Being dead is a full-time gig for Dead Dolls dancer and choreographer Velma Candyass. “We have a show almost every week,” she says. “We’re always in costume-creation mode.” The Dolls are a grimey gorlesque troupe, grown out of the ashes of Travesty Theatre’s vaudeville show. They crawl out of the swamp just in time for Carnival on February 21 with the southern-flavoured Swamp Pussy Revival. Expect Mardi Gras beads, boobs and booze along with prizes, special guests and an audience limbo contest.
Self-described “post-neo-vaudeville”, the Dolls don’t just regurgitate the 1940s; they’ve brought burlesque back from the dead with a brand new soundtrack and costumes. You are more likely to hear Peaches than Patricia the Stripper played at a Dead Dolls show. “We’re modern people, so we use modern tunes,” says Candyass. “And we do just a good a job of taking off our clothes to them.” Candyass’s dance background includes chorus chancing, cabarets and modern dance. Her troupe has perfected performance art-stripping, dancing their particular brand of gore all over town for the last seven years. Up next, the Dolls head south to the Great Boston Burlesque Exposition, April 10-12, an annual phantasmagoria of burlesque troupes from across North America. Private zombie connoisseurs can hire the Dolls for special events, bachlorette parties, and corporate gigs.
In Montreal, their favoured venue is the oft-resurrected Café Cleopatra, among the ghosts of vaudeville past. A former cinema and current strip club, the stage has seen more dancing than most. “We feel quite at home there. It’s done erotic dancing for God knows how long,” says Candyass. “It’s got the right gritty feel and that’s as classy as it gets for us.” Café Cleopatra is a fixture of Montreal’s main drag, dodging urban redevelopment and potential buyouts. Owner John Zoumboulakis refused to let financiers strip the joint, and hopes to continue to provide stage time to drag kings and dirty dancers.
Even in pasties and panties, most modern burlesque is clean cut; more Marilyn Monroe than Betty Paige. “People get the idea that burlesque is only about glamour,” says Candyass. The dolls are dirty anti-glam. They’ve torn down the third wall and invited the audience on stage. “It’s about creating atmosphere. You can hoot and holler, you can throw things at us.” Just don’t get out of control or Café Cleopatra’s bouncers will make sure you miss the rest of the show.
The Swamp Pussy Revival shares the stage with Boston’s fat activist dance troupe, Big Moves, the belly-dancing Dakini Dancers and Montreal’s own drag king, Nat King Pole.