Sexual, sensual and gender-bendering: Neo-burlesque event explores sexuality

Two women brought performance artists from all over the world to give Jutland a taste of a distinctly non-Scandinavian art genre: burlesque.

Originally published in Jutland Station Dec. 4, 2014

By Alison Haywood and Katharina Kuecke

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As the lights in club Radar dimmed and the crowd fell silent, the show’s host walked onstage: a man with a carefully-crafted beard wearing a pheasant feather hat, froofy Mary Poppins-style dress and high heels.

In the neo-burlesque show Baby, it’s Cold Outside, performing artists from all over the world showcased their interpretations of the classic Christmas song through the art of striptease, often incorporating themes of gender and sexuality into their performances.

“I don’t like calling what I do drag,” said Christian van Schijndel, who has been involved in the performing arts for more than ten years. When asked what he did call it, he laughed and said “oh, I don’t know… gender-bendering?”

A new kind of burlesque

“It’s kind of a new way of seeing burlesque,” said Sine Riisager of the artistic organization Svalholm, which produced the event.

Unlike traditional burlesque, she said, which focuses mainly on dancing and striptease, neo-burlesque tries to develop the genre. Neo-burlesque acts may feature other types of performance art, such as poetry, monologues, magic, modern dance or circus, and acts may be as long as 15 minutes as opposed to the more traditional three minutes.

“We have a lot of different things. So we’re trying to find out how can we explore this, and how can we make it about gender, and identity, and sexuality, and seduction. All these things are really the core of neo-burlesque,” she said.

Nudity but not promiscuity

Despite the striptease element of the performance, Riisager said they are careful not to cross the line into promiscuity. “That is the good thing about burlesque – you never risk promiscuity. It’s not what it’s about,” Riisager said. “There will never be a woman with no panties with open legs, for example. Would never happen.”

Burlesque also typically doesn’t involve full nudity, and performers usually wear nipple tassels and keep their underwear on. This performance was no exception.

Empowering for all genders, shapes and sizes

Another difference between burlesque and stripping is often viewed as objectifying, but burlesque is considered empowering.

“Stripping is about fulfilling other people’s fantasies. But burlesque and neo-burlesque is about being onstage fulfilling your own fantasies,” Riisager said. “Being happy about who you are, what you look like.”

The performers possessed a variety of body types, from dancers and acrobats with toned muscles to a very fat woman whose body wobbled as she danced. Van Schijndel returned for the second act dressed in men’s clothing, only to take it off to reveal lacy stockings, a garter belt and corset underneath.

Van Schijndel said this was a new trend in burlesque. “We are seeing different shapes of people, and we’re seeing more men,” he said.

Each person looked completely comfortable being onstage, clothed or unclothed. The large woman looked to be holding back laughter as she joyfully popped the balloons that were pinned to her outfit.

“Everyone is accepted. There is no taboo,” Riisager said. “This is anti-stereotype.”

“Baby, it’s Cold Outside”

Riisager said all the acts were produced specifically for this show. The actors were given the title and all the words connected with it – inside, outside, hot, cold – and had to find ways to express those themes onstage.

Dutch acrobat Michiel Tange van Leeuwen used crystals from an old chandelier for his costume. “I wanted to do something cold and frozen,” he explained. He performed a series of hand balancing and aerial acrobatics that stunned the audience.

A sexy redheaded Mrs. Claus gave a fiery performance that could have melted even the coldest of hearts.

Other performances included an act which juxtaposed religion, tango and belly dancing; a misunderstood Christmas ghoul; and artistic director Nønne Svalholm riding Miley Cyrus-style on a giant glitter ball.

“It’s the little effects that make it more fun,” Riisager said.

Skype sessions and rehearsal videos

Since the artists come from all over the world, they had to practice their acts at home and communicate with the directors via Skype and by emailing videos. “What can you do if everybody is in different countries?” Riisager asked.

The performers arrived on Tuesday and had just two days to rehearse together before the show opened Wednesday evening.

“That’s how we do it, because it’s the only way we can do it,” Riisager said. “It works great … we haven’t had any clashes or any big things or issues or anything.”

A two-woman team

Riisager and Svalholm run the nonprofit Svalholm: Danish cultural exchange and performing art. In addition to producing events such as these, they provide residencies to artists from the Middle East to promote cultural exchange.

“It’s tough because culture doesn’t pay. But you know–,” her eyes lit up– “that is our passion. It’s fantastic. You can work for your passion.”

The show runs Dec. 3-6 at Radar at Godsbanen. Tickets are available for 175kr online or 200kr at the door.

Alison Haywood holds bachelor degrees in Communication and German is pursuing a Master’s degree in Journalism at Aarhus University. Follow her on Twitter at @alison_haywood.

Katharina Kuecke is pursuing a Master’s degree in Journalism at Aarhus University.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s