Monday, 12 August 2013

Burlesque: an art form, a community, a playground.

It’s the glittering temple where so many bring their dreams of becoming a shining pin-up vivant and find that there is more than glamour waiting behind the sequined curtain. I have been involved in the scene since 2007 and while numbers and venues change the dynamics remain predictable. For the larger part the scene is fun and playful with many beautiful friendships flowering alongside professional collaborations. I am largely withdrawn now and only work with a small group of extremely talented people who have proven to be loyal and supportive friends. Amongst the rest are benign strangers, friendly connections and a small, powerful core of pushy power players, the mean girls, the strutting, feathered bullies who are driven by jealousy and pure ego. All bling and no substance, it’s little wonder they feel threatened…

The words One Swan Pond came to me when I was walking through the gardens at Versailles. In this playground once occupied by Pompadour, DuBarry and Marie Antoinette there are many waterways dividing the opulent gardens.  I saw a very small pond that was almost entirely filled by one big swan. The European swan is very large and can be aggressive, they have been known to break the odd arm of those who get too friendly.

The bird filled the entire pond and it made me think of a few people back in Australia, some of the “Big Fish.”

It is very rare that you hear a burlesque performer speak publically about bitching within the business. People are afraid to appear as a bitch themselves, I have no such fear, my sense of justice will not allow it. There are a few who have earned their position as queens of terror, turning producers and performers against other artists whom they find threatening. “One Swan Pond” is my musical expose, a call to let others know that they are not alone in their struggle against such tyrants.

I have had producers admit to me that I was cut from major burlesque shows because a particular person refused to go on if I were on the same bill. On one occasion an artist stood in front of a class of beginner burlesquers and told them that I was mentally ill and needed to be on medication. I found this the most offensive, it is an insult to people who suffer mental illness, they need respect and understanding, not such disgusting ridicule. I have never been diagnosed with such a condition and would proudly tell you if I had and I stand outraged on behalf of my friends who do take medication, who deserve better than to have this shame cast upon them.

Then there are the events that happen right under your nose, girls who hate you before they’ve met you, refuse to say hello to you then whisper, “Who the fuck does she think she is,” as they lock you out of the dressing room. Then there was the big burlesque name who squealed and giggled at the top of her lungs while I sang and her boyfriend told the bar tender that I wasn’t a woman, Bertie has balls, he saw them fall out. Again, if I had balls I’d proudly tell you all about them.

It’s not all that’s on the list but it’s a sample of the cruel and bizarre behavior that goes on. These women are overcome by a feeling of being threatened by other women, that their success depends on holding down the careers of those whom they target. Something else these women have in common is a greater focus on image than on content in their shows. Make no mistake; I love a spectacular costume as much as the next gal but there is a point where the visual aspect starts to take over. These mean girls have bought enough feathers and crystal bras to sink a ship but lack substance, talent; just another strutting peacock (or swan) with nothing to show but a big costume and an even bigger attitude.

There is a serious lack of dance skill within the burlesque world, so many call themselves “dancers” but do not have the training or skills to claim such a title. It’s a major motivating factor in my movement away from burlesque to concentrate on original music. If you want to perform at some of the same Australian venues as a musician you need to present a much higher standard than many major burlesque acts. If you want to sing well it takes many years of training, if you want to play guitar you have to know your chords, a preparation far more involved than many “dancers” undertake.

This lack of required training can be the beauty and beastliness of burlesque. On one hand people can blossom in an unconventional form when they may have lacked the genetics to succeed in more traditional, rigid performance modes. On the other I see that many lack the professional etiquette, the physical and intellectual discipline that comes with formal arts training.

We are not to forget that many people who perform burlesque are hobbyists and are not to be observed with the same critical eye as professionals. The hobby dancers get a lot of confidence and joy out of performing at burlesque school recitals and other amateur events. The major problem is that the lines between amateur and professional are particularly blurred in burlesque and this is where many problems begin.

Long story short, if you tried to pull off some of these bitchy shenanigans and poor quality shows in the music industry you would be laughed down and cast out. There are tyrants and hacks in the music world too but not nearly on the same level.

The video has been directed by Nick Banner who did an outstanding job aided by Troy Scott. We were lucky enough to have super talent Richard Grantham play piano and viola for the introduction which is the timeless, classical piece “The Swan.” The beautiful Carmine added her super flashy flute which is mimed by Richard in the video (I bet it’s the first time he’s mimed anything!).

The Boys from the band appear in drag and perform the parts of the tassle twirling, dress slashing divas. This interpretation was ideal as I have witnessed a lot of the same kinds of behaviours occurring in the world of Drag. It doesn’t matter if you have ovaries of if you have to tuck in the dressing room, once the sequined gowns come out there is a chance that you might see some claws…

So here’s to the nice girls, the burlesquers, boylesquers and drag queens who play it with class, talent and humility. And here’s a fuck you to the undermining, backstabbing no talents, go ahead and have the little pond all to yourself, hold on to that bitterness as you see me moving on… 

No comments:

Post a Comment