When it was first revealed that a new nightspot named Burlesque was opening in Abu Dhabi, more than a few eyebrows were raised.
The venue takes its name from the genre of risqué variety shows that became popular in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, known for bawdy humour and suggestive dancing.
The news of Burlesque opening in the capital sparked immediate and understandable concerns about cultural sensitivities.
The venue’s website coyly promises to provide an “exceptional, memorable and unique experience … glamour with sensual and intimate surroundings”.
In recent years, the UAE has seen boundaries pushed firmly with extravagant, pulse-quickening stage shows at Dubai clubs such as The Act and Cirque Le Soir.
How much further can the capital’s Burlesque Restaurant & Lounge take things?
I booked a table for the signature A Touch of Burlesque cabaret show, which takes place every Thursday and Friday night.
As you might expect, there were dancing girls – but their moves weren’t about raunch. The performances had an offbeat, comedic edge in keeping with the genre’s historic music-hall traditions.
The two-hour show consists of about a half-dozen dance and acrobatics routines, each set to a song.
When dancing nurses shimmy to Fever, it feels more like a light-hearted giggle than a seductive stage show. Other routines break out Moulin Rouge glitz, with flowing feathery dresses, masks and wands, or channel a film-noir femininity with dainty, retro outfits.
The most beguiling moment comes when one dancer clambers inside a giant Martini-glass structure, writhing about dramatically in soapy water.
It was cameraphones at the ready, with the bulk of diners eager to document such frivolity.
Overall, the show might bristle with some audiences, but the mood is one of kooky, light fun rather than dark desire – and the truth is, we’ve seen much edgier material down the road in Dubai.
Dubai’s Cirque Le Soir made headlines in August after it was reported that the world’s most-pierced man – Germany’s Rolf Buchholz, in the record books with a freakish 453 piercings at last count – was reportedly turned away at the airport ahead of a scheduled appearance.
And on my last visit there, The Act’s stage show starred a paraplegic aerial artist whose routine was far more risqué than what I saw at Burlesque.
But good taste aside, artistically there is little comparison between Burlesque and the Dubai venues.
The Abu Dhabi venue is smaller in scope and more traditional in approach, with a principal cast of just three performers, as opposed to the larger casts found in the Dubai clubs.
And Burlesque’s venue is against them, with low ceilings leaving little possibility for more daring acrobatics and aerial acts.
Instead of stunts, the focus is on the music and the food.
Between each of the half-dozen acts, a decent house band works through familiar tunes; however, the floor-friendly set-list jars sharply with the cabaret concept, at times breaking the spell of class.
The food on offer is satisfying, with the Touch of Burlesque package offering two solid, if unremarkable set menus: a choice of meat or fish. However, the long, narrow nature of the venue means only a handful of tables get a direct view of the stage, with many relying on a big television screen to catch the action. Service can also be a little scattershot.
Burlesque is clearly a novelty on Abu Dhabi’s nightlife scene, but compared to the more flamboyant options found elsewhere in the UAE, it’s perhaps a welcome relief that it lacks the ability to shock.
• A Touch of Burlesque takes place every Thursday and Friday from 9.30pm. From Dh500 per person for a set menu and show. Burlesque at Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi is open daily from 7pm. For more information, visit www.burlesqueuae.com or call 056 498 7580