“An Invitation to Look”: The Reclamation of Burlesque in Buffalo
My feet are starting to hurt from standing. Mary intuits this and invites me to sit on the hardwood, the sticky, beer-stained hardwood, and I oblige. Since the opening number I’ve seen the following:
- A dancer in a thin, tight body suit and blacked-out contact lenses slowly ripping their “skin” off to screamo music.
- A dancer with horns, reminiscent of Satan, dominating a “stage kitten” (a scantily-clad young woman who picks up stripped pieces and props after each set) with a neck collar and a fake whip.
- A dancer (with her face, from cheekbones to temple, covered in black paint, for anonymity’s sake) interpretive dance to a haunting lyrical piece.
I have also seen one specific audience member tape every performance in full on their phone, parting through the crowd like a ghost to the very lip of the stage and speaking directly to the dancers as they perform. “YES,” this person says, in a tone just above a whisper. “Work it, honey. YES.”
When the sardonic emcee, with her feather earrings, voluminous hair and acrylic nails out to here struts onto the stage to introduce Fiona Fatale, Mary is ecstatic. Carolyn walks on with Lucy-esque pinup curls and a simple cotton dress. Lights up, and she’s taken command of the microphone, singing “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me” from Rocky Horror Picture Show with that high, flighty voice only she and Susan Sarandon could master. She twirls and her dress flutters up to flash a sneak peek to the crowd. With her back to the audience, she peels one sleeve off her shoulder, peering coyly at the room, then snaps it back into place. We cheer, begging for more. She shakes across the stage, singing and shimmying, and then she lifts her dress over her head. She throws it stage left, revealing 1940’s lingerie, pearly, silky, luminescent, that hugs her curvaceous frame in all the right places. She turns again from the audience and unfastens her bra, slowly it comes off, touch-a touch-a touch-a touch me, and then only her nipples are confined, her breasts flapping with impressive centrifugal force as she shimmies her shoulders.
I stare at her face. Her smile is genuine.