why she put together Dim Sum Burlesque at Chow Bar, which will run every Sunday for the rest of the month, and possibly the rest of the year. Calamity Chang told me they are booked for the rest of November, but you might be able to score a table if you walk in. No-shows are held until 9:00. I for one would love to have dim sum burlesque at Chow Bar on Sunday January 3rd 2010.
Looking back over the 00’s, it has been a fabulous decade for the burlesque scene in New York. The quality, variety, and sophistication of acts has increased year after year. Entrepreneurs like Don Wasabassco and Pinchbottom Burlesque have taken burlesque to new levels, and New York audiences have eaten it up. (I remember seeing Revealed with J. D. Oxblood, and thinking, “Wow! This audience is hip, urbane — and electrified to see high concept burlesque.” Ditto for Naked Girls Reading Banned Books, produced by the meteoric, Chicago-based Michelle L’amour.) Now audiences can literally eat it up as they catch this delightful show at Peter Klein’s Chow Bar on West 4th, which serves fabulous Asian inspired delicacies like honey-plum-glazed spareribs and Sichuan steak-frites. The restaurant’s ambiance, good food, and delicious cocktails are the perfect setting for Calamity Chang’s inventive new show.
The recipe for successful dim sum burlesque requires the freshest ingredients, and Calamity Chang delivers. The line up Sunday night was Strawberry Fields, Dame Cuchifrita, Broadway Brassy, Nikkita Lemarcelle, Pandora Scintillator, and Calamity Chang herself, doing a classic fan dance. (To see the pix, check out the gallery at the bottom of this page.) Once the elements have been assembled, you put them together to highlight their piquant qualities, and the resulting ensemble is more than the sum of its parts. Strawberry Fields started her act as a man and took it off — her mustache and beard — to reveal strawberry shortcake as dessert before dinner. Broadway Brassy sang in both sets. Her first number was “On a Slow Boat to China” — a perfect choice to complement the Asian fusion of the evening. Felicia Fatale (oh happy fate!) picked up the pieces as stage kitten, and I had an awesome fried calamari salad with a sake-tini to wash it down. Calamity Chang assured me that there will be new acts rotating into the lineup every week, so the menu will be exciting and new every time.
The highlight of the first half of the show was definitely Dame (pronounced “dah’ may”) Cuchifrita, whose name is Spanish for “give me the fried (female) pork.” She premiered a new number for Dim Sum Burlesque that explored a fantasy of a woman in a Shanghai opium den circa 1890. After smoking her pipe she rises from her couch, and through a balletic dance, reveals the yellow ribbons binding her feet. She takes off the bandages and slips out of her diaphanous robes, free simultaneously from the oppressive customs of female beauty in Qing Dynasty China and traditional Western morality.
(As she walked off stage I caught a glimpse of calligraphic characters stenciled down her back. It made me think of Peter Greenaway’s film The Pillow Book, and I wondered exactly how far we can free ourselves from our culture — or if we really even want to.)
The second half was delicious as the first. Now we moved from East to West, stopping at Moscow and Berlin, capitals of Eastern European decadence to sober minded Americans. Calamity Chang compared the gorgeous Nikkita Lemarcelle to a Russian Princess, and Pandora Scintillator moved us from Tartary to Eastern Germany with her tribute to Anita Berber. Broadway Brassy gave us another taste of Berlin and killed ’em with a show stopping rendition of “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret.
The last act of the evening was Calamity Chang herself wielding two sumptuous black fans. When it was all over, my companion and I stepped into the tart November evening refreshed from our Halloween adventures, and looking forward to our work-a-day Purgatory.