Say Hello To The Sultry & Playful

When I first heard about burlesque in Hawaii a few years ago, I wondered what exactly happens during such a show. Then, in early May, I happened to be strolling through Chinatown when a theater friend spotted me and whisked me into The ARTS at Marks Garage for the last few numbers of a Cherry Blossom Cabaret production. What I saw was girls having a blast performing their slightly naughty take on various rock stars. Costumes were creative, and tantalizing song-dance numbers switched up with talent, like silk rope aerial dancing and playful interaction with a very engaged and responsive audience.


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Violetta Beretta. Photo courtesy of Vixen Photo

Coming up June 20-21 is the third annual Hawaii Burlesque Festival at Doris Duke Theatre. The festival is generating so much buzz that it’s attracting Neighbor Island, national and international performers. With a cast of 40, it’ll take place over two nights this year, rather than the usual one night.

“The first night is Hawaiian-themed, all-local, ho’olaulea (party) burlesque style to really showcase our local performers because we have amazing people here,” says Violetta Beretta, producer of the festival, star performer and president of Cherry Blossom Cabaret. The variety show will include comedy by the likes of Chris Riel, juggling, live music and, of course, beautiful ladies. But, says Beretta, setting the record straight, this is no strip club.

“The focus is on the tease,” she says. “You will see pasties, but if you’ve watched MTV, HBO, ABC or NBC in the past five years, you’ve seen more skin on those major networks than you’re going to see at the Burlesque Festival. We’re trying to tell a story, we’re trying to present people with something funny, insightful or interesting to watch. The focus is not on shock value or nudity. It’s on the fun and the uplifting of beautiful women’s bodies.”

On the final night, local and out-of-state talent will be showcased.

“We have just added a guy from Europe, and he’s pretty incredible,” says Beretta. “The second night is a really good value, in terms of getting to see all kinds of people from around America and beyond doing their thing all in one show. Our headlining act (Peekaboo Pointe) is an internationally renowned performer based in New York City.”

Yes, there’s the rare guy or two. “It’s nice to give the ladies some handsome gentlemen to look at,” says the ever-thoughtful Beretta. One of the “boylesque” acts, Billy Boylesque, is based in Las Vegas and has competed in the Burlesque Hall of Fame ― burlesque’s crème de la crème.

On both nights, troupes and soloists will bring the best of themselves to the table, so to speak.

“Each of us might have a background in circus, dance or theater,” notes Beretta. “We highlight our skills. I grew up here in Hawaii, and I have a strong dance background. I also grew up dancing hula and I’m Native Hawaiian, so I have a tendency to incorporate westernized tiki hula into my routines.”

In addition to the Burlesque festival, Cherry Blossom Cabaret presents VarieTease: Alice in Chinatown through June 29. Presented at ARTS at Marks, Alice goes on a journey to NextDoor, Downbeat Diner and other Chinatown establishments where she meets the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit (a standout, played by cute-ascan-be Mabsy) and other well-known characters who’ve been given the seductive Cherry Blossom twist. While the Burlesque Festival highlights revue numbers with an international cast, Alice is an all-local, full-length, original theatrical production.

“What’s interesting is that there’s actually a long, historical background of burlesque in Hawaii. Big-name performers coming here during the glory days, the show days back in the ’50s and ’60s, when Jack Cione was running his nightclubs,” says Beretta. “We have a legitimate legacy in terms of this art form, which is slowly (making a comeback). People are beginning to understand this goes hand in hand with vaudeville.”

In fact, there’s such an intriguing history of burlesque, speckled with juicy tidbits, that Beretta says she’s teamed up with Cione to write a book about it. For instance, she notes — a bit off the subject of burlesque, but still pertaining to goddesses and old Hawaii ― apparently Judy Garland was stranded in Hawaii at one point with no money and made do by singing in a bar in Chinatown for a couple weeks.

Bookending the Burlesque Festival are workshops June 19 and 22, so that all body types can get comfortable flaunting the best of themselves. Some classes are for experienced performers, while others are for anyone who would like a fun way to get in a workout or to bring friends along for a bonding experience.

“The focus is most of all fun and, second, body positivity and acceptance,” says Beretta. “We’re not trying to tell women you have to be large-breasted or skinny. The neo-burlesque movement is about saying everyone has beautiful things to showcase, so let’s find those, let’s bring them out and let’s make you fabulous.”

When Beretta isn’t tantalizing the imaginations of Oahu audiences, she’s performing at international conventions and tours, and even has enviable experiences under her garter belt, like sharing the stage with Aerosmith and Fleetwood Mac.

the TICKET stub
Burlesque Festival

When: June 20 and 21
Where: Doris Duke Theater
Cost: $35-$45, $60 to attend both nights
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