Contributing Dallas/Ft. Worth Critic
If full disclosure is the name of this game, then I need to come clean and tell you that I’ve never witnessed a burlesque show before this evening. However, before attending “Bippity Boppity Boobs - A Burlesque Experience,” I did what every self-respecting writer does when faced with the prospect of dissecting the unfamiliar, I Googled it. Google… What is burlesque? It spit out a wild collection of burlesque's historical influences, scholarly works by intellectuals with many leather-bound books, political manifestos from anarchists and other disconnected, tangential thought streams which left me no wiser, no better prepared, than before.
Several variations of my search later, I arrived at an article written by a man, like myself, who mansplained that burlesque is “... a forum for women of all shapes, sizes, and socio-economic backgrounds to assert their sensuality in a positive, supportive, non-exploitative manner...” I took this with a grain of salt. Is there more to the story? Is a burlesque a political movement? A counterbalance to centuries of male-focused sexual dominance? Is burlesque the polar opposite of the modern gin-soaked, meat market strip club which, in my estimation, will be viewed by future generations with the same reverence as the barbaric colonial slave auctions of the 1600s?
Maybe burlesque is as nuanced, complex and fundamentally vexing as humanity itself. I collected my tangential thoughts and prepared myself as best as I could.
The audience queuing outside the Art Centre Theatre on this humid September evening was as diverse as the performers themselves. Composed of equal parts frat-boy-cat-callers out for a cheap thrill, husbands along for the ride frothing at the mouth like wild dogs, young hip couples wearing matching ironic t-shirts, intellectuals with bow ties, feminists, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transexuals, members of the disabled community and many more. Slowly, we funneled together into the theatre and located our seats, anticipation gleaming in everyone’s eyes. This wasn’t a run of the mill Saturday night in Plano, Texas. Instead, this was one of Candy Von Jameson’s wildly popular, once-in-a-blue-moon, burlesque adventures.
As the crowd whipped themselves into an amused, jello shot-fueled fervor, I sat ready to let this scene unfold in front of my eyes and capture what greater significance I could, as best as I could.
The show began. Two hostesses emerged to kick off this experience and to welcome the crowd. One, Chloe LeClimax, embodied a subdued, modest sexuality fueled by sarcastic humor. The other, Audrey Zwei, overtly exuded sex from every pore. Did I have my answer already? Was this a representation of the deeper meaning here; the duality of burlesque? The supremely sexual dish paired with a well-refined glimpse into the passionate heart of femininity? Each ebbing and flowing in equal measure on the stage?
My quiet reverie and contemplation were hastily interrupted by the gentleman behind me shouting a string of cheap beer-fueled obscenities and pleading for more articles of clothing to come off of the performers. So we’re back in the familiar gutters of human existence again. Fortunately, the skilled hostesses professionally cast off the very few bawdy verbal affronts from the crowd with rapid-fire double entendre-laden humor, poise and charm.
The first act was sensual, well-choreographed and offered verbal cliff notes to the acts to follow. A lovely parade of elaborately-costumed dancers took the stage. Through the static though, I caught a glimpse or two of frayed nerves and cold terror. Her eyes told a story of uncertainty mixed with raw passion. Why was she here on this stage tonight? What deeper meaning did this experience hold for her? Did she feel liberated or exploited by this audience? Was the vulnerability part of the draw for her?
The dazzling choreography, wonderfully-dark humor and passionate celebration which unfolded on stage were mesmerizing. Characters inspired by elements of Alice’s Red Queen, Tinkerbell, Elsa from Frozen, Woody from Toy Story and many more paraded across the stage. Throughout the performance, I gazed around the audience and caught several individuals, guys and gals alike, adrift on the unpredictable seas of artistic adventure.
The show progressed through some stylish, comedic and outright seductive acts courtesy of performers including, Mary “Cherry” Poppins, Kitty Golightly and more.
Winnie the Pooh never struck me as a particularly sexualized character. Yet right here, right now, before my eyes, SinDee Licious took on his persona and ran with it. Writhing on the floor digging deeply and seductively into her... honeypot. A myriad of strange emotions flooded my mind. I was lost in some sort of uncomfortable artistic middle ground; a purgatory for the senses. The mirror of my intellect shattered into a million pieces by a little yellow, half-naked bear. How deep would I have to dig to find a frame of reference to understand this? How will I discuss this with my therapist? What would Christopher Robin think...? I walked back from the edge of insanity courtesy of Cinnamon Clitorati’s Princess Leia-inspired act. Fresh from the seedy halls of Jabba's Palace, she was every teenage boy’s (and girl’s) earliest, most private sexual fantasy on display. Her rhythmic moves and powerfully-evocative interactions with the pointy end of a lightsaber captured my undivided attention and transported my conscience across the scorchingly-hot sand dunes of Tatooine. I immersed myself in the thought that she found liberation at this moment; memories of slavery aboard a sail barge now only a distant memory.
Hell’s Belle channeled the spirit of Mary Poppins with more than a spoonful of sugar. She expertly resurrected the darker side of the character’s persona, moving confidently across the stage while expressing a dominating, imposing figure with fantastic etiquette.
Her performance embodied the power inherent in burlesque. A strong, assertive and dominant female figure laying it all on the line. Much like Mary Poppins put Mr. Banks in his place, this Mary was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! They each expressed burlesque as in their unique way. I began to understand burlesque as a pure art form worthy of this sold-out crowd’s attention. The evening progressed quickly through a seemingly never-ending stories starring gorgeous ladies. Each one introduced by our lovely hostesses clad in wildly-imaginative, creative and sensual costumes.
The final act encompassed all of the nuanced glimpses into the heart of burlesque that I collected on this journey. Candy Von Jameson, the artistic director, producer and creator of this wildly-entertaining production performed a number which was not only superbly sensual and deeply-entrancing, but beautifully creative all at the same time. She moved methodically across the stage. Every exciting twist and turn precisely calculated. Her eyes told a story which her body underscored and punctuated. Undulating. Writhing. Here, before me, female power and grace performed, not for my pleasure, but for her celebration of womanhood, her expression of femininity.
As the lights came up, it hit me like a ton of bricks. As a man, I am ill-equipped to understand, dissect and critique a burlesque show. I was invited here only as an outsider for a quick glimpse of a mystical dimension of existence I cannot pretend to grasp. My own narrow experience ill-suited to describe. Just to experience, ponder its deeper meaning and appreciate the exceptional artistic beauty of the performance.