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NYC Burlesque Artists on 'Burlesque'

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Burlesque," which was directed by Steve Antin and stars Cher and Christina Aquilera, has grossed over $30 million since it opened over Thanksgiving weekend, even as Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 35 percent "rotten" tomato rating. Way before the movie opened, Burlesque chat and dressing rooms were alight with conversations about the film. Since mistresses of tease are often the champions of the multi-task, we asked several to be our “Burlesque” critics. In between sewing spangles on garter belts and hot glueing rhinestones onto basically everything, they obliged, and weighed in on a film that's selling the glamor of their dancing on the silver screen.

Calamity Chang calls herself the "Asian Sexation" and talks like a post-grad in women's studies about her burlesque career. She raced to the theater the day "Burlesque" came out: "I had low expectations, but honestly the art of strip tease isn't in it at all! Burlesque is about how to remove your clothes with style, humor and personality. If you take that away, then it’s just a choreographed dance number in pretty costumes. As a normal person, I think it's [the movie's] just a fun rags-to-riches story about a small town girl with big dreams. As a burlesque performer it's just offensive. The movie is trying to be a decontextualized 'homage'—all of these younger people are going to think that's burlesque and it's really not. It's a strip club dance; there is no removal of clothing. It’s just choreographed. It's as if an author wrote a book that was very post-modern, but didn’t do any of the things post-modern literature is known for. How can you call yourself this without doing any of those characteristics that the genre is built on?"

Dr. Lucky has a Ph.D. and is a professor at New York University who "teaches unsuspecting drama students how to think critically about burlesque and how to twirl tassels": "It's an extended music video/love story that is mistitled, is all. It could have been called 'Nightclub.' The strangest thing in terms of calling it 'burlesque' is that the characters are chorus showgirls who are given costumes and choreography, which is to say there is no self-authorship whatsoever. But we don't need to get our panties in a wad—the film is such a tiny blip in the map that it’s going to be completely insignificant very very soon. But don't get me wrong, I liked it, I thought it was cute!"

Crimson Boudoir by Janette Valentine Crimson Boudoir teaches and performs burlesque across the country, splitting her time between New York City and West Palm Beach. She was willing to stand outside a coffee shop on a bitterly cold day to chat about "Burlesque": "There wasn't a stocking removed, not a glove, not a bra strap dropped! It was so squeaky clean and sanitized. It's a form of burlesque like a Vegas show or a music video. Burlesque and neo-burlesque has everything to do with empowerment of women, and that was completely absent. I think what upset me was that there are so many amazing burlesque performers in New York that all he had to do was inteview the actual performers and that would have made a more interesting movie...but I liked Stanley Tucci and Cher's chemistry."

Lady Scoutington is a Kansas City native who now calls New York City home. Her burlesque is heavy on the comedy, and in some circles, she's even known as the "Lesbian Grinch." She says she almost walked out of "Burlesque": "I'm suprised they even spelled the word 'burlesque' correctly in the title, the movie was so far off base from the spirit of the burlesque world. Two downtown artists could have won a damn Nobel Peace Prize with the costume budget they had for that movie, and the best they could do was a couple of hip pops and Chistina Agulera singing a version of the beginning (and hopefully the end) of her acting career? Drag queens impersonating Cher and Aguilera would have done it ten times better. It feels almost sacrilegious to hate something that involves so much glitter."

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