Drag queen Argenta Perón closed the set of the variety show "Va-Va-Va Vaudeville!" by climbing a hanging cloth and swinging out past the stage.
“The closing number is something,” dancer and Artistic Director Paula Chambers said. “Where else are you going to see a flying drag queen?”
“Saturday night at my place,” magician Jim Keplinger said in an interview.
On Aug. 19, "Va-Va-Va Vaudeville!" harkened audiences back to a classic set of vaudeville acts, from juggling, flow arts, comedy and burlesque at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. Accompanied by the Stardusters Little Big Band, performers presented their acts to ragtime, jazz and big band music.
“A show like this is about surprise,” Keplinger said. “You might see the name of the act but have no idea what they’re doing next.”
Whether dancing on a ring 20 feet in the air or performing acroyoga —a mix of partner acrobatics, Thai massage and yoga — performers molded their acts to be lighthearted and fun in a way reminiscent of early 20th century entertainment.
Other acts, such as comedian David Britton’s stand-up routine, earned the audience’s laughter with clever humor. Keplinger performed a series of impressive magic acts.
“One of the things you get to do is bring a lot of wonder into the world,” Keplinger said. “People don’t really know how to experience wonder anymore.”
Two hours worth of these dangerous performances filled the stage. Nearly every act was sourced from local dance studios.
“The whole idea behind the show is to bring all the dancers in Bloomington under one roof,” Chambers said. “You would have to pay twelve ticket prices to see all of the acts that are here.”
Belly dance, cabaret, burlesque and modern dance were some of the forms presented with Vaudeville flair. Early 20th century costumes and set design brought a classic feel to each routine. There’s a lot of prep work involved with a show like this, Chambers said.
“Stage managers have to know who goes on, who goes off, what kind of props they have,” Chambers said. “There’s setlists and showlists. There's so much the audience will never see.”
"Va-Va-Va Vaudeville!" started four years ago, when Chambers founded the Alliance Dance Network, a guild of local dancers and movement artists. With an Arts Projects Grant through the Buskirk-Chumley Theater and Bloomington Arts Council, the show became a reality.
“We often get asked to perform for free, and we really wanted a show where everyone was getting paid,” Chambers said.
The show opened with the Windfall Dance Company's performance of a cabaret dance, followed by the Bollinger Brothers' juggling. Later on, patrons watched the AsaBela WINGS Aerial Academy perform multiple aerobatic and acrobatic routines from more than 20 feet in the air.
“This is visceral," Keplinger said."This gets more into the heart and soul than sitting at home in front of your TV. These kids are ridiculous. I have no idea what they’re thinking.”
There was a matinee performance centered on children’s entertainment earlier in the day. Special to that show were the Dance Center Youth Tap Dancers, Mad 4 My Dog's Trio of Tricks and younger acrobatic dance groups.
“We wanted a show that is by kids, for kids, to sort of inspire and educate,” Chambers said. “They can do this stuff, too, instead of seeing a bunch of adults on stage.”
Each show had its special acts. The evening show featured the Caravanserai belly dancers and Regina Sweet performing a risqué burlesque dance to the tune of “Hooked on a Feeling.”
“I look forward to the audience’s reactions,” Keplinger said. “It’s especially fun to listen to them tell what happened. I get to relive my own act as if I was never there.”
The Dance Network Alliance will present events at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater for the next two years. Each show will have a new theme.
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The concert airs at 9:30 p.m. on July 25.