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Les Coquettes bring the art of tease to Centrepointe

By Chris Cline on February 6, 2013

This Saturday, Toronto’s Les Coquettes will bring their style of burlesque cabaret to Centrepointe theatre for their first ever “soft-seat” show. The troupe has been gigging in and around the Greater Toronto Area for the last nine years, so local burlesque fans are in for a real treat. To sweeten the deal, Toronto’s infamous and vivacious Coco Framboise will be along for the ride. Even better, you can read more about how to get free tickets to the show through Apartment613 at the bottom of this post.

Les Coquettes co-founder Kathryn Romanow was kind enough to speak to us in advance of the show. She plays multiple roles within Les Coquettes, including choreographer and production manager, and you can even see her performing on stage this Saturday as the buxom Lilli Bubalotovich.

Apt613: Your shows seem to take their cues from different eras and genres, from 1940s era film noire to 1980s b-boyism. What can Ottawa expect to see during your show?

KR: Actually we go even further back and further forward. Les Coquettes was originally inspired by the late 1890s Folies Bergère in Paris, a time when it was scandalous to show your ankles. We incorporate some traditional costuming from that early period and mix it with contemporary music and choreography. In Ottawa, we will be ranging from that early period, as well as some very 40s style numbers, musical theatre pieces, clown, aerial silks and some very 50s styled burlesque. There also might be some Canadiana thrown in there for good measure.

Apt613: You describe Les Coquettes as ‘cabaret burlesque’. Do you see a distinction between burlesque and cabaret?

KR: Yes. Cabaret to me involves more disciplines than just the art of striptease. Les Coquettes wrap our numbers with singing, acting, dancing, clown, aerial cirque and more.

Apt613: The members of Les Coquettes seem to have a lot of professional theater and dance training under their (garter) belts. Is there an advantage to having formal dance, theatrical and musical training before coming to burlesque, or can interested people start fresh?

KR: The answer to both your questions is, absolutely yes. Since burlesque is so much about the tease, it’s important to not just be a trained dancer but to add the element of engagement with the audience. Trained dancers can focus on selling a number and not be worried about the steps. They engage the audience and tell a story, all the while performing some clever dance steps, weaving a story from beginning to end and possibly revealing a bit of skin.

As for musical training, not all of our performers are singer. This is not traditionally a requirement of burlesque which is one of the reasons why we classify ourselves as “cabaret burlesque”. With our troupe, it is certainly a bonus to have a background in music but not a necessity. As for “fresh flesh”, anyone can learn the art of tease. We’ve all been doing it for centuries whether we recognize it or not. Les Coquettes even offers group classes on the basics of striptease.

Apt613: You’ll be joined by Toronto burlesque royalty Coco Framboise. How much of a coup is it for her to be coming to Ottawa, and what can we expect her to bring?

KR: We are madly in love with Coco Framboise and it is quite a coup that this show worked out. She has performed with us many times in the past and we are delighted that she is coming to play with us in Ottawa. You can expect Coco to epitomize the sparkle and grandeur of what most people think a burlesque artist is. She is classic and larger than life and the number she is doing for you in Ottawa is, like her, stunningly beautiful and pulls out all the stops.

Apt613: Les Coquettes are known for audience interaction. What can we expect audience members to get up to during the Ottawa show?

KR: Oh if I tell you that it may spoil the surprise. But suffice it to say there is no “fourth wall” in our playing space. We’re in the house, we’re in your lap, and you…well you are IN the show.

Apt613: The male Coquettes are called Man Props. Are they really just props for the ladies to work around, or do the guys get to strut their masculinity too?

KR: Originally the Man Props did just pick up after us ladies. (It’s so unlady-like to pick up your own costumes at the end of your number). But our men, like our ladies, evolved over time and wanted to strut their own stuff. As a result you will see a couple of male solos in Ottawa. We like to give something for everyone. I’m also excited that the men are performing one of our classic group “Man Prop numbers” – with a twist.

Apt613: Les Coquettes have performed in some small-ish towns. What has the reception been like so far?

KR: Great! Two years ago we performed at the Roxy Theatre in Owen Sound, a town well-known to have their own “prohibition” until 1972! Before we got there we’d heard rumblings about us coming to town and we feared the worst. What we found was a sold out show and a lineup of people hoping to get last minute tickets if there were cancellations.  They were truly the best house we had performed to as of that date.

New Years Eve 2011 brought us to the amazing Sanderson Centre in Brantford. This theatre is a gem, built in 1919, seats over 1,000 and is a fitting home for our show. We were so well received that we were asked back for New Years Eve 2012 and performed TWO shows this time around. After our first show there in 2011, Brantford residents started coming to Toronto to see our shows. I think they like us.

It’s interesting to note that both of these theatres use to be old vaudeville houses. We were in very good company.

Apt613: After nine years in existence, Les Coquettes seem to be one of the more established Canadian troupes. How has the scene evolved over nine years?

KR: The Toronto scene has grown a lot in the last 9 years. There are more troupes every year and more solo artists popping up all the time. I think a big influence has been the Toronto Burlesque Festival (first started in 2008). What’s really great to see is the diversity of talent and types of acts being performed now at shows. It’s inspiring to see what others are doing in the scene. It makes me strive to be even more ambitious.

The very best thing about Les Coquettes’ show this Saturday is that you can see it for free (with a friend) by way of a little contest we’re running. All you have to do is send us your fictional burlesque stage names. If you are already a burlesque performer, make up a new name! For inspiration, check out the awesome stage names on Les Coquettes‘ website!

Email your names to apartment613 [at] gmail [dot] com with the subject line “Coquettes”. All respondents will be entered into a draw for tickets. Be sure to get us your answers by Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013 at 3 p.m.!

Les Coquettes Cabaret Burlesque perform at Centrepointe Theatre on Saturday, February 9th at 8:00 p.m. Ticket information is available here. This one’s adults only folks.