Sunday, May 15, 2005

Bring on the Dancing Girls

The problem with Burlesque, I think, was that I knew too much.

I'm by no means an expert, but I've seen a few old Bettie Page films and spent enough time on the internet (bless it, and its huge piles of smut) to have some kind of context around the historical roots of burlesque. Trace it back far enough and you hit Toulouse Lautrec, after all. The visual reference isn't too hard to come by, either: honestly, it's everywhere at the moment; I blame Kylie, and Agent Provocateur.

I've seen the odd bit of burlesque in clubs - including, I think, Immodesty Blaize doing a rather poor fan dance. It's fun - pretty ladies, pretty costumes, a bit of cheekiness. I was expecting the fully staged version to be pretty damn spectacular...

The set was fantastic - fairylights and pink upholstery and chandeliers. Perfect. And the costumes were beautiful; sequined and elegant and ruffled and over the top where necessary. And tassels. Yes.

But. But. Part of it was the strange mixed crowd: a significant proportion of folk had really never seen anything quite so naughty; there was very definitely one rich looking woman in her 50s who found the whole thing quite scandalously cheeky, but rather enjoyable. Then there were the boys behind me who whooped and hollered at the ladies, and made borderline homophobic comments whenever Walter came on. It seemed very strange to be right at the libertine end of the audience; on previous encounters I've been at the shy and retiring end.

There is, I suppose, always the problem of overlaying the images you construct in your head onto the reality of the performance. The only way I can see out of this one would be to direct my own events; I don't think this is a skill I have.

Ultimately, though, the problem is with the star, Ms Blaize. She's fabulous, yes - and how nice to see someone with a good, old fashioned body shape being sexy as hell. But... She doesn't have enough presence to fill a stage that big. The only performer who did was Spike Loons (and his balloons...), and it's sad when the comic relief shows up your star. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was the non-intimate venue, maybe it was where I was sitting... But it was all too easy to take your eyes off her.

I heard someone - probably scandalised lady - discussing how wonderful her use of her eyes to engage the audience was. Well, yes, but those fluttery looks and pouts are textbook Bettie, my dear. It's all recycled, and terribly, terribly postmodern. Even the nod to mashup culture in the soundtrack was painfully badly done; please, please get one of the gybo boys in to redo the score.

Well, having said that, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The newly minted adage about improving anything by adding tits appears to be holding true, and the Lady Grey Tease dancing girls in their floaty 30s dresses hit all the right Arthur Freed buttons for me. And I now really, really want a new corset, and a bit more glamour in my life. And to find a really good late bar in Soho.

Besides which, the company was delectable.

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