When Aleksandra “Mistress of Fusion” Bukovic takes the stage as a burlesque performer, she must take command of the audience.
“You are owning that spot for that amount of time for the audience to be entertained,” the dancer and producer said. “So you have to wow audience members because if you don’t, why are they there? To be bored?”
No, said Bukovic, whose next show is “The Castle Presents, Burlesque!”
“You have to give them what they paid for. You have to dazzle them. You can do that with your movement, your costume and your attitude on stage.”
Bukovic, originally from the Milwaukee area, honed her burlesque skills in Portland and brought them with her to the North Olympic Peninsula when she moved to the Sequim area earlier this year.
In an era of easy access to online images of burlesque-inspired photos and videos, she said a live performance will always be superior to anything a person might see on television or online.
Burlesque developed in Italy as satire of classical literature and evolved in the U.S. into variety shows that featured bawdy comedy and female striptease. It was a popular entertainment in the U.S. from the 1860s to the 1940s.
“It is the personal interaction you have between the performer on stage and being an audience member. When you are an audience member and you look at a gorgeous person on stage, you have an interaction. Something you cannot get over the internet.”
That leads to a personal and very intimate moment between performer and audience, she said.
“I think that is why it is going to last through the ages. When they go and see a burlesque show, they want to escape. They want to indulge in that fantasy. They want to be taken away and that is what burlesque really does for the audience.”
Such a fantasy can be comical, political or even a gorgeous person taking off their clothes, she said.
“Why not? That is amazing. What is great about burlesque is it great for everybody and every body no matter what shape size gender or ethnicity. It is very inclusive.”
That is why Aleksandra said she adores performing burlesque.
“A lot of people enjoy it because it is a very welcoming community.”
‘Tales from the Nips’
Bukovic has been preparing a special burlesque show, “Tales from the Nips: A hauntingly sexy burlesque spectacular!” which will take place at The Manresa Castle Hotel, 651 Cleveland St. in Port Townsend.
The show will focus on the ghoulish beliefs that abound about the infamously haunted hotel, she said. The show is hosted by Twisted History Tours. In addition to Bukovic, performers will include Natasha Riot, Jaxin Ryan and Iva Handfull.
“Burlesque is wonderful because it has allowed me to showcase different aspects of my dance training and create acts that range from silly and nerd-esquey to darkly passionate belly-esque performances, and sometimes mixing it all together,” said Riot.
Riot said she is honored to perform alongside Bukovic and the others.
“All three of them are powerhouse performers that will leave you breathless and wanting more. I cannot wait to debut a brand new act at Manresa Castle, and to revisit an award-winning one that seemed appropriate to reanimate for this show.”
Riot promised the audience a good time.
“I think they should expect to bring an extra pair of socks for when they get them knocked off by all of these dark and haunted performances.”
The 21+ show will take place at 8 p.m. June 15, with presale tickets available online at www.thecastleinpt.com.
“I can’t gush more about how each and every one of these performers are striking in their own way,” Bukovic said.
The Castle was completed in 1892 as the home of Charles and Kate Eisenbeis, according to the hotel website. Eisenbeis was a prominent Port Townsend businessman and served as the first mayor of the city beginning in 1878.
The castle, modeled after buildings in Prussia, was the largest private residence ever built in Port Townsend, consisting of 30 rooms.
After Eisenbeis died in 1902, the castle was left empty for about two decades except for a caretaker.
In 1927, Jesuit priests purchased the building for use as a training college. It was sold in 1968 and converted into a hotel.
There have been various reports over the years about rooms 302, 304 and 306 being haunted, and sightings of at least of two ghosts in residence, according to hauntedhoneymoon.com. One of the spirits is believed to be a monk who hanged himself in the attic, while the other is the ghost of a young lady who had been waiting for her beloved to return from war. After hearing of his death, she threw herself out her window to her death.
There have also been reports in the former chapel, now a cafe, about drinking glasses exploding for no apparent reason, even in the hands of servers.
In reverence to the ghost stories, Bukovic said her show is meant to be a mix of beauty and fear.
“The costume I designed is for the act ‘Eye of the Wish’ set to music by King Diamond. It is a very intense act. It is full of puppetry and I will do swordplay and belly dance. It is a very striking act.”
Roaring like a lion
Off stage, Bukovic said she is meek and shy. That changes as soon as she steps into the limelight.
“I am a very intense performer on stage.”
As with other burlesque performers, Bukovic shines in front of an audience. Part of that is due to the costumes she creates and wears.
“You need to make things sparkle,” she said. “You can’t have a flat costume on stage. It just won’t pop and it won’t be rememberable.”
The centerpiece of each costume is the headdress, Bukovic said. The head adornment seen in the photos of Bukovic taken for this article started off life as a handheld fan.
“I have buckets of different jewelry pieces and fabrics and random items that I have collected through the years and glue and sew items together to make it aesthetically pleasing.”
The pieces, while beautiful to behold, are not intended for comfort, Bukovic said.
“Sometimes there are pokey things or things that brush you weirdly. There is tightness in some areas. It can be very heavy.”
Performing in costume therefore takes discipline, Bukovic said.
“There are some dancers that are very slow on stage and they can manage being slow with their large costumes, but sometimes there is very fast and high agility performers that will do kicks in the air and handstands. You need to be very comfortable with your surroundings.”
Before pursuing a dance career, Bukovic was involved in martial arts. She had to bow out after completing three knee surgeries, she said.
Martial arts training helped Bukovic prepare for a life in cabaret and then in burlesque, she said.
“That is not something you can learn overnight. It takes years for you to get comfortable with your surroundings. There is so much happening around you.”
From cabaret to burlesque
Before getting into burlesque, Bukovic was a member of Chez Bouche, a traveling cabaret group founded by Randy Bouche.
“We disbanded,” she said. “Most of us went towards burlesque. The director and creator retired mostly from the entertainment industry but was a huge influence.”
Burlesque is more finely defined than a cabaret and requires at least one act of “peeling,” Bucovic said.
“Peeling is stripping away an item of clothing. In a caberet, that is a variety act, a more vaudeville type show where there are different types of entertainment happening.”
Bukovic said she initially moved towards burlesque because there is larger demand for it.
“Portland had a huge market, not only the audience that just loves burlesque and theater, but also there is a lot of performers and producers. It is a hot spot.”
While the pay was better, Bukovic said she also enjoyed dancing burlesque more than cabaret.
“Fast forward to today and now I teach dance. I want to keep on continuing because I love teaching and I love dance.”