As a businessman crossed the corner of Queen Street and University Avenue in Toronto, he noticed that talking, walking and even driving had stopped.
He followed the craned necks of his fellow pedestrians up the glass wall of the Four Seasons Centre to spy eight women dancing on its staircase two stories up, stripping, while a crowd of tuxedoed onlookers at the base of the stairs cat-called and whooted along. It was a celebration for members of the Canadian Opera Company, who were treated to a tease by Les Coquettes Cabaret.
Translated as “The Flirts,” the Toronto-based Coquettes are above and beyond most burlesque revival groups, employing boylesque (male burlesque) and aerial acts, and creating something wholly separate from the medium of exotic dance.
“Our focus is on character, story, comedy and playfulness,” says Catherine Skinner, co-founder, mistress of ceremonies and artistic director of the Coquettes. “And our stories are usually created by our female company members. So they’re female fantasies from a female perspective performed by female performers, whereas the exotic dance world is more skewed to women acting out male fantasies and trying to embody what the media dictates as the female fantasy archetype.” The result is a show that brings in the humanity of sexuality, rather than the overt, awkward sexuality portrayed in strip clubs.
The Coquettes are coming to Sherwood Park’s Festival Place on March 8 – a strange choice of venue considering its typical demographic is old enough to remember the look of vintage pasties. But maybe that’s key, as Gavin Farmer, artistic director of Festival Place, watched tickets fly off the shelves, and predicted a sold-out show.
While aware of Alberta’s conservative nature, Skinner says the Coquettes – who often perform at charity fundraisers -are undeterred and, if anything, excited to perform for people willing to take chances.
Performing is “not a rush to get into your flannels,” says Skinner. “It’s the feeling of satin coming away slowly from your arms, and a silk stocking sliding slowly down your side, and the snap of a garter as it’s unhooked from your leg. Every moment is delicious and you want the audience to feel how delicious that is.”
And that’s just a taste.