Where Have All the Bad Girls Gone?
June 24-26, 2011
The Vanguard, Sydney
When thinking of clever genre juxtapositions that sell, this one had punters diving for tickets like seagulls after chips.
Similar best selling titles would be Ski Ballet For The Over Fifties, Pride and Prejudice with Zombies (Darcy’s Hunger) and my favourite Jerry Springer – The Opera. Star Wars Burlesque sounds like an anathema to both Star Wars and burlesque fans alike. Yet like so much of what bubbles out of the Sydney underground it’s wrong for all the right reasons.
Sydney boasts it’s own style. Character, parody or neo/ grotesque burlesque are what we seem to produce in abundance. I feel partially responsible; I’m one of its’ pioneers. I love the Sydney Style and I can’t wait to see what we do to twist this already bizarre theme.
Before anyone imagines we invented this theme- STOP! I’m not alone in my droolings over the original Star Wars Burlesque by The Devil’s Playground, Los Angeles 2010.
Hats off to this event, please take the time to have a peek.
Oz promoter and fellow pioneer Russall S. Beatty expressed his disappointment that although he’d wanted to do the idea, The Devils Playground beat him to it.
I give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. I know Russall well enough to know that whatever he does with this theme will be particular to his tastes as a producer, rather than a desire to create a copycat event.
I wasn’t wrong. This event has Russall Beatty stamped all over it.
8PM, the doors opened.
The crew and performers had all secretly hoped that the room would be full of horny dorks in home made costumes- ice cream buckets covered in tin foil and the like. The audience were considerably less adventurous. This was after all, The Vanguard, Russall’s own small seater venue that came with a conservative, middle class crowd when he bought it last year. This is what happens when burlesque goes mainstream- this is not our crowd. But rather than fight it, Russall is determined to educate and create a space where we can slowly take over their brains and turn them into hot pink jelly… oh, I mean seduce them with our art.
Russall’s theory about creating a good line up of showgirls is based on casting skilled artists who not only posses a background in performance, but whose work sits in one of the six burly styles that dominate the Australian circuit-
“Classic, contemporary, circus, queer, punk and comedy. “
“Most performer’s work sits within 2 or three of these categories. You are the only artist I know who does all of them.“ (Blush! My act for SWBA this evening sits on the absurd/ oversexed circus/ post-punk fence with a 1990’s dance-party-drug influence).
Beatty continues, “What I want to create is a night of entertainment… I want to bridge the gap between the underground and the mainstream. Most people who come to The Vanguard have only seen Burlesque the movie and think burlesque is an aesthetic not a performance style.”
“What I want for this venue is to be known for sexy entertainment, rather than just burlesque and that’s what I’ve been trying to do all year.” Then he says the line that resounds with not only what I’ve been wondering lately, but what other performers who predate the revival are saying. “Burlesque just isn’t sexy anymore. It’s become formulaic. “
Now if I am a writer who is known for uncomfortably mentioning the elephant in the room, this would be this week’s elephant— where has the eroticism gone from our burlesque?
The problem could be is symptomatic of my culture. Australia has never celebrated our striptease artists. For decades burlesque has been the art of the fallen woman; the slut, the whore and the decadent misanthropes who pleasurably take the shine off any civilisation. As a result eroticism was never let out of the strip clubs.
Sydney’s burlesque performers have had to tailor our work to charm a puritanical, judgemental and, dare I say, misogynistic audience. This alone is probably why we use comedy and skill to the degree we do. It’s the only way to silence the critics- and our critics can be very loud and very cruel.
This is the same audience that 20 years ago used to put their cigarettes out on me as I performed. Now, looking out at a crowded room of smiling gentrified punters, it’s hard to believe how harsh our beginnings actually were.
Australia has come a long way… but not far enough it seems to really let the tiger out of the cage.
Here, in the colony, the display of female sexuality still seems to be such a nouvelle idea, I wonder if even members of my generation think a clitoris is an extinct member of the crustacean family.
All that be as it may, it seems that burlesque itself is more conservative now than it ever was. If our audiences have changed to the degree that middle class conformists are lining up on the street to get in, the demographic of women who are performing has also changed. Burlesque is not being performed by the wild social outcasts who created this subculture, our latest wave are them selves seemingly contained. The result is that Burlesque in Oz seems to be falling further and further away from strip or tease and is increasingly becoming about pretty fluffings.
This all puts SWBA in the hot seat as I’ve decided it’s time to get back to the business of strip and honour the bad girls!
So this event has to:
1. Charm a burlesque ignorant audience.
2. Showcase relatively new performers (Tasia aside) to be confidently erotic.
3. Impress a cynic like me.
One thing I do know about Russall— if anyone can spot the next wave of edge cutters, it’s going to be him.
The Cantina band has warmed up the crowd, out come Moaning at Midnight – The Vanguard’s in-house dance trio performing a choreographed wookie dance. How fantastic and what a great way to start the night.
The aim was to create a chorus line of wookies who devolve into a sex ritual— without having anything actually sexual happen. It was like a hairy, hetro, soft-porn, pseudo-lesbian act for a bucks party on Tatooine. Yes there was much ‘sanitized crumping’ is how one audience member put it, but as an opener it did its job. It looked great, the gals were hot and it got the crowd to stop talking on their mobiles and raise a thunderous cheer.
Act 2. There is a sand pit out of which springs Paige Louisa Morse as a Tuscan raider (sand person). It wasn’t exactly burlesque- nothing seemed to come off, yet strangely it had all the brandings of modern strip. It was a dirty act with bucking hips and grind to spare. Paige is a very sexually charged performer so if that is her ‘skill’, the formula is certainly working for me. I could sense the room heat up with a collective nerd boner.
Thankfully, just before the women at the hen’s table could start drunkenly slagging the performer out came Kael Murray as a broken C3PO. This act was gorgeous, poignant and elegant; a broken golden robot putting herself back together. She came back in the second half and performed as a Jedi Master. This little hottie has a belly dance background and did some gorgeously skilful sword work with a light sabre being the only light source. Once again- very stylish. Kael is such a beautiful girl I could watch her for hours. The audience are all screaming so I’ll assume it’s also a yes from them.
From the circus side of things we had the delight of Billie Bradshaw as Boba Fett on a space junk mobile. She bent our minds with her bendiness- the whip to back arch, flick off jacket and whip back move was insane! For me this act was one of the highlights.
I do a few half time interviews. The audience are LOVING this event. None of it has been challenging, but neither has it been predictable. The power of the acts was really that they didn’t give away too much at all.
Some burlesque aficionados argued that they gave away too little.
For a start those that wore masks kept them on. I am an advocate of giving good face while onstage, yet I really enjoyed the mask factor. It made the whole event feel like performance art and I found it erotic in a voyeuristic way. I wasn’t being told where to look by a suggestive pair of eyes and pouting soft lips- just Boba Fetts cold reflective eye slits and C3PO’s metal grill mouth. Perhaps it was the voyeuristic overtones but SWBA was feeling more like a strip club than a burlesque event and as each act unfolded this element became stronger.
The men I spoke to found it alienating… literally. They couldn’t get into it. It was too cold and uninviting. Meanwhile all the women I have spoken to are having the time of their lives. Interesting…
The artists also did not take their tops off. This started a Face Book frenzy the next day. Only one act really got her boobs out – yes of course it was me. DUH, had I only known. Generally, I don’t think the audience cared. They were on a high of Jabba The Hutt’s frog juice hookah.
To boob or not to boob became an issue of the event. When asked Russall simply answered, “If the point of strip tease is to tease then my audience were definitely left wanting more. “
In my opinion, yes burlesque should have boobies. SWBA proved that getting your tits out does not equate to good performance, nor did any of the acts need boobs to be provocative. Russall has created in consideration of whom his audience would be and he cast the line up well. Too much booby could have caused a hate wave from confronted women in the audience. Hate waves can cool a room in moments.
Thus far, the audience were ecstatic!!! Nothing was too gratuitous for them and as such they gobbled it up like punters at the Canteena witnessing another bloody dismemberment.
I looked out to see happy, happy faces except the grumpy old turd in the front row displaying his disgust for our kind by playing with his phone. Mind you his wife was getting pretty tanked and her home perm was certainly loosened by the end of the night- so perhaps he was just feeling threatened. One word for you old man— Viagra!
Other highlights were the reverse strip from Evie Lavern who presented a theatre skit- a day in the life of a Twi-lek. The UV Storm Troopers doing some sexy robo chorus line work was like Crazy Horse franchise on The Death Star— Brilliant! Of course then there was choreographer, headliner and The Vanguard’s home gal— Tasia!!!
The headliner of the show did two acts, one as Leia playfully hanging in chains, swinging out over the audience without a care for potential decapitations. The second act was as Vader in neck to knees shiny black. Tasia is one of Australia’s most notable classic performers so it was fabulous to see her hot body twist around in black latex to “It’s a Man’s World.” I guess you could say it was Vader’s take on the classic strip. Clever, funny and yes, very, very gorgeous.
A final note: On my mission to find the next wave of wave makers. Sorry to say it but I think all the bad girls must be in LA right now.
Don’t misinterpret this as a negative… SWBA didn’t push any boundaries for me- but my boundaries are as stretched as a whores knickers.
I admire Beatty. He is always trying to shake things up a bit and always creates great events. It might not have been the bad ass type of event that I love, but this event hit it’s mark.
I was expecting more satire on the night, but from what I have seen that seems to have been LA’s take on the theme. Beatty set out to make a sexy event and, boob or no boob, SWBA fulfilled that criteria.
This event was stylish. The cast were beautiful, the acts were well crafted, costumed and directed.
Star Wars Burlesque (Oz) worked brilliantly for the crowd it had before it, which as I’ve pointed out is a difficult task. I hate to say it but the non-booby decision was a masterstroke.
I leave you with these thoughts; if bastardising burlesque is what we have to do to keep a middle class audience happy- do we really want them as an audience? In any case- so long as they are putting dollars in the till and food on our tables the most important thing is that they walk away saying great things about burlesque. Well done Russall, Tasia and the cast.
Join me next time when my search for bad girls takes me to Melbourne, Australia’s Classic burlesque Capital.
Imogen Kelly, Australia’s notorious Queen of Burlesque, plaything of millionaires and first lady of the demimonde, has been stripteasing for 22 years and still going strong.
All photos ©Onur “KingPin” Ka, DsVision.net, and used here with express permission by Burlesque Beat. Please respect photography copyrights and do not use images without obtaining explicit permission.