Last Thursday SPACE Gallery was buzzing with people, all anxiously waiting to see one performance: The Dirty Dishes Burlesque Revue. Sharing cigarettes and conversation outside, the crowd amounted to nearly a hundred eager fans, patiently waiting in a light drizzle. Doors opened at 10 p.m. and the mood was set by the refreshing, 1950s throwback musical act, Over a Cardboard Sea. As if to say ‘leave your judgment at the door,’ they sang merrily, “It ain’t no sin, so take off your skin, and dance around in your bones.”
The show kicked off with a high-energy skit, performed to “Be Our Guest” from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Sporting cuisine covered bras, The Dirty Dishes challenged the crowd to “put their service to the test,” resulting in uproarious laughter and applause. The following fourteen acts, with the help of drag queen hostess, Bunny Wonderland, carried the excitement through to the end.
Dani Bernier, stage named Daniel Bone, participated in a gender strip, in which two women swapped outfits to change genders.
“It’s fun screwing with people’s idea of what’s hot,” Bernier said of burlesque.
Her words are essentially what burlesque is and has always been about: to make people question if popular tradition is correct. Believe it or not, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is a form of classical literary burlesque in which he had readers questioning their culture’s righteousness through his use of humorous yet grotesque satire. Burlesque has maintained its relevance by allowing sexuality and humor to speak loudly against mainstream ideology.
For example, Bunny Wonderland, Knate Higgins when not performing, lip-synced “Part of Your World” From Disney’s The Little Mermaid. This rendition, however, was occasionally interrupted by various sound clips of interviews regarding homosexuality in America and same-sex marriage. One clip featured a women stating that marriage, for her, must be between a man and a woman. Higgins replied, with middle fingers high and Ariel’s voice as his, “wish I could be part of that world.”
“It’s good to have freedom,” said Higgins, who has been performing as Bunny Wonderland since 2005. He laughed as he taught me what the difference between cross-dressing and “drag queening” was.
“Drag is feeling as uncomfortable as possible,” he joked, “It’s more like satire… an artistic expression.”
Victoria Von Teasedale, a member of The Dirty Dishes, said that her thesis paper for a gender studies class she took at USM was on burlesque and what it meant.
“It’s an obsession and something to be passionate about,” Teasedale said. “I’m really interested in the academic aspect.”
She worries that because burlesque is based on striptease it pushes too many people away, causing them to miss out on a genre of theater that they can really learn from. This “academic aspect” is really what sets burlesque apart from mere striptease. Not only is being comfortable with self a driving theme, but each act presents different societal issues, such as same-sex marriage and gender identity.
The Dirty Dishes aren’t the only Portland based group using burlesque to voice their opinions on modern society. Whistlebait Burlesque had their debut in April of 2006 and has been performing regularly since, starring dancers Vivian Vice and Miss Jolene Divine. Vivid Motion Incorporated, a local dance company, has continued the tradition of sexy satire by producing the Nutcracker Burlesque. Red Hot & Ladylike Dance Studio features burlesque classes that aim to build confidence in their students by exploring the art of strip tease.
It’s something everyone should partake in at least once and Portland offers the opportunity. Why wouldn’t you get out and experience something different and new?