Trending Topic: Burlesque
Anyone who tries to reduce burlesque to nothing more than flaunting nudity onstage is missing the point. Burlesque does involve stripping, but not all stripping is burlesque. The expression of sexuality in theater, dance, or performance art is not a new phenomenon; performers ranging from starlets to comedians to radical feminists have been doing it for years. Some have directly connected their behaviors to feelings of personal empowerment, while others have simply reveled in the powerful fun. Some were called jesters, others actors or even stars, and some were called burlesque performers. Whatever a performer's motivation or style, it's fair to say that burlesque offers great potential to express commentary on issues such as culture, gender, the economy, politics, religion and most obviously, sexuality.
Regardless of style or era, there is no doubt that burlesque is currently receiving more media attention than it has in a very long time. Both living legends and current performers are working hard to preserve the history of burlesque, which is exactly why I am so curious to hear their thoughts on the much-hyped movie Burlesque starring Cher and Christina Aguilera.
The following reactions are from current professional burlesque performers, teachers, and show producers. Yes, these are the people who sweat glitter, bleed rhinestones, and somehow have managed to pay their bills while doing it:
I watched the trailer and I can't stop laughing!! I can't wait to see this movie!! I'm going to love it the same way I love awesomely bad performance movies like Center Stage, Drumline, Bring It On and Step Up 1,2, and I'm about to see 3 in 3-D. I love these movies for their most excellent dance and vocal performances and laugh hysterically for the shitty acting and poorly constructed plots. But this one will be better because it has a higher budget, Christina Aguilera's pipes, Cher as a curmudgeony diva and Alan Cummings! I LOVE IT ALREADY! HI-LARIOUS!
Anytime Hollywood tells a story that you are familiar with, you're going to be extra critical of it. While my gut reaction is that I will find a lot of faults with this movie, I also know that it's going to bring a lot of mainstream interest for my industry, and that can only be good. I really hope it gets more people seeking their local burlesque scene and supporting live entertainment, even if those people will be surprised at how different real burlesque is from the glossy, watered-down version they are sure to see. I am so pleased to see Cher on screen again, she is such a great performer, and Christina Aguilera has always done vintage looks so well, so I'm hopeful that it will at least be a visually beautiful film. I'll say this much: definitely a renter, though I MIGHT be persuaded to see it in the theater. It can't be any worse than Moulin Rouge or The Notorious Bettie Page, right?
While this movie seems like it will show a different version of burlesque than many current performers embrace, it does not diminish my shows, performances, or teaching to have other concepts of "what burlesque is" expressed on such a large scale. Burlesque can be intensely personal and if this movie will make more people curious enough to get involved, I welcome it with open arms and I hope it does that, if nothing else, well.
While the comparisons to Showgirls are immediate and understandable, the trailer for Burlesque reminds me more of movies like the breakdancing films of the 80's, where Hollywood tried to tackle an underground concept or movement that it clearly didn't understand very well. Perhaps they should have invested in a consultant who actually IS a burlesque perfomer? So many suberb perfomers have dedicated their lives to burlesque; it's too bad that apparently mainstream Hollywood doesn't give a shit.
I love Cher and Christina! I hope the movie is as funny as Showgirls! I'm excited for people to be hearing the world "burlesque." I just know that when people do a web search for burlesque they'll come across The Burlesque Hall of Fame, so it's great in that sense. When they search for it on the web, they're going to find so many styles and representations that I'm not worried that it will destroy the kind of underground burlesque I've been enjoying. Modern dance that incorporates a few classic moves and some elements of burlesque undergarments (I mention undergarments because in the trailer I saw they weren't wearing gowns) with a modern sensibiliity is fine by me. However, for me what distinguishes the style of neo-burlesque we do from any other kind of live performance is the element of striptease, and I'm sorry that won't be a big part of the film—as far as I can tell, it isn't in there at all.
The recent completion of several excellent independent burlesque films (A Wink and a Smile, Behind the BurlyQ, Burlesque Undressed, Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque, and the Cannes Jury Award-winning Tournée) and the upcoming documentary Exotic World and The Burlesque Revival reflect the burgeoning popularity of the art form. Combined with 2004’s Velvet Hammer and other recent instructional videos by Michelle l’Amour and Jo “Boobs” Weldon, these comprise a canon of video content that speaks to the raw, immediate, glamorous, revivalist and revolutionary components of the contemporary burlesque scene. However, at least from the trailer, the upcoming film Burlesque appears to be more connected to the Hollywood/Vegas showgirl-oriented Pussycat Dolls/Forty Deuce phenomenon than the larger neo-burlesque scene. With Cher and Christina Aguilera as the stars, this will ensure it widespread distribution, and increase the visibility of burlesque as a popular sub-culture. I expect that people will begin searching for more information on burlesque, and I hope that they find this rich independently produced canon of footage.