Burlesque star AuroraBoob Realis came up with the idea behind "Quintessential" last year. The New York City-based artist wanted to create a series of burlesque shows, each centered on a full album. "An iconic album," she explained to The Huffington Post, one "that changed my life and my perspective."
From the beginning, she said, the first record she wanted to perform was "Purple Rain" because she is, in her own words, "one of those intense Prince fans." She pitched her idea to a friend, a fellow burlesque performer known as The Incredible, Edible, Akynos, after a Jomama Jones show. Together, they decided to make it all happen: secure a venue, confirm a cast, print the flyers.
And then, April 21 happened.
"I got the news when I was in Austin, Texas," Aurora said. She was there to headline the Texas Burlesque Festival. After a night of coincidentally dancing to "When Doves Cry" with the co-producer of the festival, Coco Lectic, and a few friends, Aurora woke up to news that Prince, the once and future Purple One, had died.
"I immediately start Googling, and this was still at the point when TMZ was the only source and all they are saying is that someone at the compound died," she recalled. "And in the next few minutes ... more places started to announce his death and it became confirmed. I was in shock. This was completely unreal to me ... I'm still in shock."
"Quintessential: The Purple Rain Edition," slated for the first weekend in June, suddenly became a memorial event. The two-night engagement in NYC, described in a press release as a burlesque nod to "that album that you played so much it became a part of your very soul," would no longer be a simple tribute to Prince's impact on Aurora. It would become a tribute to Prince Rogers Nelson, the man the entire world lost.
"There are a lot of tribute shows popping up," Aurora admitted. "And I plan on going to as many as possible. I think when an icon of this magnitude passes away, we, the fans, need all of them to celebrate and process and be together." At the same time, she says, "Quintessential" stands out.
"We are honoring 'Purple Rain' -- the whole album, from start to finish. There is an intimacy in listening to an entire album. Those of us of a certain age remember that feeling, and for the younger folks, we hope to give them this beautiful experience which will resonate even deeper now."
The structure of Akynos and Aurora's show will be, as she outlined, a bit different from the standard burlesque performance. "The role of the host has been turned into the role of two narrators," she explained, noting that the night will unravel "Purple Rain" from start to finish, all songs revisited in order. "Between the numbers, the narrators, Akynos and I, will be sharing stories from our lives related to each of the songs."
One such memory is as follows, excerpted from Aurora's solo theater show "Xenophobadelica":
"I was a little brown child dancing, always dancing in a see of white faces. So when my childhood best friend Genny introduced me to Prince in first grade it was like this instant and intense connection! He looked like me -- the curly hair, the big brown eyes, the complexion of his skin. In Prince, I saw my self reflected in this sea of white faces as he unabashedly groaned, sang and gyrated ... It was 1982 and Genny and I would spend hours in her bedroom staring at the record sleeves from the double album 1999. If you're a Prince fan, you know the one. The good one, the sexy one, the one where Prince is staring at you from beneath a satin sheet that barely covered his ass, hinting at such a wonderful world of androgyny, brownness and desire if only you would take his hand and step inside."
The cast of "Quintessential" performers includes exHOTic Other, Miss Southern Comfort, Ooh LaLoba, Miss Frankie Eleanor, Private Tails, and sister selva. Some of the women, including Aurora, are part of Brown RadicalAss Burlesque (brASS), a multidisciplinary, NYC-based performance troupe -- an offshoot of Brown Girls Burlesque -- that "uses our unique perspectives as women of color as a lens to the myriad of issues we face," Aurora said. (brASS and Little Woman BIG HAIR Productions are co-producers of the event.)
"Through celebrations of our politicized bodies, we are making politics sexy and empowering audiences to value their own stories and use their creativity toward collective action. We encourage a disruption of the passive consumption of art and use performance to re-imagine our society."
Of course, Prince was a pioneer of celebrating politicized bodies, challenging strict notions of gender and sexuality on stage and off. If burlesque is, as Aurora pointed out, an art form specifically geared toward challenging the heteronormative gaze through its radical movements, costumes and musical acts, Prince was never working far from the medium.
"From the beginning of his musical career, [Prince] drew on masculine and feminine energies, blending them together whenever he felt the desire," Aurora said. "Desire. So much desire. Prince was a celebration of the complexity of human desire. The best burlesque lives in that place, too."