New show revels in throwback style and revealing dance
When she was just 13 or 14 years old, Sophie Bolles was watching an episode of the improv comedy show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and she noticed something beyond the sketch.
Actor Colin Mochrie sat at a desk pretending to be a newscaster when a woman suddenly began twirling tassels on the green screen projection behind him.
The twirling made more of an impression than the comedy.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that,” Bolles said. “It was mind-boggling. This beautiful woman was using the muscles of her body to do something that was really impressive and cool.”
After high school, she connected the dots between her love of vintage fashion, old jazz, and dance, and created her onstage alter-ego, “Pantie Oaklie, The Shimmy-Shakin’ Sharp Shooter.”
For 15 years, she has choreographed, planned, and danced burlesque routines for audiences in South Texas, Colorado, and points elsewhere. Bolles said the art form appeals to her not only because of its ties to vintage fashion and culture but because she feels it’s empowering.
“I have a long and extensive background in the theater,” she said, “and burlesque is the only art form where I control all the aspects of it. I control what my costume looks like. I control all of my choreography. I control exactly what people see, and when.”
That last element is a key to the art of burlesque, which is as much about the tease as it is the practice of stripping away clothing. Bolles said during the golden age of burlesque shows in America, performers like Ann Corio could draw out a show week after week, removing only one article of clothing at a time. Then, as well as now, good burlesque lives up to its pre-vaudeville origins, with comedy and satire as key elements of the show.
“Sometimes I want [the audience] to laugh. Sometimes I want them to think ‘that was really sexy.’ Sometimes I want them to be challenged and think about something political,” Bolles explained.
The history and contemporary burlesque style are coming together in Bolles’ latest program, the SouthTown ShowClub, held at Bar Ludivine on every third Thursday of the month.
“The whole goal is to really throw it back to the vaudeville days,” Bolles said, adding that shows will feature comedy, live music, and of course, striptease. But it won’t all be like it was 100 years ago, she added.
“We can find things [from the past] beautiful, and we can enjoy them, but we can be very clear about what needs to be different, or should not remain the same,” Bolles explained. “You don’t want to be perceived as someone who believes things that are generally outdated, even if you do like clothing styles that are perceived to be outdated!”
She added: “The SouthTown ShowClub is intended to be loud about all of the ways that people have contributed to jazz culture. And it is not a white thing. I want very much for people to see and feel and understand how important it is that we see the color in the past, and how that has affected the future.”
The May 18 show includes performances from singer Jasmine Arminda, from dancers Vixy Van Hellen and Scarlett Valentine, and, of course, from Pantie Oaklie. Tickets are available at the door on a first-come, first-served basis.
Musicians, dancers, comedians and others interested in performing at a future SouthTown ShowClub may contact Bolles through her website.