Kool Kat of the Week: Dancin’ to His Own Boylesque Beat: Russell Bruner Takes Off His Top Hat and More at Southern Fried

Posted on: Mar 20th, 2013 By:

Russell Bruner, Reigning King of Burlesque. Photo credit: Insomniac Studios

Stars both of the Burlesque Revival and of classic tease arrive in Atlanta this week for the third annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival Thurs. March 21-24 at  the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria. Read our full festival preview here.

Just a quick glance at the line-up suggests this year will be just as good performance-wise as the first two, if not even better. But we have to admit that we’re especially excited to see Portland, Oregon’s Russell Bruner, reigning King of Burlesque, at the Free Range Burlesque show on Fri. March 22, after seeing him perform at our own Kool Kat Kitty Love‘s first Sultry Sunday of the year back in January. Male exotic dancers may be notoriously boring, but dressed in a pin-stripe seersucker suit, top hat and debonair curled moustache, let’s just say Russell wasn’t just sexy but sassy–really capturing the spirit of the tease in ways that most male dancers simply don’t. Of course, that underlines the essential difference between burlesque, or in this case “boylesque,” and striptease/exotic dance. Burlesque comes from vaudeville and variety and is all about having fun–which, well, they say gals love a guy with a sense of humor.

A little online research revealed that Bruner is a Vancouver, Washington native and Mormon-raised boy who eschewed football for the cheer squad and comes to burlesque via swing dance (He won a trophy at the Balboa Tempo Marathon in 2006) and a stint as the acrobatic Villain of Portland’s Wanderlust Circus. Needless to say, we had to make him Kool Kat of the Week just to find out more about what drew him from a tech career with a dancing hobby to a professional performer, how he developed his unique style, his influences and his act at SFBF!

So you were working for Intel, your job ended and you ran away to join the circus? Is that basically how your career in burlesque/variety got started? 

Well, the electrical engineering field wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed the work, but kept thinking about how if I was ever going to do performance art, I should do it before I get any older.

Russell Bruner, Master of the Hat and Cane Routine. Photo credit: Adam Scherer.

Just about every lady I know thinks there’s nothing duller than watching a Chippendale. You have a completely different look and approach to dancing off your clothes. To what extent do you think that playing against the expected is the key to your success? 

You’re right, I’m no Chippendale. I cater to the audience as I understand them with what I have to offer. I’m not playing against the idea of the Chippendale; I’m just more turned on by men like Gene Kelly, Tom Waits and Ray Bolger.

Your routines remind me of a cross between Fred Astaire – who also danced with a hat rack in a famous number and you’ve said is an inspiration -to ‘20s comedy cinema actors like Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. Did you grow up on classic movies with dance and comedy numbers or when/how did you discover them? How influential are they on your routines? 

I didn’t see very many movies or see much television growing up, but there was this great movie place that I discovered when I first moved to Portland that’s called Movie Madness. They have nearly everything with Fred Astaire, WC Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, etc. I’ve since taken advantage of the inspiration found there, and in other sources that have old vaudeville acts film.

Were you at all nervous when you first stripped down? Any advice to men who want to do burlesque but are a little shy about it? 

I was nervous about it. Any time I do something in front of an audience for the first time I’m always concerned about things going well. If someone is shy about performing, I think it’s normal and shows they too have concern for doing well.

Who are your inspirations, either male or female, classic or revival, in burlesque?

Aside from the mentioned persons of yesteryear, for males, I am inspired by Leapin’ Louie Lichtenstein, Armitage Shanks, the Stage Door Johnnies, Burlesquire, Tod Alan, Evil Hate Monkey, Mr. Gorgeous, Waxie Moon, Captain Kidd, Curtis Carlyle, Dahktur Sick, Jonathan Burns, Scott Maxwell, Luther Bangert, Nanda, Neil E Dee, Funny Eddie Dot Com, Bobbie Burlesque, Bellini Twins, Charlie Brown the Juggler, Donny Vomit, Scotty the Blue Bunny, Ben Delacreme, Jasper St. James, the cast of Meatfest in LA, the Boxers are Brief Boylesk, William Batty in Wanderlust Circus, and many others. All those are variety performers and not necessarily burlesque. The women that inspire me is a much longer list, so let me get back to you on that when I have more time to list everyone.

Russell Bruner. Photo credit: PEZ Photo.

Where/when was your favorite performance and what made it so special?

My last performance with the Carnivalesque Tour at State Theater in Falls Church, VA, was a recent favorite of mine. It was special because it was the last show of a great run. I had a lot of fun working with Gilded Lily Burlesque & Co., and I really enjoyed the spacious stage with a nice wood floor. I really enjoy performing on stages with nice wood floors.

Without ruining any surprises, what can you tease us about your performance at SFBF? 

I think we’ve already given away that it involves working a hat rack like Fred Astaire. So other than hanging my hat up, you’ll also see some nice cane work.

What’s the secret of coiffing the perfect moustache? 

I use beeswax. I’m constantly running out of it or losing it as I’m on the road a lot, so I’m constantly using different products that have beeswax in it, and I use a woman’s personal trimmer that looks like a vibrator to trim it. And I just futz with it a lot. I stopped making circles at the ends because I can never get them to match so now I do more of a Salvador Dali type of styling.

Finally, what question do you wish someone would ask you to do but they never do? And of course, what’s the answer? 

I do wish I’d be asked to perform my partner acts more often. It’s harder to fit it in the budget for promoters and sometimes the stages are too small, but I enjoy doing partner acts the most. I would love to perform partner dance acts more often on the road.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Nicolette Valdespino Fashions a “Bohemian Playground” at Paris on Ponce

Posted on: Jul 11th, 2012 By:

Nicolette Valdespino

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

A visit to Paris on Ponce always feels like stepping into New Orleans or indeed – Paris – in the middle of Midtown Atlanta. I adore its historical, yet timeless French aesthetic. The unique antique shop will be celebrating that French flavor with their first annual free Bastille Day Festival, Saturday, July 14 from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 15 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday evening from 6-9 is the Party Fantastique with Baton Bob, Minette Manifique burlesque, magician Chad Sanborn, All Hands Productions puppetering and film premieres from Escobar Productions.

In the early 21st century I dreamed of having my own event there. However, the owners at that time shied away from getting into the complexities of running and renting a true event space and only did so sporadically. The year 2011 saw a change, however, with new owners, a new manager named Nicolette Valdespino and a fresh new take on sharing the space with the public.

Le Maison Rouge is the 4,200 square foot event space that is over-the-top Moulin Rouge-themed within the heart of the store….In this last year, we have hosted two public auctions, participated in ‘The Next Cool Event,’ hosted the Atlanta Film Festival, made a film, been named the ‘Best Antique Store in ATL’ by Jezebel Magazine, and now we are kicking off a whole flush of new remodels with the Bastille Day Festival,” bubbled Nicolette. In a way chatting with her is like a conversation with the evolving space itself. Meaning of course, that ATLRetro could not resist making her Kool Kat of the Week.

ATLRetro: My first visit to PoP was to perform at an event in 2002. I walked in the front and was enchanted, but had to ask, “Why are we performing at an antique store?” Tell us how you first came there.

Nicolette: [While] shopping for a couch I walked into Paris on Ponce for the first time. I had my own interior design business [in Portland, OR] for eight years and then decided one day that it was time to try to be a East Coast girl. So I packed up the pug and drove across country in search of design adventures. When I walked into the shop in April 2011, I met Skip [Engelbrecht] and Dennis [Baker] [the new owners] and immediately recognized and respected their vision for the new Paris on Ponce. They had worked for the previous owners, George and Judi, for 11 and eight years respectively and had just bought the business weeks before.

Tell us a story about yourself as a budding designer. Did you rearrange your mother’s furniture and redecorate your bedroom seasonally?

Well, I was always described as a “busy child” and was constantly trying to build/sew/create something. At about four to five years old, my mother began hauling home large boxes from the San Francisco Children’s Hospital where she was a nurse, and I would build go-carts, furniture and once a sink complete with plastic bags of water and turn screws for faucets. Hard lesson there – water + cardboard = Not as much fun as you’d think.

I think the first interior design project that I really did was when I was seven – I wanted a canopy bed. My mother nixed that so I just took down my curtains and rods and staple-gunned them to the ceiling around my bed. Done.

You’re from Portland. What experiences there shaped your creative vision?

Portland is very DIY, very vintage, re-purposed, locally made and handcrafted – which is why I moved there in the first place. There is an easy sense of community that involves musicians, artists and philanthropy. But after 11 years, I had created what I needed to there in the arts/music/design/fund-raising scene.

What is the arts scene like  in Atlanta compared to Portland?

Frankly, the art scene [here] is just like Atlanta [itself]: bigger, bolder and from many more perspectives and mediums. It tends to be a louder and more high-minded scene and gets the attention it deserves.

Nicolette Valdespino with Paris on Ponce co-owner Skip Englebrecht.

What drew you toward Atlanta and were there other cities that you considered moving to?

I was actually plotting my new life in New Orleans when I got sidetracked to Atlanta by a girlfriend who lives here, suggesting that the original California kid might want to put her toe in the water in a large Southern city before I went “deep south” as she called it. The sense of history, craftsmanship and ornamentation that is on the streets, in the air, in the architecture and the culture on the East Coast as opposed to the West eases my soul and inspires me. I don’t know that I’ll have children in this lifetime, and when you start thinking that way, you start wondering who exactly is going to remember you. That leads me to start thinking about all of the hands and stories that created these cities and furnishings that were interesting, emotional and forgotten. By re-purposing, valuing, and preserving these artifacts, I feel more involved with those lives and more a part of humanity in general. Perhaps someday I will be distantly remembered for my interpretations as well.

What historical era of design is your personal favorite?

I should have been born in the 1930s. While I am delighted and really enjoy modern shapes and styles of clothing and furnishings, my personal aesthetic is and always has been a sort of twist on 1940s couture. My father used to refer to pocket money as “hat money” because that is exactly what I would spend my jingle on as a child. I love toppers, circle skirts and pin-up styles. They just feel the most natural to me. Feminine, timeless, and they seem to make people happy. My personal style in decor is greatly influenced by all of the traveling I did as a young person with my French grandmother. If it’s gilded, baroque, velvet, marbleized and slightly decaying, I’ll immediately start to squeal.

How does this inform you as a professional designer?

When I design someone else’s space, it has nothing to do with what I personally like. It is all about the interpretation of that person’s background, personality and resources. Style doesn’t have anything to do with expense as well. Often times, revamping what a client has and custom, locally crafted pieces are much less expensive than just purchasing ready-made items. Plus, you are fostering money within your community and really customizing a space towards the haven that everyone deserves to call home.

In what ways have you influenced the “new PoP”? In other words, when I walk into the venue, where will I see your fingerprint?

Skip, Dennis and I are most certainly a team when it comes to the direction of Paris on Ponce and PoP Marche. I will say though, that I am ridiculously focused on making sure that not only does our new “PoP Marche” have something for everyone, but that the individual booths are very specific to a given lifestyle. I want them to be little complete worlds unto themselves. I want PoP Marche to be startling. From space to space, you are jarred into a whole different vision. Eventually I would like a book store, a toy store, a cafe, a prop studio, an in-house upholstery shop, a gallery for local artists, even a barbershop would be fun. Come, play, experience, purchase, participate and enjoy yourself, and know that the next time you walk in, you will see whole new installations.

What event has been the most fun and exciting for you at PoP?

When we made the giant paper Marie Antoinette for “The Next Cool Event” that was a great crafting project, and the way it was received as compared to other businesses very expensive displays was really satisfying. Our aim was to show that we could make the most ordinary of mediums be extraordinary. Clever beats a dollar bill every time.

Truthfully, though, I’m most excited about the upcoming Bastille Day Festival. I’ve thrown a lot of parties, weddings and charity events before, but never a festival, and never for a guest count that I can’t even imagine. The idea of making it an annual festival is really thrilling, too. Cementing Paris on Ponce in the community as a bohemian playground for artists, writers, performers and dreamers feels like not only is it attainable, but just over the horizon.

If you hadn’t become an Interior Decorator, what might have you done?

I think that it is compulsive for me to create and interpret. Everything. I’ve been sewing and creating my own wardrobe since I was seven. I am no fine artist, but I love to sculpt. Industrial design and furniture design are fascinating to me because you genuinely get to create objects that engage people and serve practical purposes. I have built couches, tables, chairs, and the reinterpretation of leftover furniture pieces through re-upholstery and faux finishes has been a lot of fun lately.

Did you ever expect to be involved in events coordinating and what is your role in the events that take place there?

I throw parties. I love throwing parties. I love them so much I became an officiant so that I get an excuse to participate in other peoples’ parties – kidding – kind of!  Throwing an event is like a shorter, more satisfying version of designing an interior. You come up with a concept and a budget, pull it all together while trying to make it surprising and clever, and everyone has a great time. The one large drawback comparatively is that it’s all temporary. A great party is a great memory, and nothing practical that someone can utilize in the future. But, of course, one’s life is simply a collection of memories, so it is pretty important when you think of it that way. I love the idea especially of doing this Bastille Day Festival here, aligning and showcasing these artists and performers so that they can get paid for being brave and creative. In the future, I would love to make it a fundraising event for the Atlanta arts community.

As far as most of the private events in Le Maison Rouge goes, Dennis is the resident event coordinator, but concerning our previous opening gala, auctions, the upcoming Halloween party, I anticipate that my extra special brand of nonsense will be all over that.

What do you see yourself doing five years from now?

Smiling. Laughing. Building. Learning. Becoming better, brighter and more honest about everything I do. I know that I am extremely lucky to be where I’m at. In this city, in this store, with such great bosses who never red-tape my visions. And I know that I’m here because I work really hard to make this life as full as possible, and that means saying “yes’ when others say “no,” looking for the silver lining, and being creative with difficult situations. There is always a way to make things work if you just breathe, be humble about your perspectives, and take those big leaps. Kind of like when I jumped out of a plane last year on my birthday and the parachute collapsed 30 feet from the ground…Wait-that didn’t work out so well – but I’m still glad I did it.

If I can help to pull off this new vision, this bohemian playground, creating a new corner of culture, I will be a very happy girl and then maybe a whole new endeavor. I’ve been too lucky thus far to plot my future.

Note: All photos are courtesy of Nicolette Valdespino and used with permission.

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