A squad of storm troopers in rhinestone-studded helmets yanked off their white leather miniskirts at the Coney Island Sideshow Theatre this past weekend. The choreographed gyrations to a techno mix of the Star Wars Imperial March were interrupted by the ominous appearance of the Sith Lord. “Killer Queen” played as Darth Vader tore his blinking life support panel from his latex bustier.
It was time to get nerdy.
At the fifth annual international Nerdlesque Festival, nerd and pop culture get down to drop-splits, pasties, swords, ray guns and thongs (think naughty Comic Con).
Every year, burlesque performers from around the world converge on Coney Island for a weekend of performances and workshops. This festival sits atop the bucket list of burlesque performers worldwide, and embodies a spirit of inclusion — all genders, all bodies and all races.
Some of the most sensuous performances of the festival came from the most unlikely of people and characters.
Jacqueline Boxx, of Baltimore, is the first burlesque performer in a wheelchair to compete for a title at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, according to organizers. She was a burlesque dancer for 10 years before being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a rare incurable genetic disease that weakens the connection between bones, skin and organs. She refused to hang up her pasties.
Five years after her diagnosis, Boxx rolled onto the stage as the evil queen from "Snow White," provocative as ever.
“It’s important to represent disabled bodies as sexy and sensual,” said Jacqueline Boxx. “I was worried how people would react to a burlesque performer in a wheelchair, but it’s been powerful.”
The emcee, Fancy Feast, a graduate student in social work at Hunter College, called the evening a celebration of "letting your nerd out." In a sheer black-and-gold lame robe and a black beehive crowned with a single pink orchid, she schooled the packed house on the relationship between philanthropy and stripping, the internet in the 90s and the joy of stripping out of a superhero costume.
“As long as you are doing burlesque, you are young,” said Fancy Feast, who decided to go as herself. “It disrupts the way we feel about aging.”
The night began with a romping pair of Canadian Hobbits from Middle Earth exuberantly removing layers of tweed, and tossing the “one ring to rule them all” to the audience.
Stage kittens Betty Brash and Maggie McMuffin dressed as Sailor Moon and Harley Quinn. They picked up discarded clothing between acts and accepted folded bills in their garter belts from the audience.
The stage swelled with glitter, flashing lights and even fire. Kita St Cyr, the only native New Yorker to take the stage Friday night, lit gas-doused rods on fire and coaxed them down her throat before blowing fire at the audience.
By midnight, Cinderella, a porg, Mad-Eye Moody, Black Widow, Peter Pan, Dr. Who, Barbarella and Thor had all come ashore before the intermission.
After intermission, the heavy hitters took the stage beginning with Lefty Lucy, executive producer of the festival. She reprised the performance that clinched her 2012 Miss Coney Island title. Enshrouded in layers of foil, air duct sleeves and a foil-covered box over her head, she danced the robot to the Styx song, “Mr. Roboto.”
The finale and show-stealer was three-time Burlesque Hall of Fame winner and headliner of the festival, Paris Original. He performed a ballet that told the story of a graceful, but lovelorn Disney-inspired blue fairy. He futilely kissed a frog, and rubbed a lamp. The yearning fairy met a happy ending when he cast off his wand and wings. He leapt with a winged thong into the final curtain.
“It’s Utopia. Everyone should just be able to be the super hero of their life,” said Lux La Croix, Nerdlesque performer and principal dancer for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. “That’s what these performers are doing. They are truly living out their fantasies on stage.”