On the Fringe

The other night Suicide Girls brought their Blackheart Burlesque show through Phoenix and today my Facebook has been flooded with details and critiques of the show. It took me some time to attempt to develop a thoughtful review that would add something with substance to the rhetoric, rather than continue to hurl nasty insults about the performers and their perceived degree of skankiness (In short: STOP IT). I hope that I’ve accomplished the goal I set out to achieve below.

Burlesque, as any other art form, is a living entity, capable of evolution and vast interpretation. Female performers especially seem to garner the most attention when they take a classic approach with beautifully elaborate costumes bedazzled to the height of delicate femininity and choreographed to classic jazz. When they choose to rebel against the archetype, the resulting act can be met with disdain from the public and even amongst peers. In my humble opinion, this only discourages new innovation that is necessary to nurture the art form that provides much needed flexibility to evolve with a culture as time passes. I may never choose to create an act that sits out there on the fringe, but it is often the abstract, the wild, the truly unique and daring acts that dazzle and inspire me to reach beyond the boundaries of a mermaid gown and gloves.

What the Suicide Girls offered up was an interpretation of burlesque they felt was most palatable to their audience. It was a collection of performances meant to highlight their brand: young, alternative girls, gyrating to edgy, modern music. The striptease, unfortunately, was an afterthought of untied strings hanging down below breasts with neither a captivating intent or enticing playfulness. The delight of watching a performer slowly dial up her sensuality on stage, revealing bits of her flesh as the music carries her through the act, was lost to a high level of sexuality from the moment the girls appeared on stage. It was as if the intensity was locked on 10 from start to end and it’s long term effect was numbing, rather than exciting.

The Suicide Girls had the luxury of a large venue, lighting technicians and a dressing room large enough to accommodate several costume changes. Of course, the ticket prices reflected the venue, clocking in at three times the Phoenix standard. They have a professional choreographer and even more importantly, they are sponsored by Inked Magazine. They find themselves in a fortunate situation many others in the community don’t have. It was not the lack of classic burlesque I found to be offensive, it was the lack of a thoughtful production. There are many who have found themselves without a glamorous venue or sponsors who have produced fantastic shows. I wondered why this traveling show, with the tools to create something very special….didn’t?

The sets lacked a central theme, other than the obvious draw of edgy girls. The costumes consisted of off-the rack lingerie, that on-stage made them look like drunk girls dancing on a bar rather than polished and professional. The uninspired costuming contradicted strongly with the brazenly confident girls dancing on stage. I wished that the costumes highlighted the power each of these girls brought to the stage.  Entertainment should be out of the ordinary, it’s why we love it! Entertainment is an escape, it’s a fantasy. On stage you have the ability to write your own story, to present yourself to your audience and force them to see you the way you wish to be seen. Unfortunately the message delivered on that stage was that alternative girls are good for nothing more than a hypersexualized freakshow spectacle. The choreography was unapologetically bold and modern, set to very danceable music, but the impression that still sits at the forefront of my mind is that it was sex for the sake of sex without that je ne sais quoi that holds the viewer captive.

I’m bored of the comments comparing them to sluts, strippers, and streetwalkers on Van Buren. Also, stop fucking using the word “slut.” It’s unimaginitive and makes for a weak argument on the state of a woman’s sexual behavior. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a stripper, and when I see that word being thoughtlessly flung around as an insult, it agitates the tiny raging feminist inside of me. Even if the choreography came straight from the strip club, that doesn’t necessarily make them any less of a performer worthy of your respect. However, what transpired on that stage was a show designed to make young girls appear as dancing slabs of meat on display for the world’s voyeuristic pleasure. The beautiful girls who took the stage were limited by acts that never let them be more than a body. Instead, the show merely perpetuated the myth of the tattooed girl as the whore with uninhibited sexuality, a girl whose consent is given to any and all.

In the burlesque community there are quite a few tattooed/pierced/alternative performers who regularly dazzle the audience not just by their otherness, but through masterful stripteasing skills acquired from years of hard work and dedication to their craft. In fact, their appearance is not their sole draw, and thus the acts they create come from more than their bodies but their soul and that is what gives them such incredible entertainment value. Blackheart Burlesque fizzled because it haphazardly pieced together a shallow production that eroticized a caricature of today’s alternative girl, burlesque performer or not.