Trixie Little shares her thoughts on The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend 2013 and awards some Burlesque Innovation Guild honours.
“I want to be where the boys are!” This was the phrase that kept repeating in my head during this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. Probably over eighty women were on stage over four days and it was a handful of men that had me entranced… ironic. The guys slayed me this year. They were brazen, brilliant bad asses, and the whole time all I kept thinking was that I wanted to be exactly like them. THEY were my role models.
I love my career. In addition to burlesque, I am also part of the circus/cabaret worlds, which fill me with passion too. But I got my chops doing burlesque, so I can see clearly how with the professionalization of modern burlesque, there is more reward heaped on the classic beauties than the creative geniuses. Viewing this phenomenon from the fringes, it’s hard to feel like we aren’t just reinforcing ultra-traditional stereotypes of women. A pretty girl in a gown dancing perfectly is hardly the feminist bad ass that I want to be. I see how slowly the most brilliant, edgy wackos are bitter and/or retired and how pretty girls in pretty gowns get lots of bookings. It is mainstream tastes which get us all booked for dinner shows and help us make a living. Such is life. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
I actually believe it’s a worthwhile pursuit to aspire to be a mainstream wacko – that’s really my milieu. I always believed in starting the revolution from within the system instead of attacking from the outside. Resisting artistic homogenization used to be what we were all doing, but now I’m not sure what everyone is interested in aside from looking skinny and taking selfies. Image obsession is SO BORING to me. The real artists, the smart-asses, the freaks, the rock-n-rollers ARE INTERESTING. After over a decade in the burlesque scene, I can say for sure that if we don’t honor our own pioneers, no one will. Which is why I started this blog, to sprinkle a little fertilizer on the unique flowers.
“…there is more reward heaped on the classic beauties than the creative geniuses … it’s hard to feel like we aren’t just reinforcing ultra-traditional stereotypes of women.”
To me, the best burlesque is a fusion of sex and brains. I find intelligence incredibly sexy. I view creativity as a sign that the performers’ brain is just as engaged as their body and THAT is hot. I don’t want to invoke that inane argument of ‘classic vs. neo’ at all because classic acts should be wildly creative and vice versa. Creativity has no limits; you can spot evidence of it in clever costume design, unique movements, surprising character choices, expression of individuality or narrative story telling… but the only rule with creativity is that there are no rules.
My friend and colleague, Rose Wood, and I talk often in the dressing room about our artistic process. As one of the most prolific and dedicated artists I know, Rose believes that getting reaction out of the audience is of the utmost importance; she wants the audience to FEEL something – anything – even if it’s nausea, disgust or anger. She loves it when people believe her characters are so real that they will storm the stage or throw things at her in outrage. She makes a real distinction between the characters she portrays onstage and her own identity. While Rose deals in shock and boundary pushing, I myself seek more inspiring reactions, but we are both dedicated to trying to get the audience to FEEL something. So, my desire as an audience member in Vegas for four nights was exactly the same – I wanted to feel something in my heart or loins (or both ideally!).
“I wish [BHoF] validated the revolutionary women with their highest honors. Those on the forefront need to be cultivated and loved or they will give up and disappear.”
It can’t be underestimated how much weight our community puts into the Miss Exotic World competition. I would prefer to make the whole thing more of an artistic celebration than a beauty pageant, but as it is, BHOF leans towards the latter. As an artist, I see the irony in putting myself up for judgement in this ‘beauty pageant’ model, but the reason I chose to do it again and again is because the experience of competing pushes me to push myself, and motivation is priceless to an artist. But I am somewhat disappointed with BHOF (because they do carry so much weight in the world); I wish they validated the revolutionary women with their highest honors. Those on the forefront need to be cultivated and loved or they will give up and disappear.
I mean, don’t you ever wonder what it would look like in an alternate universe where more importance was placed on creativity, innovation and on doing something we haven’t seen before? I imagine it would feel so refreshing. The performers would have to be judged subjectively. Instead of evaluating all the individual parts of an act and giving them a number (I.e. Costume= 7 Presence= 8 Movement= 5), the judges would have to evaluate the act as a whole. It would essentially come down to: which act did the judge feel was their favorite? Which act will be remembered in a year or ten years? It’s a much different lens through which to evaluate. You can’t give ‘art that resonates in your soul’ a score – it’s just a feeling in your gut and it’s completely personal. Burlesque is too idiosyncratic; it’s not like watching figure skating where you rewind the tape to see if a certain skater completed a full rotation. My friends are probably tired of this rant of mine, but this is art, dammit! But opinions are indeed like assholes… so I’ll move on…
All of this is just a little background on how I became obsessed with innovation in our art form – equal parts inspiration, frustration, passion, disgust and optimism. I enjoyed the entire Weekend immensely and so many people rocked it. I was again renewed in my love of burlesque, which is why I come every year. I liked lots of acts this year, but this blog is about the innovators. So, without further adieu, here are the artists that have earned my Burlesque Innovation Guild Award for BHOF 2013…
AMEN FOR THE MENS
I’m usually a big note-taker at BHOF. This year, I didn’t feel like writing much, but my comments on the Boylesque page said: “Showed the fuck up. Sent me to school!!!!!!” The translation of which means: “They had fierce presence and were so expert they made me feel like a novice.” The male solo performances that had me jumping out of my seat and squealing like I was at a Justin Beiber concert were: Jett Adore (on Thursday), Paris Original, Ray Gunn, Waxie Moon, Mr. Gorgeous, out-going King Russell Bruner and the group number by the Stage Door Johnnies (they performed Sunday night)… collectively, all geniuses.
Congrats my creative compatriot on your win. Your physical strength is always exciting and your flexibility is a marvel. You have a dark edge that you release into a sexual energy that gave me real feelings in my lady parts. And I have seen you grow so much as an artist over the years; your victory feels like a victory for us all.
I am enchanted by your grace and your costume was such a brilliant, surprising element that made me feel like we were playing a game together. Your dancing skills are outrageous and elegant!
Your joy was infectious and I was giggling with delight watching you have so much fun on that stage! Your boa was whimsical, absurd, ridiculous and playful, while also being a traditional burlesque prop. Yes, all the way!
To you, I say, Fuck You. You are a world class asshole for having so much talent in such a hunky package. Sick of it.
I couldn’t be more proud of you for winning ‘Most Comedic’, my dearest friend. Your willingness to make fun of yourself before all others makes you humble and hilarious, which comes through onstage. I can’t see you as sexual ’cause you’re like my brother, but other people tell me that you are good looking too.
You were on stage way too many times in one weekend, but I’m going to forgive that ’cause you’re relentlessly clever and you have that tiny car! (WTF!?) And you’re so funny!
STAGE DOOR JOHNNIES
You guys nail it every time. The massive ensemble cocktail party/Fosse festival was like watching Hollywood Squares; each performer a legend in their own right! Thank you for even attempting the monumental effort of herding that many pussies into such a fun dance piece.
It feels weird to me that most of my heroes of the Weekend were mostly male. Either the women need to work harder to impress me, or I’m really jaded, or I should become a gay man. Time will tell. BUT there are THREE magical ladies who earned hero status with me! I want to give a Burlesque Innovation Guild Award to the following…
Laurie Hagen blew my mind clear out of my skull and I think that it took me about an hour to recover and focus again. She was the first spontaneous standing ovation of Saturday night, and it was well earned. If you’re wondering what I mean when I talk about performers using their brains, this is it. She was gorgeous, yes, but performing a reverse strip tease as if was actually being rewound in real time makes your mind ache. It’s meta-burlesque, beyond anything we’ve seen before. It was all I talked about at the pool the next day and it was an act I’ll never forget. The ‘Most Innovative’ trophy alone doesn’t do it justice. You win everything in my book, Laurie!
Ironically, the woman who delivered the biggest emotional gut punch of Saturday night brought it in the simplest package. Inspired creativity comes in many forms and Imogen Kelly displayed it elegantly with a tensile-fabric dress that had so many shapes to it, invoked so many emotions, and had such fluid transitions that it literally took my breath away. Imogen embodied both child-like delight and a woman’s sensuality and sophistication with equal weight. A smart and heart-aching piece of work, my dear.
Roxi, you are a Twat with a capital T. How can you continue to churn out skilled acts with inspired creativity and perfect execution? It’s annoying how hard you’re making us all work to try to live up to your level of awesome. I never tire of seeing strength and femininity together. Cyr wheel is an incredibly difficult circus apparatus that now has the sexiest practitioner in the world. And stop being so good with puns… ‘Moonlight Cyrenade?’ Your muscles are lickable, your gown was the stuff of little girl fantasy, and that strappy sling shot was geometric genius. Stop it.
I do have a few other shout outs… let’s call them HONORABLE MENTIONS
JO BOOBS – HELL IN HEELS
I want to thank Jo Boobs, too, for calling her devilish minions from the depths for a massive spectacle of fire and brimstone. If this is what hell is like, I can’t wait. Your act was so much fun, a total ride. And I like being taken for a ride by a sexy, powerful woman. Thanks for that!
BURGUNDY BRIXX AND MIDNITE MARTINI – FEATHER ENGINEERING
To beginning burlesque students, these gals illustrate one of my main obsessions: do classic, but reinvent the familiar EVERY time. Don’t stop thinking on it until you have a brilliant new offering. And it can be simple! Here are two classic burlesque props that were so refreshing to see: Burgundy’s feather fans that looked like the rays of the sun and Midnite’s feather-tipped glove-fans. GENIUS.
I know the work it takes to get new BHOF acts competition-ready and how much thought goes into pioneering any new prop or costume element. Please keep making these inventions, Gals! And thank you for thinking so hard.