I recently had the pleasure of seeing The Art of the Teese, curated by and starring the legend herself, Dita Von Teese. In my opinion (apologies to Dita) the highlight of the show was Australian performer Zelia Rose. Her act embodies the spirit of Josephine Baker – and sent shivers over my entire body. I’m convinced watching her perform was second only to going back in time to see Josephine herself dance.
To give you a taste of Zelia’s act, I found this on youtube from 2014. It was brilliant back then, and is much more polished now.
The enthusiasm and buzz of the packed crowd and the simple pleasure of watching a short story played out without any verbal narration (apart from music and lyrics), prompted me to look into the history of the art-form of burlesque…
Recently, the term has referred to performances in a variety show format, although the original meaning (from the 16th century in Europe) was ‘a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects.’
These days the term Burlesque is usually taken to refer to bawdy comedy and female strip-tease (and thanks to Dita, it now includes male strip-tease).
Being at heart a sensual performance, you would expect France – especially Paris – to be the place to go for all qualities of burlesque, and has been since the early 19th century. Crazy Horse is particularly well known, and has showcased ‘artistic creation and women’ as the focus of the cabaret since 1951. Each of the acts is conceived as a tableau with its own story-line…
As always, Wikipedia is brimming with fascinating facts – from musical to theatrical burlesque; high burlesque to low burlesque; and even the effect of Prohibition on burlesque establishments in the US during the 1920s.
On of the icons of burlesque, Gypsy Rose Lee, achieved legendary status as an elegant and witty striptease artist. A mediocre singer/dancer, her high class striptease act was born when a shoulder strap on one of her gowns gave way, causing her dress to fall to her feet despite her efforts to cover herself; to the delight of the audience, and this became the basis of her act.