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August 30, 2014

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Emergency Arts: Where burlesque memorabilia meets a chic cafe

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Denise Truscello/WireImage

Dita Von Teese arrives for her featured performance in MGM Grand’s Crazy Horse Paris on March 31, 2010.

It is a perfect storm, or in this case, a perfect Tempest Storm.

The Burlesque Hall of Fame's long search for a permanent exhibit space and the Emergency Arts' comparatively short search for an anchor tenant in downtown Las Vegas has culminated in a partnership beneficial to both organizations. When Emergency Arts opens in May, one of the hottest attractions will be the Burlesque Hall of Fame.

The plan is for the project managed by Michael and Jennifer Cornthwaite to be ready in time for a First Friday opening party May 7, and expect a healthy complement of burlesque amid the 20 galleries and boutiques tucked into the building on the corner of Sixth and Fremont streets.

"We are really excited about them, and they are really excited about us," Jennifer Cornthwaite said in a phone interview today. "They haven't had a physical space for quite a while."

Since 2005, actually. In a tale favored by burlesque icon Dixie Evans, curator of the exhibit space in its previous incarnation, the Burlesque Hall of Fame originally was located in a shed on a patch of desert between L.A. and Vegas, on a onetime goat farm owned by Jennie and Charlie Lee. It was known as the Exotic World Burlesque Museum in those days and was pretty famous even though it was positioned in a remote locale.

As Evans noted, "We had no problems getting reporters to come out and give us coverage."

But the remote location of the farm/shed and its rickety condition (it had been badly damaged by rain over the years) finally led organizers to seek a new spot in Las Vegas. Welcome to downtown, site of the old Fremont Medical Building — which is being renovated as the new Emergency Arts project. It's an appealing old-Vegas spot for the Museum's collection of costumes, posters, documents and related artifacts honoring the adult art form.

The Burlesque Hall of Fame Museum will share space with Emergency Arts' co-anchor, a café managed by the Cornthwaites in partnership with El Cortez, which stands across the street and actually owns the building. That yet-unnamed, 1,500-foot space will offer coffee, pastries, sandwiches and salads.

"Good food at the right price," as Jennifer Cornthwaite said. "We'll have the best of Las Vegas delivered to us."

The Cornthwaites had sought an independent operator to move into the Emergency Arts building to serve as a one of its anchor tenants, but could not reach an agreement with any interested party. Having experience in doing business in the neighborhood as owners of Downtown Cocktail Room on the corner of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, the Corthnwaites called their own number — even if it meant they would not actually be preparing food on-site.

"We have no grease interceptor, no way to trap grease," Jennifer Harrington said. "That's the reason. Even if you're just preparing sandwiches, you need a grease interceptor to operate a kitchen, and one of those cost a fortune. There was a period of about a month when you could not even say the words 'grease interceptor' to me without me breaking out in hives."

Something from Dita

In the midst of her showcase appearance in "Crazy Horse" at MGM Grand, Dita Von Teese says she is entertaining ideas of producing her own updated adult production in Las Vegas. This show would borrow from the better moments of "Jubilee" at Bally's, while concurrently pushing the art form forward.

"I'd like a 'Jubilee'-style show, in the spirit of the 'Ziegfeld Folies,' but an updated, smarter use of showgirls," she said during an interview in the Crazy Horse theater lobby prior to Wednesday's premiere performance. "It needs to be chic, fashionable, a visual feast."

As always, Von Teese knows what she does not want in a production bearing her name and artistic work.

"No skates," she said. "No lasers. No bad singing." No return to "Starlight Express," for starters.

There are no takers, as yet, for this flavor of refined burlesque in Vegas showroom. Von Teese's brand of burlesque is not cheap. This is a woman who spent more than $100,000 of her own money to update the scenes she performed in "Crazy Horse" at MGM. The most recent big-dollar investment made by a major resort for an adult show has been "Peepshow," at Planet Hollywood, an appealing show that has nonetheless been cutting costs nearly since it opened.

And it's clear Von Teese would want a high-caliber production at least on a par with "Peepshow."

"I'm really interested in spectacles," Von Teese said. "What better place than Las Vegas?"

Nowhere, is where.

Click to enlarge photo

More adult content

Am I a wealth of information about burlesque, or what?

We'll wrap, or unwrap, thusly: The Burlesque Hall is also hooking into downtown with its annual "Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend" showcase in June. The event, previously held at The Orleans Showroom, is moving to the Plaza Showroom; the exact dates are June 4-6. The space is less by about half — but shall be double the fun!

Also, this weekend's Viva Las Vegas' rockabilly weekend features a star-studded Burlesque Competition lineup for the annual competition on Saturday night at The Orleans. The show starts at 7 p.m., and it's a hoot.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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