Under a purple ethereal light, a figure cloaked in black sheer fabric floats across stage and slinks around a folding chair.
Personifying the angel of death, Moscato Extatique begins peeling away layers of clothing, blurring the lines of gender expression.
It’s part of Mod Carousel’s newest show, Gilded, which is making its world premiere in Juneau, Alaska.
Gilded begins at 7 p.m. Friday, July 14, and at 7 and 10 p.m. Saturday, July 15, at the Rockwell Ballroom.
But this isn’t your grandmother’s cabaret. This is boylesque, where men perform sultry roles in a genre pioneered by women and inspired by burlesque.
One of founding members of the troupe Mod Carousel is from Alaska’s capital city, and has made a point to bring his art back to his home city.
For eight years, Seneca Harper has brought boylesque back to his hometown of Juneau.
Growing up in Southeast was both interesting and wonderful, he said, but Harper felt like culture was missing.
“I knew existed somewhere but didn’t know where it was, and felt like I need to leave Juneau to be part of that,” Harper said.
Harper was introduced to boylesque in Seattle, where he found his conspirators and future husband.
“Coming back, I feel like I went out in the world, discovered a little gem, and then I’m kind of bringing it home and saying, ‘Here, look at this, look at this for a little while,’ and people seem to really enjoy that,” Harper said.
The group travels with more than 300 pounds of luggage, costumes and props.
Most are custom sewn by Harper’s husband, Paris Original.
Since forming their collective in 2010, they’ve held residencies in London and Australia, garnered 5 million YouTube hits and performed in more than 50 countries.
Harper alone has headlined burlesque festivals in more than 18 countries.
Burlesque has a long history as a medium for political satire, parody and social commentary. Inspired by Lydia Thompson and the British Blondes, who first brought Victorian burlesque to America in the 1860s.
In their newest show Gilded, the group explores themes of gender expression, race and ethnicity, all in the classic burlesque format.
A performer enters the stage, establishes a story line and character through dance and physical movement. Eventually shedding layers of clothing to reveal a moral of the story that’s almost always comedic.
Even though the guys are taking their clothes off, they distinguish their work from strippers like Chippendales and “Magic Mike.”
Trojan Original said their audiences are diverse.
“I think a healthy amount of our audience thinks it’s going to be a strip show and is pleasantly surprised and then the other half thinks it’s definitely not going to be a strip show and they’re also pleasantly surprised,” he said. “At the end of the day everyone’s pleasantly surprised.”
Harper said the difference between burlesque and stripping is the intent and artistry behind these routines.
Stripping seeks to arouse the audience and is mostly about what the performer looks like underneath their clothes.
In burlesque, there are no limitations on body type. Performers serve to engage audience psychologically through humor, costumes, and clever reveals.
For members of Mod Carousel who grew up in the ballet tradition, burlesque offers an alternative to the rigid gender roles assigned to males.
“Men have a specific role in dance, especially in the classical world where you’re presenting the woman and being the strong masculine prince,” Moscato Extatique said. “Paris and I are not that man in burlesque, and burlesque is that place for us to be as effeminate or as masculine as we want.
Harper said he’s always felt somewhere in-between gender-wise, and as his persona, The Luminous Pariah, he gets to present that onstage.
“When it comes down to it at the end of the road, do I have to be a lumberjack or do I have to be a princess?” Harper said.
With boylesque, he can be both at the same time and that’s both liberating and gratifying.