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Exposing her exper-tease

Local burlesque artist hopes to win over new fans to the seductive art form

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ANGELA SENISHYN is on a mission.

She wants Winnipeg to embrace the worldwide burlesque revival.

The pert strawberry blond, who works under the stage name Miss La Muse, is presenting her latest tribute to the formerly grand art form Friday evening at Academy Food, Drinks & Music in Osborne Village.

She'll have her sequined gowns, her corsets, her pasties and a saucy glint in her eye.

"Burlesque is elegant, artistic and tasteful," insists Senishyn, 24, who has been performing around town for more than three years.

"Like striptease, it is suggestive and sexual in nature, but the key word is tease."

Burlesque has its roots in 17th-century Europe. The term is said to derive from words meaning "joke," "send-up" and even "turn upside down."

The Moulin Rouge in Paris (which inspired Baz Luhrmann's hit movie and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's forthcoming new production) presented elements of the form.

It caught on big-time in late 19th-century U.S., where it became associated with striptease and vaudeville.

Senishyn stumbled onto it after she watched some performances by the 1950s American pin-up queen Bettie Page on YouTube.

"I'm a bit of an extrovert, and I'm into weird, bizarre kinds of things," she says. "When I saw those videos, they just felt natural to me. This is exactly what I wanted to do."

Three years ago, she was featured on CBC-TV's afternoon show Living Winnipeg. She has performed at several clubs, and in early July she booked the Park Theatre on Osborne for a two-hour variety special.

She will appear in a documentary about local stripper agent Gladys Balsillie being made by Winnipeg's Farpoint Films.

Her Friday night show will feature many of the standard burlesque elements, including a contortionist, a belly dancer and live music, the latter courtesy of Johnny Pancreas and the Diabetics.

"She embodies the classical side of burlesque," says Winnipeg actress Mia Star van Leeuwen, co-artistic director of the Out of Line Theatre Co-op.

"When you watch Angela's routines, you could fall in love with her."

Standup comedian Heather Witherden, the host of the Park Theatre performance, praises Senishyn for her energy and spunk.

"People in the audience aren't sure what to think," Witherden says. "They're not used to seeing a woman so empowered."

Senishyn grew up as Angela Clarke in rural Cape Breton Island, where her Winnipeg-born mother, Wilma, ran a greenhouse.

Visiting her extended family here as a girl, she remembers her late uncle Anton Kirk, an arts philanthropist and volunteer, showing her the town.

"My Uncle Tony would take me to all these wonderful shows, like Phantom of the Opera," she recalls. "There is nothing like that where I come from."

After high school, she spent a year in England as a nanny, then moved to Winnipeg in 2005 to care for her maternal grandmother, Julia, after her grandfather Walter died.

While she pursues her chosen art form, she supports herself by working in a call centre and serving as a caretaker in her Inkster Boulevard area apartment.

"Burlesque," she says, "has changed my life."

The only thing missing, she admits, is someone to share it with.

"I think men can be intimidated by me," she says. "I come from simple roots, but I'm not a normal girl, so I can't exactly have a normal guy."

morley.walker@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2009 D1

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