“You want art? We got art. You want boobs? We got boobs. You want pretty boys? We got pretty boys!” Sasha Van Bon Bon is nothing if not succinct. Over the years diverse audiences have lapped up her shows like 2006’s Under the Mink, proving that Torontonians love a little slap and tickle with their social commentary. Now Van Bon Bon and collaborator Kitty Neptune and their Scandelles burlesque troupe are set to premiere a new cabaret show on Thu, Jan 24 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.
Who’s Your Dada is the gals’ tribute to the Dadaist movement, a sort of European anti-art rebellion in the early 20th century sparked by World War I. People like German poet Hugo Ball and artist Marcel Janco were among the more famous founding members, staging performances-cum-war protests at Ball’s Cabaret Voltaire.
“These people were watching friends dying in this horrible situation,” Van Bon Bon says. “The artwork they were creating was an expression of a sort of madness… rebelling against the binary, black-or-white thinking they felt was fueling the war.”
In homage to that political ethic the Scandelles rebel against conventional public constraints as they examine the intersection of human sexuality and popular social sensibilities.
“We live in a culture where one thing is considered the most attractive,” says Van Bon Bon. “There’s a very narrow definition of beauty, and we like to explore the many different ways it manifests.”
In Who’s Your Dada, Sasha and company leap from one “vision” to another in a non-sequential flow of nocturnal imaginings.
“We’re using dream logic and applying that to our conscious place,” Van Bon Bon explains. “I’m asleep and dreaming, so it’s that bedlam in the night where you go from one crazy scenario to another — like when you have a dream about your family but every person is played by Daniel MacIvor.” In that skit the cast romps through Van Bon Bon’s dream space wearing masks of the famous playwright and reciting lines from his play Monster.
MacIvor is not the only Canadian icon making an appearance. One deliciously tawdry sequence introduces the world of phone sex to a certain naive redhead from the East Coast.
“We have a video of a phone sex ad where the woman is played by Anne of Green Gables,” Van Bon Bon says, laughing. “It’s part of exploring those inappropriate dreams we all have. I’m a huge fan of Anne of Green Gables, so it distresses me to sexualize her in this manner — but it’s too damn funny!”
Famous folks aren’t the only target. Van Bon Bon takes gleeful aim at one group in particular. “Mommies with Humvee strollers,” says Van Bon Bon. “These women drive me insane. There’s this deification of motherhood going on right now that just sits with me wrong. I mean, my grandmother had 11 children — seven of them while the Nazis were ruling and there were Jews hiding the basement. She was an amazing mother. But these women have huge entitlement issues with their strollers.
“If you don’t plan on having kids you get treated like this barren woman who can’t possibly understand what they’re going through. And the most galling thing, of course, is that the kids they’re producing are all allergic to everything. When I was a kid if you were allergic to peanut butter you’d get spanked until you weren’t allergic to it anymore.”
These feelings are vented in a skit called Mommy Militia where four mothers attempt to shepherd a baby across the stage.
“They have their baby in this ’60s-style stroller with a huge bubble around it,” says Van Bon Bon. “The women keep stopping because the baby has to be photo-graphed for the blog or everything has to be wiped down for germs.”
Kitty Neptune is the other creative half of the Scandelles, choreographing movement to reflect Van Bon Bon’s text. One of Neptune’s favourite skits involves transgender dancer Kaleb Robertson. “It starts out with him putting on a pair of women’s shoes over his sport socks, rolling up his trousers and doing a striptease,” says Nepture. “He gets down to a pair of underwear and all of a sudden he realizes he has boobs.”
That irreverence informs the Scandelles’ desire to illuminate the lesser-seen side of gendered life while allowing humour to defuse any tension that may arise from seeing a man turn into a woman before our very eyes.
“We’re using surrealism as an interesting way to look at the things Dadaists looked at,” Neptune says. “We’re all a bunch of tricksters.”