Pretençión: Un Cirque de Burlesque, un Burlesque de Cirque

By Jonathan Van Gieson; Directed by Jonathan Van Gieson and Jeremy X. Halpern

Tansy and Jonny Porkpie in PRETENCION.

BOTTOM LINE: Pretencion showcases some of New York City's best burlesque performers.

Pinchbottom’s Pretencion: Un Cirque de Burlesque, brings to mind the vaudeville shows of the old New York City, when a variety of burlesque and comedic performers would entertain audiences. The fact that Pretencion is staged within the Elektra Theater, located in the back of the year-round haunted house Time Scare, seems appropriate, given that such old time vaudeville theaters like The Palace Theater are in close proximity. While burlesque has been a revived art form in the city for a while now, Jonny Porkpie (aka Jonathan Van Gieson) stages burlesque dance numbers in a more vaudevillian style by intermingling them into a longer parodic play.

The storyline running through Pretencion is essentially a parody of Cirque Du Soleil and its pretentiousness, it however also provides commentary on the question of art versus entertainment and what makes burlesque an art form above stripping, which results in the show’s established burlesque names wryly poking fun at their own craft. (Actress/burlesque performer Tansy notes, “But without my pretension I would just be a girl taking off her top in a bar!”) Drag King comedian Murray Hill opens up the show and winds up becoming a character within the play. His sarcastic brand of humor helps to make the first act of the play a hilarious one, and he spends the beginning of the show berating the performers while seated in the audience. Tansy, as a clownified ring mistress, Jonny Porkpie, burlesque performer Tigger (aka James Ferguson), and Murray Hill all go out in search of their missing pretension so that their art might become suitably more pretentious.

As someone who has never actually seen Cirque De Soleil, I found that the storyline grew a bit tired by the second hour, and wished that the show would move onto a new gimmick. The structure, however, of burlesque numbers mixed with a comedic play is an appealing concept and one that I hope to see utilized again. For me, the burlesque numbers were by far the highlight of the show. The show has a rotating series of burlesque performers, so not every show is the same. On the night I attended the highlight by far was Jo “Boobs” Weldon’s Godzilla-themed burlesque number. By donning a frighteningly realistic Godzilla costume and incorporating monster sound effects, Weldon was able to create an immensely unique and compelling performance, combining sex appeal with cinematic horror. Weldon routinely pushes the envelope with her performances, and is always a name to look out for. Mae West lookalike Dirty Martini also performed a seductive burlesque number that kept along with a fitting horror theme in which she pretended to rip out her own heart. Also keeping in with the theme was Julie Atlas Muz who performed a humorous number in which she pretended to be forcibly fondled by an evil hand. Pretencion succeeds in the end in being a celebration of New York City’s diverse burlesque scene, showcasing some of the city’s most well-known and talented performers.

(Pretencion plays at The Elektra Theater, 673 Eighth Avenue. Performances are Thursdays at 8PM and Sundays at 5PM. Tickets are $25-$79 and are available at or by calling 866.811.4111.)