Thursday, 11 October 2012


Nazi Burlesque in Brisbane

A few weeks ago a journalist asked me to comment about a Nazi themed burlesque act that has been performed in Brisbane. It’s is not the only one that is going around at the moment, perhaps the trend is inspired by the film “Burlesque Assasins” - somewhat like a spoof on Inglourious Basterds (sic) - about burlesque girls who hunt down Nazis after the war, I have not seen this film so I will not make any comment about it.

The show was performed by a dancer called Ali Darling, we have many mutual friends and it is clear that she is a kind and caring person but I was so shocked by the way in which she has treated this sensitive subject. I’m sure this is a case of a lack of awareness on the part of the artist. There is a Youtube video of the show so you can watch it and form your own opinion.

I’m not saying that the subject is off limits, it just has to be treated with thought and consideration. The masterful comedian Mel Brooks directed the film “The Producers” in 1968 (I prefer it to the later stage play and film versions) about producers who wish to create a flop show so that they can write it off on tax, so they decide to make a musical about Hitler. To their surprise the show is a success; they are baffled that a fluff piece about one of the worst murderers in history is received with joy by the public. The Producers does not degrade the subject by dealing with it directly but rather comments on the way in which audiences are willing to buy just about anything given the right package: it's a sharp social commentary. But Brooks is a great Master and very few should even attempt to tread where he triumphs.

The Sunday Mail article mentions that I have a German heritage. It’s true but I have greater connections than this. For the last three years I have made an annual European tour and each time I have played in Germany. I’m always interested to know what it is like to be German today, how it feels to live in the shadow of the sins of others. My friends have told me that they still suffer stereotyping and prejudice because foreigners believe that they are Nazis which angers them greatly because there are still gangs of neo-nazis terrorizing the people of Germany today; they are victims in many ways. I feel it is so important for outsiders to respect the pain that Germany still suffers and it is not fair for any of us to perpetuate this hideous stereotype.

I must also say that Germany has one of the best education systems in the world and their people are taught the truth about WW2 from the time that they start school. There is no doubt that the youth of Germany are very well informed and are amongst the most liberal and forward thinking people I have ever met.

This month I visited two sites of Nazi crime, the Dachau concentration camp in Germany and the town of Oradour in France. Over 200,000 people were imprisoned at Dachau and 30,000 people died there, shot, beaten, starved, demoralised, worked to death, experimented on, and some gassed, incinerated in the crematorium and thrown on the ash heaps. Oradour was a peaceful, country town where on June 10th 1944 an SS unit took the town unexpectedly. They looted the town, put the men into barns and shot them in the legs then burned them alive. They put the women and children into the church and shot them in the legs, they shot the children, they shot the babies in their prams and burned them all alive in the chapel. Over 640 men, women and children were killed, leaving only about 6 survivors.

Just thinking about these places brings tears to my eyes again, we can never imagine what it is to be victim to such evil, sadly it continues in different forms around the world today. It is our duty to remember and respect the victims. Knowledge of the past and respectful remembrance is the only way we can stop such evil growing within our society; we cannot afford to be blind.

The thing that most concerns me about the Nazi werewolf burlesque is that it depicts a Nazi character injecting her victims with a large syringe. I'm not sure if the artist is aware of the atrocities of Nazi scientist Dr. Josef Mengele (one of many) who performed unspeakable crimes against humanity in the name of medical science. He and his Nazi colleagues administered all kinds of "experiments" which included many injections, live human dissection, freezing and gassing people alive and countless other inhuman acts.

He mercilessly slaughtered men, women and babies who belonged to the social and genetic groups whom the Nazis wished to exterminate. If the use of this novelty syringe was an intentional reference it was carried out in very poor taste, not funny. 

Some have defended the act by saying that it is a “burlesque” therefore it is protected by a license of parody. I fail to see anything morally or politically valid in its content and I do not find any of it funny, I doubt that many audience would laugh even if they did enjoy the show. In the video you can see an audience member participate by raising his hand for the "Heil!" commands in the soundtrack, I am so very disturbed by this. In my opinion it does not play as a comedy and really doesn’t have the substance to count as performance art, it’s a striptease with Nazi accessories. There are many grey areas within the arts but this act is pretty straight down the line to me, a sassy little striptease with some sexy "Sieg Heils" and pasties. To me this does not constitute a piece of thoughtful, political commentary.

People have also commented that because it is burlesque it's just fun and other issues don't factor. I think this article brings an important message, being a performer of any kind brings great responsibility, burlesque included. You are responsible for what you say with your shows and people are watching, and even if there were no Holocaust survivors in the audience, its attention getting nature meant that many people ended up hearing about it and being hurt by it. Like painters, authors and rock stars what is said on the burlesque stage can carry a great weight.

As the article says the artist is happy with her work and intends to continue performing it, this is her right but it is also the right of others to protest and people have complained that the act disturbs and saddens them. The Qld Jewish board of deputies feel that she has disrespected the memory of victims and survivors of the Holocaust; they have my sympathy. I think that this article may have greatly upset the artist who could not have been aware of the storm that this act would whip up, I feel for her, she could not have known this would happen.

The Sunday Mail article...

A NAZI-themed striptease being performed in Brisbane clubs has been slammed as "repulsive" by Queensland's Jewish community amid warnings it's becoming part of a trend towards shows glorifying the Third Reich.
The controversial burlesque show features a syringe-wielding, scantily-clad Nazi doctor with a swastika armband conducting scientific experiments on a pair of hooded girls.
Performed to a crowd of hundreds at the recent Dead of Winter festival at Brisbane's Jubilee Hotel, the show is the brainchild of burlesque artist and model Ali Darling, 24, who adapted it from a Rob Zombie short film.
Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies president Jason Steinberg said featuring swastikas and other Nazi iconography in a burlesque performance was disrespectful and repulsive.
"It is offensive to the Jewish community - also it would be offensive to the majority of Queenslanders," he said.
"It shouldn't be acceptable in this day and age for someone to use Nazi symbols in a way that glorifies that era."
He said there were still Holocaust survivors living in Queensland, and it was inappropriate for images from that era to be used in a burlesque show.
Ms Darling said she had been performing the show, entitled Werewolf Women of the SS, for about six months, and it had become one of her "signature acts".
"It's a pretty popular show and I will be expanding it because it's going to go into my stage production."
She said the show was satirical and highly stylised, and although she had "absolutely" had negative feedback about it, she'd had an equal number of people praising the performance.
"I get as many people loving it as hating it, which is fine with me. I like getting in people's faces," she said.
Ms Darling, who also has an act featuring a real pig's eye and another where she tears pages out of a Bible with her teeth and spits them at her audience, said she knew of a few other burlesque dancers with similar performances around Australia.
Brisbane cabaret performer Bertie Page said she had noticed a disturbing trend towards Nazi-themed burlesque shows.
"I've noticed it around the traps, it seems to be somewhat of a trend at the moment and I find it really quite concerning," she said.
Swastika-themed burlesque costuming has become available on the internet, and a recent film Burlesque Assassins features a group of dancers as Nazi-fighting killers.
Ms Page, who has German heritage, said she was worried such performances could give burlesque a bad name, and said the use of the swastika was an "indisputably terrible thing".
"The minute you put on that swastika you are representing a power that is bought at the expense of others' lives," she said.
Lola Montgomery, a performer who is completing a PhD in burlesque, said she did not think there was a trend towards Nazi-themed burlesque, and saw such performances more as isolated incidents.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Life is a famine or a feast, I guess if we were feasting all the time we'd never fit into our jeans. This coming weekend is a feast for me although I'm probably going to need some kind of truckers' pills to keep me awake through it.

On Friday night (August 10) I head down to Lismore to be a part of one of Jimmy Willing's legendary pub cabarets, this one is aptly titled "Hillbilly Heaven." Lismore is an incredible little town that sits on the borders of traditional cow country, hippie ville and it is the nesting place of many lesbian couples and their families, this is why it is also known as "Lesmore." The vibe in that place is incredible, the quintessential country types party with the dreadlocked kids who have ventured away from their warehouse communes for the evening, there's plenty of crochet and female affection going around, fortunately plenty of that comes my way....

The good people at Apex productions have decided that this weekend will be the two days on which they film their next big project, it's all about tough guys and their Harley Davidsons. I'm going to have to get up very early in Lismore to get back to Brisbane to perform my role in the film, I'll take my pants down for anyone with a B12 shot handy..

Saturday night is all about the kink, I'll be appearing at the premiere of Brisbane's biggest new fetish event "Arouz." This is going to be huge, there is so much space to play at St Paul's Tavern, there will even be a dungeon, I've heard that some veeery kinky stuff is going to be happening there... Everyone is welcome the door is wide open from the innocent but curious to the most hardcore kink bunnies. I'll be performing a duo with Lena Marlene, we got pretty rough last week at the Wickham, we're going to test the friendship even further this week. 
On sunday night I'm hosting Miss Pole Dance QLD, if you haven't got tickets you'll have to wait until next year, tickets sold out within 15 minutes of going on sale! Once again the competition is presented by Pussy Cat Pole, if you've never tried one... jump on, you'll never get off it! I'll have the best seat in the house where I can watch these crazy ladies invert, mount and do all kinds of bendy stuff, may the best pole pony win!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

So this week has come around all too quickly, this weekend is the premiere of "Serpentine" a work that is the culmination of years of writing, research and corset wearing around the world. The image used in the shows poster was shot in Japan last year, in the wilds beyond Sapporo. The snow fell constantly and the temperature was minus 8 degrees but I was determined to get a magical shot, to experience the strictures of the corset in freezing conditions with only red satin to guard against the elements. Some time into our snowy adventure I paid the price, water leaked into my shoes and my feet went numb, my fingers became filled with a burning pain that would not stop throbbing. John and I headed back to the village, once we were inside the ramen restaurant I felt much better and I'm sure I shocked and embarrassed an old high school teacher who was on a ski holiday, maybe my satin gown was a bit much for a noodle bar. 

So here we are now, the original chow sold out two weeks ago so a Sunday night has been added. The finishing touches are being made, the boys of Bertie Page Clinic have been working hard on the music and we've thrown in a couple of classical musicians who are thriving on the challenge. Richard Grantham has brought great finesse to his piano and viola parts and Wayne Jennings delivers cello as beautiful as ever even when recovering from a slashed hand. So what is it all about? You can bet it's exciting, here's an article below form this week's edition of Rave Magazine.

Cabaret-burlesque star BERTIE PAGE spent three years researching corsetry – and then wrote a whole rock opera in the garment’s honour.ZENOBIA FROST finds out more.
ZENOBIA FROST: Corsetry has a long and controversial history; how does Serpentine chart its journey as an undergarment?
BERTIE PAGE: Serpentine cherry-picks the most volatile events and social changes surrounding these stiffened undies. It includes a selection of humorous and heartbreaking subjects from the absurdities of Victorian gynaecology to Frida Kahlo’s immortal plaster supports. I’ve aimed to mix the ridiculous and the sublime with plenty of pink, bruised flesh on show in onstage costume changes to prove the point that pain is often beauty!
ZF: You’re known for your strong voice, fierce and satirical burlesque, and never-ending energy. In what ways has staging a whole opera a whole new kind of challenge?
BP: Staging this production has been very time-consuming – from writing the songs and script, to rehearsals with five musicians. The great pleasure is that every performer is a supersonic freak – they all have the ability to instantly absorb and give beautiful interpretations of the music. Breaking in the corsets has been a double-edged sword: on one hand it is very exciting to get new corsets, but they must be worn in so that they can conform perfectly to my shape. Pleasure and pain!
ZF: Tell me about what you describe as the “exquisite nightmare” of corsetry.
BP: The corset has been used as a weapon against the female sex, inflicted upon them by male and female authorities in equal measure. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, young girls and boys were all rigged up in tight stays as toddlers – parents feared that their children would grow up crooked without vicious intervention. Girls continued to wear corsetry and many were forced to wear them. But other impatient little girls couldn’t wait to get their hands on a pair in spite of disapproving parents, in much the same way that today’s tweens beg their mothers to buy them a bra when they’ve got nothing to put in one.
ZF: The corset is primarily a garment of constriction; in what ways has it emancipated women?
BP: Across the centuries the corset has acted as one of the few areas in which women had control. Most decisions in their lives were made for them but the corset was a private field in which they could manipulate their shape and the impact that it had on others.
ZF: What makes Stockholm Syndrome, only recently been claimed by Brisbane’s carnies and burly-Q mistresses, an interesting venue?
BP: Stockholm Syndrome is undoubtedly Brisbane’s most atmospheric small venue. The turn-of-the-century architecture has been combined with warm, rustic renovations that give the venue a distinctly historical feel – just perfect for telling a story that spans multiple centuries.
ZF: Serpentine Corsetry has made a number of custom designs for you. What led to your own fondness for corsetry?
BP: I first saw a picture of a corset in a fashion book when I was five years old. I’ll never know why, but I wanted one from that moment; I wanted that sculpted elegance – I wanted it badly. I got my first real corset from Gallery Serpentine in Sydney in 2009, and I now own a large collection of their garments. I am very fussy about quality and cut; they have what it takes to sculpt my flesh and bones into extraordinary shapes. Bertie in Grade One would be thrilled to know.
SERPENTINE runs at Stockholm Syndrome (340 Sandgate Road, Albion) on Saturday Jun 16 and Sunday Jun 17. Bookings via 3262 3738 /

Sunday, 8 January 2012

La Traviata

In December I had the pleasure of burlesquing one of the greatest tragedies of all time, La Traviata. Verdi's great opera was first performed in Venice in 1853, it had a rocky start with the leading lady howled at by the audience who considered her too old and overweight to play the delicate young waif dying of consumption.

The opera was based on a play which was adapted from a book which was in turn loosely based on the true story of the much loved courtesan Marie Duplessis. She died at the tender age of 23 in 1847, she suffered that most romantic of diseases, tuberculosis. Her death was sad but considered beautiful and heroic by those who mourned her and those who galvanised her in words and music. If she had grown old and died an unattractive old woman sent mad with syphilis she would hardly have been celebrated in such a way.

My interpretation plays with the Victorian preoccupation with the disease known as "the white death" and the obsession with youthful mortality. It's not easy to see but I am constantly coughing up blood during the performance decorating my partner's face (John Meyer) with the contents of my ailing lungs. We've come along way since 1847, you can see the performance through the magic of youtube.

This performance took place in Lismore with the accompaniment of the spectacular RagTag band, filmed by the talented and always amusing Tyrone Blackman. My exquisite corset and chemise are by Gallery Serpentine of Sydney, John's blood red shirt is also by this incomparable fashion house.