Since their first performance in 2003, Asheville’s all-female burlesque troupe, The Rebelles, have become one of the most popular acts in town. More than just a simple striptease act, the troupe forged its reputation on highly polished, politically charged shows that were as much satirical as saucy. And the crowds loved them for it, with packed houses and sold-out shows from the very start. Even during the group’s frequent breaks from performing, members were often approached by Rebelle wannabes yearning to join up.
In a town where the competition for the ticket-buying public’s attention is fierce, the Rebelles had seemingly won the battle, anchoring their place in Asheville’s cultural history.
Which makes it all the more surprising that the troupe would call it quits.
And yet, that’s exactly the case. The Rebelles will perform their final shows—themed around Halloween—at the Grey Eagle later this week, along with their backing band, The Pheromones, and local sketch-comedy act The Feral Chihuahuas.
But why, when they’re seemingly at the height of their homespun success, have the Rebelles decided to retire their pasties and G-strings?
“It’s time,” explains founding Rebelle Christine DiBenedetto (perhaps better known to some as her Rebelle persona Simi Rocket).
“The decision to have this be our last show together is bittersweet,” notes DiBenedetto. “We are a tight group and get a lot of joy out of creating and performing. This group has been made up of some of the most dynamic people I know here in Asheville, which also means some of the busiest people I know.”
In the four years since the group was formed, the members also have fallen prey to shifting priorities. Many Rebelles have become business owners and started families, and find that they have limited time to devote to the troupe. This is doubly true for DiBenedetto, who co-owns Wink Heads & Threads salon and boutique and is expecting her first child.
And running a project like the Rebelles takes a lot of time, patience and hard work.
Far from being an excuse for cheap thrills and lame jokes, the Rebelles distinguished themselves by presenting highly professional performances. Using clever production techniques, excellent choreography and outstanding musical performances (from their house band, the Pheromones, an impressive group of local musicians in its own right), the troupe made art out of a formula that, in lesser hands, could have come across as little more than smut.
Reminding their audiences that “For a good cause, wrongdoing may be virtuous,” the group turned stripteases into lighthearted social and political commentary. What’s more, the troupe even managed to construct a series of themed performances into a working narrative of sorts, all loosely tied to the struggles of G-Spot Liberation Army in their efforts to bring the message of their mysterious leader, “the G,” to the masses.
While it’s something of a stretch to call their work subtle, subtext-laden insights—such as “sometimes you can’t just lie on your back; you’ve got to take matters into your own hands”—and unflinching criticism of those who would use sexual repression as a tool of control earned the group a surprisingly varied and supportive fandom.
“Adding political elements to most of our shows is nothing more than an examination of our everyday lives,” DiBenedetto says of the group’s message. “Things that we might find challenging [in our lives] are worth burlesquing; it’s part of our human existence.”
But just because The Rebelles are finally dropping the curtain on their act doesn’t mean they can’t go out with a bang. Sticking to the political/sexual/pop-cultural send-ups and steamy dance routines that made them so well loved in the first place, the final Rebelles performance promises to be a memorable farewell. Expect surprises, and maybe even a few guest appearances by members of the original G-Spot Liberation Army, who have been keeping lower profiles in recent years.
Does DiBenedetto have any parting thoughts as the four-year revelry comes to a close?
“It’s been more than great. Asheville has shown us more love than we could have imagined, and it’s always best to leave the party when you’re having a good time.”
[Victoria Karol is a freelancer writer based in Asheville.]
who: The Rebelles Burlesque with The Pheromones and The Feral Chihuahuas
what: The swan song for Asheville’s iconic burlesque troupe
where: Grey Eagle
when: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27 (9 p.m. $20. Advance tickets highly recommended. Appropriate for ages 18 and older. www.thegreyeagle.com or 232-5800)