When Angie Pontani takes the stage at the New York Burlesque Festival, she’ll stand a foot taller than usual, thanks to a towering headdress. Performance and spectacle, however, have been her trade nearly all her life, and her five-minute routines of pops, drops, bumps, grinds and high kicks reveal both a well-practiced professional and gleaming enthusiasm for the art of burlesque. “In so many other types of live performance you are waiting to get cast in a pre-existing show, or get a specific role; in burlesque you control your performance.”
At the New York Burlesque Festival, Pontani shares the spotlight with more than 100 performers from around the globe. Now in its 12th year, the four-day event has grown in size and spirit into a bacchanalia of spinning tassels, shaking tail feathers, live music, international DJs and variety acts. A nightly burlesque bazaar also works to fill more home closets with corsets, pasties, hair ornaments, vintage dresses and lingerie.
The most challenging acts of the festival may be performed co-producer Jen Gapay, who created the festival and has produced it each year with Pontani. Her own love of burlesque began at the Lower East Side’s Slipper Room, but more direct inspiration came from New Orleans, where Tease-O-Rama revivals began in 2001. Considering her extensive promotions and event planning experience, a New York festival seemed a perfect complement, as was addition of Angie Pontani. “We knew in theory that producing a burlesque festival in New York was a good idea, but you are never really sure how many are going to buy a ticket, so we were thrilled when we sold out our first year!”
Each year, the four-day festival culminates with the Golden Pastie Awards on the final evening. The “Oscars of Burlesque,” hands out oversized golden pasties to winners in numerous categories including highest kicker, best crowd worker and biggest spenders. Other awards embrace more exotic themes like “Performer Most Likely to Become a Life Coach” or The Khaleesi Award for the performer “Most Likely to Rule the Seven Kingdoms.”
Awards are always appreciated by performers like Pontani, but they are never what drive her to perform. “The stage is an open book for you. All you need to do is put it together and bring your vision to life.” For Gapay the magic of burlesque lies in the celebration of the self, “It empowers performers to embrace their bodies as well as their funny personality quirks and anything else that makes them unique. It entertains and teaches us something at the same time.”
If you go
Multiple shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn