As I surveyed the crowd at the Can Can Culinary Cabaret, tucked beneath the bustling streets of Pike Place Market, after ordering dinner but before the evening's entertainment began, I noticed that there were far more women than men in the audience.
Perhaps it's only right, I thought: Femme Fatale, Can Can's collaboration with local band Prom Queen, is a show dedicated to the enigmatic—and equally problematic—Mata Hari, a woman who wasn't afraid to take her own path and create a story that was entirely hers, and on her own terms.
In a pleasant change of current social scenery, Femme Fatale builds a contemporary take on the life story of the legendary exotic dancer, double agent, and social personality without relying on the appropriated cultural imagery that gave Hari her falsely "exotic" appeal. Hari, who was a Dutch woman born with the name Margaretha Geertrudia Zelle, used a multitude of cultures to create her wildly popular persona—including a backstory as a Javanese princess who was taught the art of "sacred Indian dance" from birth—and was later met with critique over her use of Orientalist imagery to foster her popularity.
However, it's now 2018, and cultural appropriation isn't hot anymore. With featured host and dancer Jonny Boy's opening remarks—"Was Mata Hari the queen of cultural appropriation? Yes. But did she also pave the way for future feminists and femme fatales? Abso-fucking-lutely"—it was made clear that the production had not only checked itself on the topic, but placed that conversation at the forefront in its formation.
Although inspired by Mata Hari, Can Can Dance Company absolutely sizzled as they broke away from Hari's appropriative legacy and instead brought down the house with their own blend of raunchy fun, seductive cheekiness, and downright hot chemistry.
In place of sexualized stereotypes, Lux Collective's TJ Davis brings a menagerie of spellbinding projections that add a touch of Twin Peaks seduction to the show. Alongside Prom Queen's signature doom-wop, the atmosphere of ethereal intrigue is complete. The sex appeal is not only through the roof, but out of this world—with Chris Pink's artistic direction, Fae Phaelen Pink's dynamic choreography, Jonathan Betchtel and JC Bedard's awe-inspiring set designs, and lighting designer Robert Aguilar's washes of pinks, reds, and dramatic flashes (there should be an epilepsy warning for this portion) throughout the show.
The star of the night, however, is none other than Prom Queen's Celene Ramadan, who dons Hari's character with refreshing charisma and sensuality. With each multifaceted transformation for yet another sexy number, the charm, seduction, and provocative glamour of Hari's original performances take on a new form through Ramadan's equally emotive and flirtatious presence.
Whether she is a synth-fueled siren, a crystal-adorned queen, or a femme domme supreme—keep an eye out for some badly behaved kitty cats!—each of Ramadan's revivifications brings a whole new level of fun.