Risque business: Gypsy Layne to perform in Pittsfield


PITTSFIELD - In the throes of winter the body, oft in hibernation mode, yearns to get its heart thumping, blood pumping and limbs moving.

So how about a little burlesque for motivation?

Now in its third season, Gypsy Layne, the Berkshires' own burlesque performance troupe, will make its 10x10 Upstreet Arts Festival debut at 9 p.m. Saturday, celebrating its 10th show at Spice Dragon in Pittsfield.

Co-artistic directors Nicole Rizzo (aka Cody Dallaire) and Teresa Lorenco (aka Dona Dragona), have curated a brand new 90-minute, 24-act show full of shimmies, comedy skits and saucy choreography.

From humble beginnings, hot pants and hula hoops on a self-made stage at the Red Herring in Williamstown, Gypsy Layne has high-kicked its way into venues like the Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington, Vt., Divas Nightclub in Northampton, and is aiming for 2014 shows in Provincetown and New York City.

"From our start in a hole in the wall three years ago, we've now had the opportunity to be on amazing stages with amazing crowds to be representing body image empowerment, feminism, supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community and overall promoting confidence," said Rizzo, a North County resident.

The troupe's members, who earn their spot by audition, range in ages, shapes, sizes and talents, and hail from the Berkshires and Pioneer Valley. They all have full-time jobs, but make time to rehearse two to three times a week, both in the Berkshires and Easthampton. The majority of the members have technical training as yogis or dancers, and others also have musical backgrounds.

Rizzo said though some area residents are still squeamish about bare-bodied burlesque genre, she's found more so have embraced it -- previous shows have been selling out with 150 to 200 audience members.

"I have such a strong crew, and we're getting stronger and stronger. The bookings are picking up and we want to reach out to more places," she said.

Since its inception, Gypsy Layne has produced approximately 15 original shows with various themes, from vintage cabaret stylings to taking a sensual approach to Halloween.

Saturday's show will feature six female and four male performers along with special guests lingering on the theme of Valentine's Day. Expect high-energy moves to the contemporary sounds of Goldfrapp and Lady Gaga, En Vogue and a mash-up where the music of Britney Spears meets the erotic script of powerhouse author Anaïs Nin. There will also be live music, visual art and comedy, all conducted by ringmaster/emcee Justin Green of Pittsfield.

"Everyone who comes to the show is looking to be entertained. We never really run the risk of having an audience that's really conservative because it's marketed as burlesque, they've heard of us and know what to expect while at the same time not knowing what to expect," he said.

"It's very different from anything else going on in the Berkshires -- you won't see the BSO perform in the Berkshires with their pants off," he quipped. "I think people are drawn [to burlesque] because they appreciate any moment where they can see people being real, and being vulnerable."

In his emceeing role, Green's goal is to keep things lively and the positive energy flowing. Though he keeps some scripted material in his waistband, he's also known to banter with the crowd, making it an interactive, improvisational experience for the audience.

"Here, it's literally my job to talk and make inappropriate jokes, which is great, because I love to do both," he said.

Still, Green said he, like others in the troupe, gets nervous before every show.

"The best way to connect with people is to be vulnerable and to laugh together," he said.

Members of Gypsy Layne say that part of the art of burlesque is to make audience members, and performers as well, comfortable with the uncomfortable.

"I was excited to be a part of this because I feel I am an inspirer," said Alisa Wright Tanny, a yoga, Reiki and bodywork instructor by day. Her Gypsy persona is known as Aluria, a magical, fluid being who often performs with silk wings, bell-laden anklets and other exotic things.

She said shows are not only an opportunity for the performers to express themselves, but are a venue for audience members to do the same. Wright Tanny encourages audience members to dress up, wear something sexy, be it a skirt, suit or undergarment, and join in the fun.

"My hope is that we can tap into the magical, humorous sense of being that much of society has silenced," especially for women, she said. "It's important for people to tap into all parts of themselves to feel whole, to feel integrated, to feel accepted and not judged and to be healthy."

The troupe, which performed at Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington for Valentine's Day weekend, has been gushing over a piece of fan email received shortly afterward, written by a woman who attended the performance with her husband.

In part, the letter reads: "I think I need you to know how inspired, empowered, sexy and courageous I feel today!! Almost like a whole piece of my soul was awakened. What an amazing feeling. Thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, and the crotch of my husbands pants."

Rizzo said the note encompasses the Gypsy Layne mission.

"We are cheeky, bawdy and we don't take ourselves too seriously. We try to stay true to artform, true to ourselves and inspire people," she said.


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