With their billowing gowns, bustles and jewelled tiaras, princesses have come to embody a sort of ultra-femininity that Western culture reserves for little girls and brides. In the burlesque world, however, we create our own opportunities for sartorial extravagance. In Seattle, Stripped Screw Burlesque’s latest production of Disney After Dark, now in its fifth year, was as lavish as any Magic Kingdom ball could hope to be.
Visually, Disney After Dark was gorgeous. Bright, glitzy costumes suited the colourful characters that inspired the show, and performers were committed and expressive. Seraphina Fiero’s Captain Jack Sparrow, for one, was as lecherous and wobbly as the pirate himself (though perhaps more sparkly). Swaggering around the stage, the Captain doused himself in a barrel of booze, eventually becoming so excited that he ejaculated spurts of gold coins. Hilarious.
In one of the loveliest moments of the night, Jesus La Pinga (as a steampunk Wall-E) whirled a clearly delighted Stella D’Letto (as lady-robot Eve) through the air in a dance-heavy piece with lots of lifts and acrobatics. Later, accomplished dancer Paris Original performed en pointe as the Blue Fairy, trying every trick in the book to attract a prince (frog kissing, apple biting, finger pricking, etc.).
Violet Tendencies, another classically trained dancer, moved like a perfect Disney princess. Playing Snow White, her ballet postures were clear and elegant as she gracefully undressed. True to the Screws’ signature grit, Violet ended this performance by pouring scalding hot wax from several lit candles down her body.
Despite the fabulous visuals, Disney After Dark’s overall storytelling fell flat. The show was framed by the tale of an alcoholic Sleeping Beauty who, spurned by her prince, stumbled through the woods to find her own happily ever after. This arc got lost under a smattering of plot elements drawn from both the Disney universe and The Wizard of Oz. The show may have been more effective served up cabaret-style, with acts that are thematically linked but don’t necessarily tell a story. Trying to unify each piece with a flimsy narrative was confusing and distracting.
Considering the source material, I was hoping for more investigation into some of the problematic themes surrounding Disney’s treatment of women/minorities/men/everyone. Much of the show seemed intent on eroticizing characters, with a steamy duo of Siamese cats, Prince Charming gyrating in nothing but a towel, and even a white-washed, sexy Pocahontas (which was problematic in its own right). The most prominent exception to this came from Lady Drew Blood. Her feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid, in which the redheaded siren is gagged with black duct tape in exchange for raw, anaemic legs, extended the story in a way that was refreshingly critical.
For all its faults, Disney After Dark was fun. There was certainly room for deeper and more varied commentary, but taken on its own, the spectacle was fabulous. I’m curious as to how Stripped Screw will continue to evolve this show, and look forward to another romp through the Magic Kingdom next year.
Disney After Dark reviewed by Crystal Tassels.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.