The rise of circesque
In the post-revival cabaret scene, Chaz Royale's decision to focus his programming on a weekend of outré performers is both a visionary evolution of the burlesque aesthetic and a challenge to casual, uncreative nights of bland variety. Hosted by the dark prince Dusty Limits in particularly devilish form - his audience interaction now has the same abandon as Red Bastard's "find the clown" routine - and limiting the straight burlesque to a single, early entry, Twisted Cabaret leaps away from the predictable line-ups of tassel-twirling and corset cosplay for a walk on the dark side of the street.
The so-called "circesque" acts - an adaptation of the burlesque aesthetic of humorous eroticism with an emphasis on skills related to either the side-show or big top - lead the show away from the mundane. Headliner Empress Stah not only shocks by toasting the audience with her own blood, but reveals superb aerial skills; Lexi Sexx's blue fan dance climaxes atop green broken glass and light-bulb snacks; Vivid Angel gets busy with nails and a hammer.
Even Maleficent Martini and Spencer Maybe put the curve into cabaret by introducing song to the dance. Maybe, one of the few male performers able to set an audience a-quiver through genuine masculine sexuality, relies on comedy and charisma to pull off a drag striptease. Maleficent, meanwhile, muscles up her thrillingly erotic ballet geisha strip through an interlude of aggressive hard rock.
Royale's strategy redefines the outer limits of cabaret: Dusty Limits is the perfect host, managing to be both dark and funny – his song wishing for cancer upon children somehow avoids crossing the line into pure brutality. Through the abiding presence of Beeby Rose, the polish and glamour is not abandoned: the foundation of the acts in complex technical skills lifts the quality and the very nature of the routines asks some questions about the function of cabaret that are still to be answered.