Voices of the Desert and Spellbound Burlesque collaborate for fundraiser show
By Laura Latzko, April 2020 issue.
The Voices of the
Desert show choir unites members of the LGBTQ and allied communities to sing,
dance, and share in a love a music. It has recently been expanding its reach by
performing for and working with different communities.
At its upcoming fundraiser, Voices of the
Desert has a show planned that combines cabaret music and burlesque
performance, along with a live pianist and drummer.
Lacey Aves Harmoania de la Virginia, a drag
queen who is part of the choir, will host the shows.
Many schedules are changing due to the
Coronavirus — follow the organizations’ websites for showtimes and dates.
Artistic Director Keith Clark said with the
show, bringing together members of the two communities was a goal.
“It will help Voices of the Desert to meet
our commitment to our mission statement, which is to bridge the gap between
various communities. I think that’s good for us and good for the burlesque
community, and it’s something different for pride,” Clark says.
Voices of the Desert did a cabaret-style
show last year. After attending a burlesque performance with members of his
choir, Clark devised the idea for combining the two artforms in one show.
“When we saw that show, we thought that
Voices of the Desert could really add something to this,” Clark said.
Voices of the Desert will be joined by
burlesque dancers from Spellbound Burlesque Productions.
The company was founded in 2014 by Frankie
Fillmore and Maxi Millions, who will perform in the Saturday and Sunday shows,
They will be joined by a group of
Arizona-based male and female burlesque dancers that includes Mia Piacherrie,
Visa V, Dottie May Duitt, Pepper Mint Schnapps, Dusty Button, Lil Boy Blu, Anya
Graves, Luna Lovebutton, and Matt Finish.
Together, the performers will put a vintage
twist on modern songs.
The burlesque dancers performing in the
show have different levels of experience.
Like many dancers, Millions started
performing over a decade ago during a major life change. She had just gone
through a major breakup and was looking to be a part of a group with other
She had been
involved in musical theater in high school and college, so burlesque allowed
her to get back onstage in a different way.
Millions performs a classical style of
burlesque, with vintage costumes, makeup, hair and movements, but she said in
burlesque, there is room for different types of performers.
“People tend to want to think that you need
to have 15 years of classical dance training to be a good burlesque performer,
and to that, I say it takes all kinds. I appreciate very dance-heavy performers
and very theatrical performers,” Millions said. “Every performer is going to
connect differently with the audience, and we all respond to different things.”
The upcoming show is providing
opportunities for more choir members, including longtime member Rachel Cohen,
to perform solo numbers. The choir members will also perform as trios, quartets
and small groups.
Prior to the performances, they had a
chance to workshop these numbers with each other.
“The whole goal is to help them to be more
comfortable in their skin and in the choices that they’ve made,” Clark said.
Cohen, who has been with the choir for six
seasons, will perform a piece from A Chorus Line along with Millions.
Last year, she did a solo of Zina
Goldrich’s and Marcy Heisler’s “Alto’s Lament” and a song from City of
Angels during the cabaret show.
She regularly performs with smaller and
larger groups within the choir, including a quartet.
Although she had some stage fright at
first, she has found solo work to be rewarding.
“Keith is pushing us. He’s definitely
expanded all of us artistically. I feel like I’ve grown so much as a singer and
as a choreographer working with him. I would never have taken these kinds of
chances,” Cohen said.
The burlesque/cabaret show allow the choir
to keep expanding on and producing new offerings for the community.
The group has tried to reach LGBTQ and
straight communities by participating in events such as Christmas fairs, the
HRC Arizona Gala Dinner, a meeting of Arizona choral directors, a transgender
awakening event and singing workshop with one•n•ten, a Project Nunway show with
the Grand Canyon Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and an LGBTQ event for seniors.
“We are really trying to branch out into
religious communities, senior communities, the youth community. This is our
opportunity to get into the arts community in a very different way,” Clark
Clark is continually trying to reach new
audiences because even though Voices of the Desert has been around since 2008,
the group is still building a presence in the Phoenix area.
A mixture of
newer and longtime members make up the 30-person choir. The members come from
different backgrounds, including choir, musical theater and dance
Cohen has a musical theater and dance
background and worked in the past with Cohen has a musical theater and dance
background and worked in the past with TheaterWorks, Greasepaint Youtheatre,
Tempe Little Theatre, Mesa Community Theater, Soul Invictus, Dance Theater
West, and Center Dance Ensemble.
Being part of the choir allowed her to
showcase her performance abilities in a slightly different way.
Voices of the Desert has developed to the
point where it is able to put on new styles of shows.
In the last few years, Clark has noticed
immense growth in the choir in its performance level.
“People see that we’re doing really good
work, and that’s helping us to expand. Because we have more talent, and we are
getting more polished in our performances, I think we’re ready for the public,
and the public is ready to embrace us,” Clark said.
The company has developed most in its use
of choreography. Cohen has been helping with this for the upcoming show in May,
adjusting movements to fit with the choir members’ abilities.
Cohen said that choir members’ joy in being
onstage comes through in their performances.
“We have such a good time doing the show that
it just comes out for the audience. We’re having such a blast that you can’t
help but watch us and have a blast,” Cohen said.
Similarly to the burlesque/cabaret-style
show, the choir’s next concert will celebrate the strength and power of women.
For its Viva La Diva concert in May, the
choir will tie in the burlesque-themed song such as “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”
from Gypsy, which choir members will perform as Patti Labelle, Madonna
and Bette Midler.
The spring concert on May 29 and 30 will be centered around female and
male singers such as Gloria Estefan, Lady Gaga, Stevie Wonder, Pink, Elton
John, Elvis, Miley Cyrus, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, and Demi Lovato.
In the show, a young girl wanting to be a
diva learns about the triumphs and tribulations of legendary singers that came
“We do a journey through different divas,
talking about the hardships of it, the glory of it … through performance, we
are showing what it takes to become a diva,” Clark says.
Following the show with Voices of the
Desert, Spellbound Burlesque will also be busy with shows in April and May.
The group hosts a regular second Sunday
show at the Womack and larger performances at the Grand Ballroom at the end of
The April show at the Grand Ballroom will
showcase student and emerging burlesque performances, and the May show will be
in-the-round and feature seasoned burlesque performers.
During these shows, the burlesque dancers
often engage with the audiences. Millions said this connection is a major part
“That is probably my favorite part of
burlesque — letting the audience know I can see them, and I can see they are
enjoying it, letting them know that we are in this together,” Millions said.
The shows highlight performers of different
shapes and sizes and promote the idea of body positivity.
Millions hopes that through different kinds
of shows, audiences will get a broader picture of what burlesque is.
“It can be
beautiful and sexy, but it can also be riveting and emotionally charged. It’s
always been political. Burlesque started as a way to subvert societal norms.
It’s always been political for women to take charge of their own sexuality and
take agency of their bodies,” Millions said. “Burlesque can be funny. It can be
sad, and it can be beautiful. To me, it’s such a broad medium. That’s why I
Visit voicesofthedesert.org and spellboundburlesque.com for details.