Now that cabaret has established itself as performance art that can ever gather coverage in the posh papers, the next challenge is for the top artists to find new forms to entertain. Burlesque has a strong community, and the plethora of nights across the country ensure a regular steam of new acts and routines. However, the most exciting developments are emerging from the collision of cabaret and narrative theatre.
Edinburgh's Blonde Ambition has always been concerned with advancing the art: their Christmas Carol, in association with the Ministry of Burlesque, gave Dickens' perennial a sexy, sardonic twist. Through their association with the gentle demon of the saucy song, Des O'Connor, Blonde Ambition push the cabaret format into the theatre. Starting with a turn at the West End Festival, The Mating Ritual brings together O'Connor with frequent collaborator Gypsy Charms and Kitsch Kat Chris Wilson to explore the ins, outs and shake it all abouts of romance.
As Chris Wilson explains, The Mating Ritual came about when Dance House put him and Gypsy in a studio for a week. At the time, they were both teaching at the House: Gypsy being one of the original burlesque teachers- she is largely responsible, along with Viva Misadventure, for the explosion of acts and classes in the central belt. Usually, these workshop sessions lead to a small sharing to limited numbers. But Gypsy and Chris found their groove so quickly that they transferred the sharing to a nightclub, calling O'Connor to provide a narrative, and had a complete show a week later.
Although the basic story has not changed- woman chases man through the years, their clothes changing as they pass through the Victorian and jazz ages, WWII and the rise of disco- the show has evolved through a runs in London's cabaret hot-spots. Additional guest stars have expanded the story- Glasgow will welcome Impressive Johnson and his authentic taste of 1960s' themed lechery, while Kiki Kaboom will be gracing the Edinburgh shows in July.
Apart from the core line-up being something of a cabaret dream team, The Mating Ritual is an attempt to use a burlesque aesthetic within a longer narrative. Refusing to abandon cabaret's cheeky glamour and sexy satire, it parodies the fashions of the past century while laughing at the absurdly consistent compulsion of seduction. But what makes the show exceptionally interesting is the attempt to move away from the vision of cabaret as a series of unrelated turns.
While themed nights are common- Itsy's Kabarett has demonstrated how the promoter can act as a creative curator, while London Burlesque Week boasted Twisted Cabaret that peeked at the darkside and the Circus Sideshow- The Mating Ritual has a continuous story that mocks the pretentions of seduction.
Through O'Connor's cheeky interludes and each routine, the burlesque becomes something closer to a traditional dance performance. And unlike the attempts of ballet or contemporary choreographers to adapt burlesque, it retains a coarse authenticity. If cabaret is to be anything more than a fashion, or a community with a few name performers, shows like The Ritual suggest a route forward.