Winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9, Sasha Velour, steps into UK territory in red stilettos, serving her Smoke & Mirrors extravaganza for the first time to a British crowd, with her opening (and only) night at Birmingham’s historical ‘’The Alexandra’’ Theatre.
Smoke & Mirrors is Sasha Velour’s first one-queen theatre tour, a 90-minute experimental spectacle with 13 boundary breaking lip-syncing acts, directed, produced and choreographed by the queen herself. Each of these sparkling live acts is like a miniature film or play, that tells an autobiographical story through an emotionally overwhelming lip-sync performance.
The 32-year old has honorably carried out RuPaul’s legacy, but instead of working within the system that she has been given, she decided to carve out her own path, taking risks, pushing art to the next level and re-defining the form of drag so that there are more opportunities for the queer artists that follow.
She invested all her winnings from Drag Race on her own monthly drag theatre show, Nightgowns, which celebrates exceptional drug artists of all backgrounds. Smoke & Mirrors was in fact born from Nightgowns, with most of the lip-syncing experiments being selected from these 6 years of developing her own style of drag performance.
In drag, there’s always a big element of deep confession…in her Velourian way, she uses fantasy, illusions and surrealism to express how she deals with success and the struggles that come along with it.
The bold drag icon, introduces audiences to a whole new side of her artistry, constructing her own innovative blueprint in drag’s whitespace through visual art, magic and performance.
Having pioneered projection mapping in drag performance, Velour combines video, sound, animations and illustrations to explore themes of fame, family, gender and flexible identity, in an attempt to unmask truths about herself, share memories of her past, and highlight the importance of dreaming big.
In drag, there’s always a big element of deep confession…in her Velourian way, she uses fantasy, illusions and surrealism to express how she deals with success and the struggles that come along with it. Dealing with anxiety and depression all her life, now more intensely than ever before, she constantly seeks for new ways to celebrate her personal growth and develop a healthier relationship with herself through the art of drag, theatre and performance.
With a broad music spectrum inspired by different decades, mixing modern pop culture tunes with older legendary classics, Smoke & Mirrors features music by Annie Lennox, Whitney Houston, Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Celine Dion, Sia, Nina Simone, Le Tigre and more.
To make the right song selection, Velour required voices with real emotion that would make a dynamic lip-sync, but most importantly they had to be songs that had a personal meaning to her so that she could give her own interpretation with each of her performances.
Sasha opened up the show with Sia’ s cold-shivering ‘’Cellophane’’, as she stood still in the center of the stage in front of a white backdrop. She allowed projections of her face to be shown on her white dress in the form of imagery and pre-recorded videos, focusing on the rawness of mental illness and self-reflection.
Called as ‘’The performance of the year’’ by AV Club, Velour decides to bring back her epic lip-sync performance from Season 9’s finale, no other than Whitney Houston’s ‘’So Emotional’’, as she re-creates the act with a different rose petal twist.
She also paid tribute to her mother by performing ‘’If You Go Away’’ by Shirley Bassey. In 2015, she originally performed the song for the first time in front of her mother while she was on chemotherapy and had lost all her hair. Inspired her strength and courage, Sasha decided to become a bald drag queen and used her look to create feminine beauty that women would find empowering.
‘’My relationship with my mother inspired that piece, and after her passing, it informed the reason why I never wanted to perform it ever again…now she’s become the main inspiration to bring it back to life for Smoke & Mirrors ‘’
– Sasha Velour
Sasha gave us a piece of herself by showing us her true colors, filling up the room with so much love and beauty. She connected with the crowd in such an extraordinary way, that felt like a personal exchange of emotions through sharing her own experiences. After her final act, Velour returned to the stage, thrilled to witness a standing ovation as the entire crowd praised her charismatic nature and remarkable talent.
Smoke & Mirrors is a celebration of theatrics in an old fashion way, a testament to intuitiveness and determination, an escapism of reality that brings queer communities together…Can I get an amen up in here?
For tickets on Sasha Velour’s Smoke & Mirrors European Tour which continues around the UK then further afield, visit:
Words by Emilia Antoniadou for Grapevine Birmingham.