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On Tuesday, after more than five months of mostly sitting on her riere in her St. Henri residence, Lou Lou la Duchesse de Rière (aka Lauren Jiles) a 32-year-old burlesque dancer, was the main act at the Cabaret Ciel de Nuit.
“It’s an event thrown by fabulous people,” said the artist, who did do some live shows from home, but missed the stage. “I know the entire cast and the cause is also amazing.”
The one-of-a-kind event partnered with Projet10MTL and Lightspeed. While reuniting more than 10 different artists on stage, the night offered an outdoor burlesque and drag show at the Royal Mount drive-in movie theatre.
Among the artists was the new drag sensation Kiara, who is featured on Canada’s Drag Race. “It’s nice to be able to do shows again,” said Kiara. “Right now, they are in cars but this feeling of living the life of before is good.”
Producers Robin Westhaver and Lauren Wise, along with Foxy Lexxi and Shauna Feldman, wanted to bring together members of the LGBTQ community to offer a safe space where they could promote different bodies and identities through burlesque and drag.
“With all the events being cancelled, the artists not being able to perform, not getting paid, and the lack of pride events, there is a major gap as far as community,” said Westhaver.
Wise, who was a creative director for an event company before becoming a writer, explained that their top goal was to prioritize Indigenous performers and people of colour. “Because of COVID, there’s been no support for the LGBTQ community,” she said. “It was important to join forces with Projet10MTL.”
Projet10MTL is an organization that works directly with the age ranges of 14 to 25 LGBTQ youth to unite them through different essential resources and communities. Otto Vicé, the interim executive director, said that while COVID makes everything harder, even in “normal times”, the youth suffer a lot from isolation and other systemic issues amplified by the pandemic.
“We hope to create a network so people don’t feel like they have to pick between going to an Indigenous organization or Queer, because obviously some people are both,” said Vicé, who’s been working at the bilingual organization since 2001. “We also don’t want youth to only be connected through trauma, but connected for fun also.“
“We were curious,” said Montreal couple Patrick and Chantal, who, along with 500 others were safely socially distancing while enjoying the glamorous evening. “There’s not a lot of things happening in Montreal these days and we have never seen a burlesque show!”
Creating a safe space for marginalized youth also resonated with La Duchesse.
The burlesque performer was crowned the 2018 New Orleans Queen of Burlesque and voted the number one burlesque performer in Canada by 21st Century Burlesque.
“It was hard to navigate. I was 18 when I started, and it was predominately white women being praised and uplifted,” said Jiles, who’s also the first performer from Canada to win the Queen of Burlesque award.
“It quickly became a goal of mine. I wanted to be headlining and make this a career. But I did run into people who once finding out I was Indigenous, wanted me to do a Pocahontas number and I was absolutely against it,” she said.
Jiles’s act now focuses on reclaiming sensuality and identity as an Indigenous woman of the 21st century. The mother of a six-year-old daughter, Clara Wolf, wants to bring the discussion of women’s sexuality to a positive place.
Jiles draws a lot of her inspiration from older women such as her grandmother. She grew up in a household where it was very body positive, enforced by female energy. Not only did she always feel the support of her family, but also from her community.
“I remember Lauren from when I was a kid in our local theatre,” said Curran Jacob, who came with her sister Maylan to see Jiles performing at the drive-in, “and I’ve been watching her career virtually so far so it was amazing to see her in person.”
Indeed, with her assertive choice of music, from A Tribe Called Red, which mixes electronic rhythms with Indigenous beats, along with her costume, which combines flamboyant burlesque elements, revealing an impressive tattooed back to go with her traditional boots, Jiles beautifully stands out.
“It’s a mixture of classic burlesque staples and First Nations iconography,” she said. “The whole act is centred as a juxtaposition and exploration of high femme Indigeneity.”
As the headliner of the event, La Duchesse closed the night with a powerful performance, reaffirming her place as queen of burlesque, despite a pandemic.