BUMS, BURLESQUE & BODY-POSITIVITY
By Quincy Malesovas
With womyn’s marches happening all around the globe, #bodypositivity and #healthateverysize hitting the mainstream, and artists speaking out more than ever against female body and beauty standards, it seems more than fitting that burlesque would also be rising in popularity yet again.
As is typically the case, the burlesque shows hitting the streets and theatres of Melbourne at the moment are not just provocative physically, but also socially. They entertain and tickle funny bones, whilst also raising serious issues – albeit in a way that can slip right under the unassuming audience member’s nose.
One such show is Baby Got Back – ‘a celebration of sex, flesh, profanity and comedy chaos’, according to their website. It is described, with enthusiasm, as ‘a celebration of everything ASS’.
The Northsider spoke with Frankie Valentine, performer, costume designer and co-producer of Baby Got Back, to discuss this year’s show and the history of burlesque in Melbourne.
Burlesque’s prevalence – in Australia and everywhere else – has risen and fallen with time and demand. Back in the mid-2000s, when burlesque was experiencing its second or third wave in Melbourne (according to Frankie), the scene was quite different than it is now.
“I had a few friends who were putting on lo-fi production shows at the time,” said Frankie, who described the creative energy as being fun and supportive in a way that many small-scale, collaborative and DIY communities are.
“I actually started off in the strip clubs and doing shows in that environment,” she said. But given her experience in costume design and leanings towards theatricality, she became infatuated by the more expressive and experimental side of performance.
“I kept working at the club, which is a whole different world, but the transition to burlesque wasn’t difficult at all.”
As for Baby Got Back, the specific acts change each year but the general compilation has been going on for quite a while. It began in 2014, and since then the six-person troupe has been travelling around Australia performing at various venues and festivals.
While Melbourne boasts one of the few permanent Spiegeltents, there are others based internationally that pack up into shipping containers and travel all over – mostly to various Fringe festivals, including Adelaide Fringe set for late February to early March. Frankie and her troupe will be performing at the Spiegel Zelt in Adelaide.
Finding venues to perform in is difficult at the moment, as there is no market for performance spaces, which has led to several places being shut down.
“It’s a tough time for venues in general, and that in turn affects performance,” Frankie said. Although her silver lining is that this has resulted in a resurgence of performer-produced shows.
“You’ve got to go out and create the space for your work, which gives people drive,” she said. “It’s got its positives and its negatives.”
That couldn’t be more true for Frankie, who is already in the throes of Baby Got Back‘s pre-show preparation – that is both an exhilarating and exhausting process.
“I’m in costume lockdown at the moment,” said Frankie. “I’ve been sewing and cutting and painting all morning. And [co-producer] Vesper has a film background, so she makes projections for the show.”
As for the acts themselves, all six women in the troupe work individually on solo numbers that they bring to the show. Then, once they’re all together, they work on their group performances. The pre-show routine can be physically demanding, which makes one wonder how Frankie stays fit in preparation.
“I am naturally quite active. I do a lot of yoga and still work in the club […] I rehearse every other week as well.” No grueling exercise routines or strict diets – just natural activity done in a way that feels comfortable to her.
If anything, this is proof that Frankie practises what she preaches, which is the rejection of body and beauty standards, and the adoption of self-love and body love, regardless of shape, size, colour or preference of expression.
“This is a beautiful part of burlesque in general,” Frankie said. “Slashing down gender-normative beauty standards is very important for women all around, and I am really happy to be making work that makes people think about that.”
To find out more about Frankie, you can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and her website.
Baby Got Back’s Melbourne shows will be held 2 – 4 February at the Melba Spiegeltent on Johnston Street, Collingwood. You can find out more about Baby Got Back and book tickets to the shows here.
Quincy is a self-identified writer/explorer with a penchant for all things culture – sub, pop, alt, you name it. You can read her musings at shugurcan. net.