Video and photos: Deb Carr
What comes to mind when you think of “burlesque”? Is it satire? Glamour? Striptease? Comedy? Song? Parody?
The word is derived from the Italian burlesco, a joke, ridicule, mockery, caricature, parody, travesty, and the theatrical form initially gained popularity in the 17th century.
In the 20th century, the interpretation shifted to include bawdy comedy and striptease.
I was first exposed to this interpretation in the 1980s when Michael Matou presented “Burlesco”, complete with white-face and powdered perukes, with such legendary performers as Elizabeth Burton, Martin Raphaelle, Sigarette, Boom Boom La Bern, Simon Reptile and Fifi L’Amour.
Enter the Australian Burlesque Festival of 2015, which is touring at the moment. I saw the presentation at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville, home of much of the Sydney Fringe Festival.
The show opened with MC Virginia Poppycock, a nerdy, bespectacled, self-confessed virgin with a sharp sense of humour and a penchant for audience involvement. In the second half, to our surprise, she let loose a spectacular singing voice with her rendition of “Durex Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. After warming up the already primed and excited audience, she introduced “The Royal Captivator”, the 2011 Burlesque Performer of the Year, Sina King, whose stunning opening reminded me of Jessica Rabbit. This was a perfectly sexy start to a very different evening of entertainment.
Sugar du Joure, a woman of substantial proportions, dressed as a tube of toothpaste and lip-synced to male singers. It was a comedy act in a night of surprises and larger-than-life women. I couldn’t help but think, “It’s Rosie O’Donnell meets Divine, with nipple tassels”.
New Zealander, Miss Bettsy Rose Lee, who is also “Rubenesque” and more, dressed as a cupcake and had a food theme in her act. Ms Lee, who was classically trained, wore pumps and performed “sur les pointes”. She was like a dainty, nimble version of an All Black front rower.
Then Ginger Foxx emerged screaming, and dancing to “Cold As Ice”. Even though the performance was fascinating, I was racking my brain to think of where I’d seen that much cellulite. When she dropped into the wide squat, of course! It was at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan in Japan. She really held the audience’s attention.
Another performer of similar "aplomb" was the winner of "Best Assets" at "The Busties", Cherry Lush who dressed as a penguin with an amusing performance. With the black chin make-up and red nose, she reminded me of legendary Australian vaudeville performer Mo McCackie.
The great thing is that these four women who perform almost in the nude, are entirely uninhibited and are devoid of self-consciousness and body image issues. It would be fantastic for them to take their shows to schools around Australia to inspire girls to accept who they are and be proud of their body shapes. It could solve a multitude of mental and emotional issues and even decrease the incidence of suicides.
Toronto Canadian Regina Dentata appeared as a businessman, then proceeded to expose her considerable talents using a chair in a display of variety.
The show also showcased two male performers. Dear Bobby, who also wore the Mo McCackie black beard make-up, made his entrance in black faux leather and wearing a handlebar; not a handlebar moustache, but a motorcycle handlebar. Charlie D. Barkle, who looked like Paul Stookey from Peter, Paul and Mary, danced and sang his way through his top hat and tails routine. The act didn’t match the onstage persona, which made it interesting and somehow compelling.
Medianoche, the New York based Spanish firebrand, did two spots. In glittering gold 1940s glam and a headdress that was reminiscent of Carmen Miranda, she made the best use of tassels I’ve ever seen.
Briana Bluebell looked astonishing in her flowing green outfit and Jacqueline Furey demonstrated her acute awareness of shape, posture and form in her routine. She looked like she had posed for Erté sculptures.
Bijou was clad in an Express Post envelope and mimed to “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” in a fun bit, and Coppelia Jane, as a peacock in pumps, was also entertaining.
The performer that scared me was KerryX who performed a sort-of voodoo ritual that involved the blowing of ashes. Based on the silence in the normally uninhibited audience, I wasn’t the only one.
In a show-stopping act, Sheena Miss Demeanour played a prawn on the barbie to “Hot In The City”. With big props, she was able to demand attention.
Another act that had my focus was the uber-hot Duchess deBerry. With a dark brown bob framing her fine facial features, along with her long legs, statuesque figure and graceful movements, Duchess deBerry is the personification of effortless sexual elegance. This might be due to her training in classical ballet and other forms of dance. She was also classically trained as a singer. I tried hard to think of the time when I last saw a stage persona that was as aesthetically attractive and appealing as Duchess deBerry, and couldn’t.
The show finished off with an second performance by Sina King in an empire gown and sparkling headdress. Did she use her lit-up sceptre as a phallic symbol? Try to stop her. The finale left the audience entirely satisfied and looking forward to the next performance on the tour.
A characteristic of burlesque is the use of g-strings and pasties. Unless there’s a wardrobe malfunction, you won’t see any nipples or “hair-kinis”.
True to the burlesque/vaudeville format, there were nearly twenty acts, all of which were very entertaining. The aspects that impressed me the most were the incredible talents of the performers whose backgrounds include classical dance, modern and jazz dance, gymnastics, acrobatics, classical singing, the circus arts and I even saw some martial arts. Some trained at N.I.D.A. There was a variety of body shapes whose owners weren’t the least inhibited. Really, being comfortable in your own skin should be taught in schools.
The Australian Burlesque Festival is, apparently, the largest of its kind in the world, and deservedly so. On the night that I attended, the audience consisted of regulars from all over Australia and internationally, and they were not shy in verbally manifesting their passion. Burlesque is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, and after twenty-five years, I’m back on board. Bring it on!