Femininity, sensuality, empowerment, intelligence, humour.
Burlesque, whether its origins lie in the Dance of the Seven Veils, Old Testament depictions of Salome, Vaudeville-era USA or some prehistoric talent night, vigorously reclaims women’s sexuality for themselves. On their own terms.
On the eve of House of Burlesque‘s national tour of Shipwrecked, Creative Director Tempest Rose talks to Trebuchet.
What first drew you to burlesque?
Tempest Rose: Coming from traditional theatre I was blown away by my first burlesque show. To see a group of women on stage being funny, sexy, characterful and intelligent was a real inspiration and the fact that burlesque artists create their own work was incredible. The first time I saw it I knew that burlesque was the art for me.
Since burlesque has become a more social accepted artform does this diminish the pleasure in taking part?
Not at all, seeing more and more people love the art-form that used to only be enjoyed by a few with their finger on the pulse is wonderful.
Is Burlesque about the nakedness, the tease, or the person?
Tempest Rose: Burlesque is about personality always and for me that is the most important quality a burlesque performer can have. It allows them to connect with the audience and to have presence on the stage. Next, the tease needs to be there – either in the form of the actual striptease or in the playful way the artist is poking fun with the audience or society.
By comparison to what we now except and see in society the ‘nakedness’ in burlesque is very tame, but there certainly is something great in the way burlesque shows off the female body as a thing of beauty in its own right, not just as a tool for male sexual gratification.
Burlesque has a fascinating history. Are there any sources that you’d recommend people to look into?
Tempest Rose: Charting the history of burlesque can be difficult and there definitely needs to be more research done, particularly into the history of burlesque in the UK and Europe before the ‘Golden Era’ of American burlesque. Any good books on the history of Music Hall and Vaudeville are a great start as well as biographies of stars such as Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand.
Are there any historical burlesque figures (ahem) that you admire and why?
Tempest Rose: I am a huge fan of Gypsy Rose Lee, probably the most famous burlesque star ever. She was an entertainer who understood that burlesque was about having fun with the audience. She understood her role was to hold a mirror up to the way society viewed sex and that her jokes were enjoyed by men and women. She was a businesswoman and created a legacy for herself that not only changed burlesque but also musical theatre through her memoir which was turned into arguably one of the greatest musicals of all time – Gypsy.
Do you think that internet pornography has worked to demystify the sexual body and hence emphasise the artistry of burlesque performances?
Tempest Rose: I think the ready availability of porn on the internet and its harmful gratuitous use of the female body as well has the effect that has had on how women’s bodies are portrayed in the mainstream media has left people seeking to see a more elegant, subtle and individual representation of the female form. For some people that’s burlesque.
Is burlesque sexier for the artist or the audience?
Tempest Rose: If burlesque is sexier for an artist than the audience then they need to quit. Immediately if not sooner. The primary role for any artist is the entertainment of the audience, if that’s missing then the job is not being done properly.
To what extent is burlesque a blank canvas for feminism, sexuality and the individual?
Tempest Rose: The word burlesque comes from ‘burla’ which is to jest. The word means parody and the artform should hold a mirror up to the way society works and thinks about a lot of things, especially sensuality and femininity. To that extent it can be a blank canvas to express anything and some people do use it to discuss feminist issues.
What do you get out of Burlesque?
Tempest Rose: For me, burlesque provides a vital platform for women to be in control of the portrayal of their own bodies and minds. It allows us to express all sides of who we are and I get the greatest pleasure in seeing an audience enjoying one of my shows. Its spectacle and lavishness is also a type of escapism and burlesque has always flourished in troubled economic times – letting people forget their troubles for a few hours and feel happy is a great gift.
Has your enjoyment changed with your experience over the years?
Tempest Rose: The sounds of an audience enjoying themselves and laughing and clapping has always been one of the enjoyable things about performing, I suppose what’s changed is now I can see their journey across the whole of a House of Burlesque show rather then limited to my own individual performance.
Where do you want to take Burlesque?
Tempest Rose: I want to keep creating burlesque shows that lifts the perceptions of it as an art-form. Burlesque that really connects with people, that makes them laugh, that moves them and that can go someway to redressing the so-often harmful ways women can be portrayed in the mainstream media.
I want to stop burlesque becoming personality-less and soulless.
House of Burlesque UK Tour of Shipwrecked
Redhill, Harlequin Theatre – 3 November
Derby, Derby Theatre – 18 November
Cardiff, New Theatre – 25 – 26 January