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There was an empty red leather sofa waiting stage-side at the otherwise sold-out Tarantina burlesque show at Echo Park’s Club Bahia on Thursday night, in hopes that the game-changing filmmaker whose work inspired the unofficial production might arrive. But even without Quentin Tarantino’s physical presence, his pulpy cinematic spirit pervaded the evening.
In keeping with the iconic auteur’s signature post-modern style, Tarantina takes inspiration from the many powerful female figures who populate his films (and a few from Tarantino’s friend and frequent collaborator Robert Rodriguez) and mashes it up with a melange of burlesque, striptease, acrobatics and circus theatrics, with each performance enhanced with costumes and props evoking Tarantino’s cinematic canon, backed by a potent array of musical selections culled from the movie’s indelible soundtracks. Call it bump-and-grindhouse.
The show, which had previously been running at the Belasco downtown and in other venues since January, was making its debut at its new home, Club Bahia — a spacious half-dive bar, half-Latin dance hall. It’s the brainchild of performance artist, producer, gymnastics champion and entrepreneur Tosca Rivola, who’s worked with an array of clients and brands including Dita Von Teese, Tyra Banks, Google and Nike, and she drew performers from a circle of friends and colleagues who have performed with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Guns N’ Roses.
“I have been a Tarantino fan for a long time, and his women characters have always inspired me — I’ve always liked the outlaw woman,” Rivola told THR ahead of the performance. “I feel like I know the women he has in his movies. And I know all these women with these really insane specialty skills…. Like, I literally know a girl who does that mace ball [move] that Gogo Yubari does [in Kill Bill, Vol. 1]. I know the girl who’s the best at this in L.A. was like, ‘I’m going to make this show that features, essentially, the women that Tarantino created.'”
Indeed, after an opening prelude from a zaftig lounge singer named Coco with a smoky purr-roar reminiscent of Amy Winehouse powering her through tracks like “Let’s Stay Together” and “Son of a Preacher Man” (both featured in 1994’s Pulp Fiction), the saucy-mouthed ringmaster/dominatrix Miss Emma summoned the filmmaker’s pantheon of femme fatales one by one to come to life on stage, accented with sky-high stiletto heels, bedazzled pasties, tear-away costumes and lots and lots of skin.
Pulp Fiction‘s Honey Bunny, Kill Bill‘s O-Ren Ishii, From Dusk Till Dawn‘s Santanico Pandemonia, Death Proof‘s Butterfly, The Hateful Eight‘s Daisy Domergue and True Romance‘s Alabama Whitman appeared; male characters from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were given gender-swapped reimaginings; previous shows have included Uma Thurman’s iconic Mia Wallace and The Bride, and future shows will draw from the upcoming Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
Rivola frequently casts to type: For example, her real-life roommate Brynn Route is an acrobatic pole-dancing marvel. “She does Nancy Callahan, the sweet stripper from the Sin City movie,” said the producer. “She’s the queen of the slow-motion bend, essentially. She just embodies that character, she has lived that life and it made sense, and she’s a beautiful performer.” Rivola herself closed the show in character as Planet Terror‘s machine-gun-legged Cherry Darling in a dazzling roue Cyr routine.
Tarantina is the latest twist on the trend of pop culturally themed, interactive locales like the Star Wars-influenced Scum and Villainy (which more recently paid homage to Game of Thrones) and the Saved by the Bell-derived pop-up diner Saved by the Max. “I feel like this is really what people are kind of gravitating toward, something a little bit more curated,” said Rivola. “We have drinks named after fake Tarantino brands. The playlist only plays soundtrack music. The DJ afterward only plays things in that sphere. I make sure that nothing slips off-brand.”
Tarantino himself had been expected to make his first-ever appearance in the audience, but Rivola was unfazed by the no-show. “Celebrities are busy, his movie’s coming out — I understand,” she said, satisfied with the presence of his zeitgeist. “People are like, ‘This show works because everyone loves Tarantino and everyone’s mad at somebody.’ It’s like a revenge fantasy show, you know? And everyone loves babes.”
The next performance of Tarantina is Aug. 15 at Club Bahia, 1130 Sunset Blvd.
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