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 / www.stockholmsyndrome.com.au