How does it feel wearing a kilo of jewels? Australian Stage’s Paul Andrew talks to UK Showgirl starlet Immodesty Blaize about the art of Neo Burlesque.

Immodesty BlaizeBurlesque has such a rich history – the inspiration for your art?
Burlesque has always been a genre with many styles, much like music has. It continues to evolve today, and neo-burlesque has many subcategories too. One thing they all have in common is the presence of some form of wit or erotica whether it’s a comic sketch or a striptease. The shtick is just as important as the striptease.

My own performances are inspired by the American striptease tradition amongst many other things. I still load my acts with cultural references and send-ups – my giant glittering telephone act is based on 1940s film noir references as well as Italian white telephone movies of the 1930s, in addition to the wry nod to the Blondie song ‘Hangin’ on the Telephone’ – I literally recline on the receiver as the dial spins. The audience can choose to spot the references or not, but they don’t have to recognize them in order for the act to be entertaining on a pure glamour level.

Burlesque has become an art form like never before, why so?
Actually it always was an art form – Lili St Cyr was a huge star in the 1950’s, as popular as any big movie star. But as society evolves, standards have to get higher.

Yes, the striptease has to do the job of reclaiming some of that vintage sensual mystique and allure that got lost somewhere in the last 20 years. But the old days of an audience sitting through a 30 minute long striptease are long gone, given that you can watch a 3 million budget pop video with even more scantily clad dancers in 3 minutes flat without having to leave your couch! We have much shorter attention spans now, and there is so much more technology to amuse and distract us from TV, cinema, internet, gaming, clubs, etc. Everything has become so freely available that as entertainers, we must now create even more beautiful, funny, spectacular, shorter, sharper, sexy or unusual things to bring the audiences in, and give them a live experience and ambience that TV or cinema simply can’t take the place of.

The qualities you feel define a Burlesque Sophisticate today?
Well if they are truly unique, then they are all quite different.

Pretty much anyone can learn to contra-rotate their nipple tassels, or dye their hair to get a retro look. But it’s those traits that can’t be taught which create the sparkle on stage. So a burlesque star’s own brand of appeal is some kind of chemistry that comes from within, in tandem with a strong act and concept.

People tend to think automatically of classic burlesque vintage glamour but really, neo-burlesque has no rules – they do not have to adhere to common perception. Good performers strive to be unique, memorable and irreplaceable.

Your earliest brush with Burlesque?
I sat with my mother watching the film Gypsy, starring Natalie Wood when I was extremely young. I remember thinking Mazeppah with the trumpet was so cool and adorable.

How would you describe Burlesque to an innocent today?
Burlesque is a vintage form of erotic and ironic cabaret – sexy, funny, and with a few hundred kilos of feathers and rhinestones somewhere in the mix – a great night of entertainment.

A foolish question perhaps, why does Burlesque hold such an evergreen appeal?
Because it’s entertaining!

People love the combination of bawdy humour, camp and titillation – and the escapist fantasy element too – given that the world can be a depressing place right now. There is a great range of music from the fifties to modern day which is popular. Women also love the glamour, the retro feel, they like to discover their own inner bombshell. The audiences like to dress up too, be a little fancy.

Why is it an art form courted so fervently by high society?
It is a little risqué, it’s very theatrical. Given that I wear the equivalent of fifty kilos of crown jewels in a costume I guess that side of it appeals too – haha!

Your most memorable encounter with high society?
There are certainly some stories, but I can’t be indiscreet or I’d never be trusted again!

Who do you feel has popularised Burlesque?
There is never only one single person to whom an entire genre can be attributed! I think we should all certainly thank the Marilyn Monroe of Burlesque – Dixie Evans, a big star in the 50s, as she kept the Exotic World (Burlesque Hall of Fame) museum, annual pageant and reunion going throughout burlesque’s wilderness decades and is still going strong.

All the old legends and new starlets could reunite as a community, perform, and pass on their wisdom, at a time when the genre was tiny, not mainstream and did not have mainstream stage opportunities. Exotic World kept the flame and spirit alive. It did this decade after decade for a new generation of performers who were out there spreading the word, it gave them all inspiration and motivation to keep on doing their bit to keep the wonderful historic art form alive, to push it back into the mainstream, to keep it evolving. As a community we all still make our pilgrimages there to this day.

Immodesty BlaizeImmodesty Blaize – its such an awesome stage name. How did it come about?
Twelve years ago the gasman came to fix my boiler, when he saw me he remarked that I looked like the cartoon character Modesty Blaise. Given that I’d just started disrobing on stage I muttered something about immodesty under my breath – and the name stuck.

Immodesty suggests wickedness?
No, it means ‘lacking in modesty’, however, that only applies to the immodest act of taking my clothes off. I’m actually quite coy when not on stage.

What do Burlesque artistes have in common?
Two legs, two eyes, cleavage, mostly but not necessarily…. 

Do you feel that Burleseque is the middle way between innocence and depravity – your own philosophy?
I don’t tend to philosophise about it; I am an entertainer and it’s my job to entertain my audiences with my own creations. If they aren’t fretting about where burlesque figures on their philosophical scale then neither am I – I’m just here for them!

What makes you laugh?
Bill Bailey

What makes you cry?

What makes you smile?
Small dogs. They’re like Ewoks in fabulous fur coats

Burlesque Royal Season

Saturday 22 January 2011

The State Theatre, Sydney
Bookings: Ticketmaster | 136 100


Friday 28 January 2011
The Palms at Crown, South Bank

8PM (SOLD OUT) & 11:30PM
Bookings: Ticketek or Phone 132 849


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