The proliferation of live burlesque shows on Savannah stages is reaching a new apex, as all three of the city's dance 'n' tease ensembles have performances this weekend.
Mary Contrary and the Dirty Dolls Burlesque Revue, the most overtly sexual of the three (it’s geared towards a late-night lesbian audience), returns to Club One Friday, July 11;
On Saturday the 12th, the Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue is at the Jinx with its monthly show, the salute to the stars “Celebri-Tease”;
Trumping them all is the Downtown Delilahs, a young company that performs several times a year in small theater adjacent to the House of Mata Hari. Beginning Thursday, July 10, the girls will put on nine performances this month, all of them titled “Hot and Bothered.”
“I find it very interesting to see everybody’s different take on burlesque,” says Jade Bills, the Downtown Delilahs’ founder, choreographer, costume mistress and chief bottle-washer. “The fact that we all have our own different take on it is very exciting to me, and I love seeing them.
“And I love that we each have our own following. Completely different people at our shows.”
A student in SCAD’s performing arts department, minoring in dance, Bills (still known to many as Sheena Jade Kersey; Bills is her married name) was studying fashion design until she was struck by stage lightning in 2011.
The bolt was the film Burlesque, starring Christina Aguilera and Cher. The critics weren’t nuts about it, but it changed Jade Bills’ future. “I’ve been watching Christina my whole life; that’s actually how I learned to dance, by copying music videos and things like that,” she explains.
She immediately changed her major (SCAD does not offer a degree in dance) and started sketching out costumes. “I think there’s been a resurgence of burlesque all over,” Bills says. “For me personally, it was seeing the movie.”
In school she studied old school burlesque and vaudeville, and learned the difference between out-and-out stripping (a cornerstone of classic burlesque) and the entertaining tease.
Her show, Bills stresses, places much more emphasis on dance. “Not that there’s no choreography in that old style, but it’s more about the reveal, and the nudity,” she says. “Whereas mine has a little hint of that, but it’s really hardcore, eight-count dance choreography the whole time.”
If you’ve seen the Delilahs before, the July shows will be a little bit different. “This will be my first time not performing, since I’m pregnant,” Bills gushes. “It’s been a wonderful experience to sit back and actually see it all—whereas in rehearsals I’m usually in it, and I have to watch the videos to decide what’s working and what’s not working. This will be the first time I’ve actually seen the show, and I’m super-excited.”
The House of Mata Hari is designed like a vintage plush speakeasy—access is gained only by a special key, which can be purchased, or by invitation from a performer. You’re eyeballed by a doorman through a peephole.
“Performing there is perfect,” Bills says. “It’s exactly where you’d want to be to do something like I’m doing. Everything’s very antique, ‘20s and ‘30s—vintage drinks, vintage singers onstage. They change their gowns every 30 minutes.
“And then you walk through a separate door, which is where our theater room is. I’m emotional, but I could just about cry about how lucky I am.”
According to Bills, there’ll be a special perk on Downtown Delilah evenings: “When you buy a ticket for the show, that ticket allows you to hang out in Mata Hari for the rest of the night. It’s membership for the night. That’s just one of the benefits.”