Jan 052019
 

Here are some photographs from the exhibition I recently put together, based around my book, Viewing Pleasure and Being A Showgirl, How Do I Look? Thanks to the artists who took part: Sophie Lisa Beresford, Julie Cook, Nwando Ebizie as Lady Vendredi, Alice Finch, Laura Gonzalez, Lucy Halstead, Sharon Kivland, Britten Leigh, Chloe Nightingale, and Isabella Streffen. 

Jul 162018
 

My book has been published, Routledge. 

About the book: 

Drawing on interviews with a breadth of different showgirls, from shows in Paris, Las Vegas, Berlin, and Los Angeles, as well as her own artworks and those by other contemporary and historical artists, this book examines the experiences of showgirls and those who watch them, to challenge the narrowness of representations and discussions around what has been termed ‘sexualisation’ and ‘the gaze’. An account of the experience of being ‘looked at’, the book raises questions of how the showgirl is represented, the nature of the pleasure that she elicits and the suspicion that surrounds it, and what this means for feminism and the act of looking.

An embodied articulation of a new politics of looking, Viewing Pleasure and Being a Showgirl engages with the idea (reinforced by feminist critique) that images of women are linked to selling and that women’s bodies have been commodified in capitalist culture, raising the question of whether this enables particular bodies – those of glamorous women on display – to become scapegoats for our deeper anxieties about consumerism.

Jun 172012
 

Andrea Fraser takes up the position of the stripping woman in her performance Official Welcome, in which she addresses an assembled art audience giving an introduction to ‘the artist Andrea Fraser’.  The scripted dialogue, in which she performs ‘artist’ and ‘supporter’ quotes a number of collectors’ and artists’ real introductions and acceptance speeches, all delivered whilst Frasers strips naked and then clothes herself again by the end of the performance:  

Artist: Yeah, the art world likes “bad girls.”  But if you tell the truth and people don’t want to hear the truth.  If you’re honest about how stupid and fucked over life is, you end up in the tabloids.  I don’t go looking for it.  It just comes in a big stinking tidal wave. Removing bra, then shoes, then thong. I’m used to it.  It’s boring. […]  

Supporter: Well, thank you.  Thank you for your dedication, for your vision, for your life.  I think we all must dare, as artists do, to break free of the past and to create a better future, rooted in the values that never change.  That’s the great lesson our artists teach us.

Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser (2005) Andrea Fraser ed. Alexander Alberro




Fraser’s work can be understood within the context ‘Institutional Critique’, as pioneered by the artists Hans Haacke and Michael Asher.  Within this positioning her work takes on an intellectually engaged examination of what we expect a contemporary artist to give us; she subverts what we think art is by conflating the site of the artwork, the museum, the collector, the critic and the performer.  Can we be sure where they all begin and end? 

The project ‘Untitled’ is also really worth looking up.  Fraser’s work is always smart and fearless and I have incredible respect for her practice.  

Jun 172012
 

I feel I shall have to transition from photography and video and into live art and performance practices to really continue this list.  Before I do, I shall just list women photographers who in some way address the Showgirlian.

Elinor Carucci is a photographer by day, but a belly dancer by night.  She’s documented her dancing life in the book and series ‘Diary of a Dancer‘.  A well-observed project in which we see the types of venues, audiences, costumes, dance moves, preparations and the come down following performing.  Its documentary and a diary.  Just through pictures, a complex narrative is told.  With lots of sequins.

Katharina Bosse‘s book New Burlesque is a fabulous collection of portraits of New Burlesque dancers.  The dancers look fabulous in clothes the look like they could be performance costume, or in some cases, sassy day wear.  The pose and flirt with the camera knowingly, in domestic spaces, corners of cafes and deserts – nowhere you’d expect to find them.  They are there, at the beginning of this new movement, carving out a space for themselves. It is a joyous book.

Jo Ann Callis‘s practice spans decades.  I saw an exhibition of her work at the Getty Center, Los Angeles and I made loads of notes as I wanted to review the show for a magazine (I didn’t in the end).  But you know, I almost feel that to write about Callis’s work is a redundant gesture.  I don’t think they need much introduction.  I adore her photographs and I love looking at them.  Much of her work is concerned with femininity and the experience of being a woman.  Just take a browse round her website.  Look out for ‘Woman Twirling’ and ‘Performance’.  She taught me when I was at CalArts, and she was just had so much style, I would wear any of her outfits.

 
Katy Grannan makes portraits of people who respond to her newspaper adverts. Much of her work early photographs were of teenage girls, naked, who had responded to her requests.
Jun 172012
 

To reduce Sophie Calle‘s down to just the work she did stripping is a sin. However, this is what I shall do here and now.  Please go look up Calle’s wider practice if she’s new to you.

 

Sophie Calle’s practice is brave, transgressive, self-reflexive, uses herself. But it’s wider than that, its also about how we perform ourselves, how we connect to other people, how our emotions shape us.  How we look, and how we are looked at.  

Jun 172012
 

Viva, 2009, dir. Anna Biller

In feature film, Viva artist/filmmaker Anna Biller constructed a recreation of a Seventies sexploitation movie.[1]  The film is an uncomfortable mix of camp pastiche and truthful real-emotions storyline, which sees Barbie/Viva going on a journey of sexual emancipation.  The final scene, celebratory and sad, sees Barbie and her friend in a down-market recreation of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell’s number Two Little Girls from Little Rock from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.[2]  For Biller, the aim is to negotiate how female desire might be represented and provoked.  Most interesting to Biller are the responses she receives from female viewers in support of the film; women can read the resistance in the film, but she finds male viewers only see pastiche.[3]

[1] Anna Biller (2009) Viva  [film] Los Angeles, CA: Cult Epics.

[2] Howard Hawks, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Charles Coburn, Sol C. Siegel, Charles Lederer, Joseph A. Fields, and Anita Loos (1953) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [film] Beverly Hills, CA: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.

[3] I talked to Anna Biller about the film in September 2010, LA.

Jun 172012
 

 

Jemima Stehli adopted the position of the stripper in her photographic series Strip, in which she questioned the designation of power in the art world within a voyeuristic framework.  She stands with her back to the camera in front of a seated male who is identified only by his job title, ‘Critic’, ‘Writer’, ‘Curator’ or ‘Dealer’.  A long cable-release is visible in his hand.  In each photograph Stehli is in a different state of undress caught in the act of stripping.  The precise moment the photograph was taken during this private strip is controlled by the seated male, his power doubled through the status of his job in the art world.  And yet, he is the pawn within Stehli’s game.  She has created the scenario; it is her concept, her intellect, her skill, and her body that she chooses to display.  She is active.  The seated male is unable to not look; he must play the stooge.  The photograph registers his level of satisfaction or discomfort: is that us, the viewer, looking at ourselves?

Jun 172012
 

Leigh Ledare represents a transition into the frame, and a new way of approaching the showgirl.  Now, my examples will be about embodying or trying out the showgirl, and thus, the following examples are about what she symbolises, how she can be used, rather than, who is she?

Let’s start with two recent examples.  Liz Cohen and Nikki S Lee put themselves into their photographs and literally embody the woman-as-object, but through that embodiment, we have to deal with the concept of the woman-as-object having a brain.  These approaches bring intelligence into the body. 
 
Liz Cohen turns a Trabant into an El Camino, and herself from mechanic to bikini clad model posing on the car.  Two kinds of body transformation.
 
Nikki S Lee goes native in particular social groups.  The documented results show her passing as one of the gang.  Amongst the groups, she’s become part of where exotic dancers. 

It’s worth pointing out, that these practices would not exist without a number of female photographers, whose work engages less with a Showgirlian impulse, but women-in-representation.  So, look up, if you don’t already know:
Claude Cahun
Hannah Wilkie
Cindy Sherman
Renee Cox

Jun 172012
 

Time for something more contemporary!  Here are four male image-makers (they work in photo & video) who are using the figure of the stripper as a site of exploration.  They show a fascination with the stripper but also work to expand our understanding of who she is and what she does.

Philip Lorca DiCorcia creates portraits that reinvigorate the form.  He does more than portraits, actually, and his photographs always command my attention.  He created a series of photographs of pole-dancers in action.  I sense Lorca DiCorcia’s admiration and attempt to fathom the pole-dancer’s milieu in the photographs.

 

Tom Hunters photographs tell stories of contemporary life.  Inspired by newspaper headlines, sensational reporting and more Pre-Raphaelite compositional tropes, among other things, Hunter’s photographs are complex, full of detail and place our contemporary context into a historical one.  And his photographs are (say it quietly) beautiful.

Mainly using video Francis Alys explores social constructions.  He’s used a stripper combined with audio from a singer’s practicing exercises, to explore where a (public) performance begins and ends.  Here, he employs the stripper’s performing, moving body, with it’s techniques and expertise, and yet this is not directly the subject of the work, rather, the stripper is used to construct something new in the artwork.

Ok, so now things are getting really interesting.  Leigh Ledare‘s work is just amazing and mind-blowing (and I’m jealous of his practice, not to mention the way he always finishes the work is such a sophisticated way).  I’ve blogged about his work before, here.  One day Leigh visited his Mom’s and she opened the door, naked, having just got up from sex with a younger man.  Thus, she announced her sexuality to her son.  Mom had been a ballet dancer, exotic dancer and placed ads looking for men to look after her.  She approached Leigh to document her sexuality.  Leigh does so, in an intelligent, sensitive and self-reflexive way.  Never leaving Mom to be the subject of a forensic, pathologised study.  His practice has included photographs of Mom in flagrante, her posing for him, sometimes he is in the frame, sometimes they are having innocent fun together, other times something more erotic is inferred.  Also, handwritten notes from Mom, from his younger self further contextualise their relationship.  Mom resolutely takes an active role in the images.  Her challenging unrepentant gaze frequently looks out at us.  And Leigh’s newer works trace Mom’s actions, but using himself, by placing his own ads in papers and soliciting women to make photographs that objectify him.  In Leigh’s work, subject-object politics is always complex.  

 

 

Jun 172012
 

Another approach taken has been for documentary photographers to observe the porn industry.  Their photographs serve to deconstruct the usual image-constructions of pornography and create quite mesmerising images.  However, as with all documentary images, we must remain alert to the fact that the documentarist positions himself outside of what he sees, as a neutral observing.  Its a position of privilege to suggest that the author-position is neutral and objective.

Larry Sultan’s project ‘The Valley’ is an exploration of the porn industry
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders porn portraits

Jun 172012
 

Edward Hopper’s haunting paintings recreate Modern city life in the sparest terms.  He empties out all details that do not create the narrative he is after and what’s left in his composition have become archetypes.  The film ‘Pennies from Heaven’ consciously quotes his painting scenes to mesmerising effect.  
However, a little known photo ‘Girlie Show’ is why I’m listing Hopper.  He created the painting after visiting a burlesque show, and restaged the entrance of the dancer with his wife.  Thus, the painting is a composite of the memory of a theatrical encounter, and an homage to his wife with whom he had a complicated sexual relation. 

Jun 172012
 
How does art respond to and extend our understanding of the showgirl?  I have put together some examples that explore woman-as-object (my interest is in showgirls, but this list is broader than that).  The idea for putting this together came to me whilst reading Katy Pilcher’s article ‘Performing in a Night-Time Leisure Venue: A Visual Analysis of Erotic Dance’.  In the paper, Pilcher uses photographs to elicit attitudes and opinions from the subjects of the photographs.  It reminded me of the approaches taken by artists: sometimes their works suggest a co-authoring between the subject and object, sometimes the subject in the work is further objectified, sometimes the role of the subject is embodied.  I have put this list together to try to show this breadth of approach.  The time period in which the works are created plays a role and I also noticed gender was a significant factor in the type of approach taken.  I shall start by presenting male artists.  I’m using the term ‘artists’ somewhat loosely, as there are practices here that belong to a photographic tradition rather than something more conceptually and critically engaged (that also reflects conversations in image-making, as the time-period of production also bears on the work made).
 
 
I love Walter Bird and I went to see his photographs at the archive in the National Media Museum in Bradford.  His photographs create an undisputable, enchanting glamour.  Sometimes I find myself wanting to reject all objectifying images made by men of women, but then, I see Walter Bird’s photographs, that are so powerful, respectful and glamorous and I cannot maintain that critical position.  Something complex more complex is going on.  Of course, in Bird’s photographs, Hollywood films of the 1930s and the associated film star portraits, women are constructed as glamorous goddesses in lieu of power either in the narrative or in society (see ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey).  However, this construction of woman-as-image now is a very different thing – can we create a new context for the images and reject the related powerlessness women represented at the time?
 
I’m not going to add them to the list, but the other image-makers that fit into this Walter Bird category of, shall we say, glamorously subjectifying women are: Guy Bourdain, Helmet Newton and Howard Hawks.  All worth looking at.
Apr 202012
 

Let me start with a defence of my research.  I don’t remember when or where I was, or whom I was speaking with, but shortly after Lana Del Rey released her single ‘Born to Die’, a female friend told me about the video.  She was saying I had to watch it because she was ambivalent about the visual messages of the video: ‘It ends with her limp body being carried by her boyfriend’, and she wanted to know how I interpreted the video and her lyrics.  Later that day I watched the video and I loved it.  I’ve blogged already a little of my responses to it.  I want to just underline what I can do with my research, and why I think it has value.  I am invested in reading images of women, recognising where she has dominion over her body, her mind, her agency.  I want to affirm and champion these instances.  Sometimes, I question the value of simplicity of the intent of my research.  And then, the furore created by Samantha Brick’s article in the Daily Mail and Ashley Judd’s puffy face makes me realise this is important research.  We need to be able to recognise a woman’s self-possession and dominion over herself more than ever.  I am here to do that.

Until last Friday night, I had never been to a gentleman’s club.  For my research, this omission was something I had no rationale for it; I could not justify not going.  So, I went.  I went to Spearmint Rhino on Tottenham Court Road with a fellow researcher: female, looking at the histories of striptease.  We had called them up beforehand to ask if we could enter without a man.  We could, but we had to mention this conversation, take a name down, and mention it at the door.  As we drew near to the door, a bouncer began to say ‘sorry ladies’, but we mentioned the name, gave our names, and were allowed in.  As we paid, we were told you have to sit at a table, tables are free, but wait for the bar staff to come to you and take your order.  We had to hang up our coats, as we did so, we could hear door staff downstairs speaking through earpieces ‘yes, I see them they are down here’ before we were approached and taken to our table.  Whilst this was happening, we felt that our presence was a threat, a non-fit. 
 
We were seated very near to a raised stage area—a thrust stage/catwalk with a pole installed.  Looking around, the light was dimmed, seats were velvet padded, I got a feeling of golds, velvets, lowered chandeliers, boudoir, bordello.  There was a softness to the décor, plush, not hard.  House music pumped and we had been warned we were not permitted to dance, or touch.  Behind us was a podium with a dancer, across the room another podium and another dance area on top of the bar.  Topless dancers gyrated slowly, coyly, sometimes smiling, occasionally looking around, sometimes moving caught in internalised state.
 
I watched the stage and the cheeky, confident energy of the dancer, in fishnets with a visible access hole, a trilby, long black and blonde hair.  Bad girl stripper chic.  An underdressed waitress took our order.  Thank god she wasn’t wearing bunny ears or an equivalent.  She was wearing a waistcoat, hotpants and fishnets.  She was really really friendly and helped us to accustom ourselves to our surroundings.  We ordered wine, which was not over-priced, surprisingly.  We watched the next two dancers, both with thin long bodies.  I wondered about the limits of the acceptable body type in this context.  I looked up at the podium and saw a dancer with a body closer to my own size 14 body and I held my look at her, I smiled at her.  She held my gaze.  At some point, I could not handle the looking any more, and I looked away.  I am in the position of a man, I can look, but I’m not used to this kind of permission to look and so it takes some practice. 
 
The dancers move around the room, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, holding hands.  They sit down and chat to the men.  We are not approached.  We drink our wine and watch.
 
The room has a calm to it.  Men are secreted into banquettes, booths, around tables.  The architectural details and high seats meant that scanning the room, I did not get a sense of the volume of men are in the place.  At the other end of the evening, when the club really was emptying out, I got a sense of how the atmosphere felt—I could feel that there were less men in the club, rather than visibly see their absence.  The calm was eerie.  As though desires were sated.  When I was younger and I went to nightclubs where alcohol was the main drug of choice, I remember the meat market atmosphere.  The testosterone surged through the space.  As I woman I could feel this strange rampant energy, being looked at.  It was a struggle to both understand what was going on (my 18 year old self really didn’t understand how I was looked at) and a struggle to protect yourself.  I used my standoffishness to prevent men coming near me.  But here, the space had none that frightening energy.  Male desires were catered for.  They did not had to fight for it, so calm prevailed.  Their needs were acknowledged, administered to, in what felt like a safe space.
 
A woman sits next to us on the adjacent table shifting up near to us to accommodate the large group of male friends she has come with.  She starts chatting to us, to find out why we are there.  We chat to her throughout the evening.  She’s been a stripper in the past: the proverbial college-student stripper.  She’s at ease with the set up, she enables her male friends to get the dancers over.  Me and my researcher friend are bought drinks by our neighbours.  Two tequila shots and a glass of champagne each.  Oh dear.  I’ve never undertaken my research so drunk.
 
I hear the song ‘Ill Manors’ by Plan B, then a remix of ‘Hometown’ by Adele.  The dancers come and go from the stage.  We hear an announcement of their name, they come out or there is a delay and an empty stage momentarily.  There seem to be different approaches to the stage.  Some walk on, hold the pole, twirl around it a little, leaning outwards, with gauche internal sexy expression, self-absorbed.  The dancers start with their tops on, then they remove them, put it onto a sofa that is at the stage end of the catwalk.  Another approach is to come onto the stage with a small towel and wipe down the pole—I’m told the towel has alcohol on it, so as to remove the sweat off the pole and enable greater grip.  A dancer doing this announces her impending attack of the pole.  These are the exciting dancers.  They run to the pole, jump, inch up it, invert their bodies, push out into impossible positions, flexing their muscles.  When a dancer dramatically drops from the top to the bottom of the pole—still perfectly in control—there are audible gasps across the room. 
 
Watching the dancing onstage is important to me.  This is the only part of the evening in which I am myself.  I force myself into the setup.  I watch the dancing, the energetic, performative dancing engrossed, excited.  This is a subversive pleasure.  I am reading the setup against the grain.  Pushing my gaze into a situation not designed for me.  My favourite dancer is called ‘Aurora’.  She dances athletically on the stage and pole but I see what I am after: she has dominion over her body, over her performance.  She owns the moment.  Rock it, Aurora!
 
My researcher friend chats extensively to our new female friend and the dancers who tentatively approach us, about her research, why we are there.  I feel the alcohol.  I feel the music.  I enjoy watching.  I chat too, but listen a lot.  If a dancer wants to come to work, she must pay: £20 for a day shift, £85 for a night shift.  I remember Lily Burana’s book ‘Strip City’, I wish and hope these dancers will unionise and force the clubs to not charge them to work.  Most of the girls are English.  A couple of Italians chat to us.  One is chef by day.  Then there is a Romanian.  They tell us their dreams, to get out of London, to go to the sun, somewhere.  A dancer tells me the rules we are told at the beginning are not specific to us as women, everyone gets the same rules.  One dancer is sitting on the knee of a man in the group we are next to, she turns around and chats to me.  She sees my necklace, she likes it and touches it, she touches me.  In this club the dancers are the ones who are allowed to touch.  They choose when and how they touch.  We, the punters do not have any touching rights. 
 
The women who sit with us speak freely.  They speak of their attitudes to the work, describing the conditions, dress codes.  Long dresses are encouraged.  Some wear long dresses, but safety pin them up at the front to reveal their legs.  Hen nights have come here, also lesbian couples.  Apparently the club is very relaxed, it’s this is appealing for dancers.  A self-selection happens—the dancers who are interested in chatting about their work, speaking with women, switching off from the hustle for a while, come and sit with us.  I like them.  I guess there may have been women who I wouldn’t be interested in us, who aren’t open, warm, receptive to other women, but they do not approach us—so I can’t report if those type of women circulate in the club, if they do, I did not encounter them.  
 
A performer comes out and works on suspended hoop.  She wears black heart-shaped pasties.  A dancer comes over to us.  She’s been watching us.  She sits next to me.  Warmly she introduces herself to me, Leanne.  She touches me lightly and tells me to have a private dance with her.  I think she is a little older than me.  She has a warm and nurturing manner.  She holds my hand and takes me to sort of alcoved sofa, where private lap-dances are taking place.  Before she begins, she asks if I’ve ever had a lap-dance before, I tell her no.  She says, I’m sorry honey, I’m gonna have to ask you sit with your legs apart, as she moves my legs into place.  I am in a black pencil dress with my legs apart, thank god it’s a private area, I feel so odd.  She presses her cheek to mine, I can smell her skin.  I didn’t expect the skin contact, she’s so soft, the light touch carries a frisson, the touch leaves a tingle on my skin.  I shut my eyes, feeling the sensations instead.  I feel her breasts brush across my face.  Once she has finished she asks me if I would like to her carry on.  I do, but I say no.  She takes me back to my seat.  My friend is not around.  She has says she’ll come back to dance with her.  Leanne has decided she will introduce us to lap-dancing tonight.  She made that decision.  She scouted us out, she says she passed us a number of times—checking us out, feeling our vibe.   
 
Later I am sitting chatting to one of the men from the group next to us.  From this group area we are sitting in, the party has broken up a little, we are the only ones there for a moment.  Aurora approaches us and sits down next to the man, to tempt him to have a dance.  I say, if he doesn’t want one, I’ll have one.  She smiles at me, and says come on then.  She holds my hand and leads me away to a different alcove.  She asks about me, why I am here, I tell her about my showgirl research, that I’m more used to burlesque.  I feel the touch, its not as intense, I keep my eyes open.  I feel her long hair touch my skin.  She smiles at me, meets my eye, hers is a very visual lap-based performance.  She tells me she’s 30—she says the older dancers are better as they know their bodies and are comfortable in them.  Afterwards she tells me that her day job is as a ballet and contemporary dancer.  That’s why she’s such an charismatic performer!  She wants to teach dance on the internet, to set up her own business.  I think how much I’d love to interview her, I give her my card. 
 
I’m sitting alone.  A young looking dancer approaches me, sits with me and chats.  I talk about my research.  She presses me for a private dance with her.  I look in my purse, two ten-pound notes are left, enough for another dance, but I do not want to spend the money.  She remembers what I just told her about my research and she uses it to convince me to dance with her.  She is a mirror; she knows how to work me, to be what I want.  I cannot find a reason not to have a dance with her.  When she dances it is a less intense experience.  She kisses me on the cheek again; it is like a goodbye.  I cannot believe I paid for it.  This is a strange moment, I was not in control, I got a dance.  Afterwards I realise I did not ask her her name.  Or if I did, it did not stick in my brain.  I know nothing about her.  I do not really enjoy this interaction.  I would guess she was around 20 years old.
 
It must be near closing time.  The dancers are leaving, the punters have left.  As we walk up the stairs to leave, Leanne is ahead of us.  She is in a track suit and cap, she doesn’t look back.  As we get to the door, some of the dancers are clustered round, chatting, waiting for taxis.  Leanne has gone.  I feel strange. I never said a last thank you and goodbye.  The rules of engagement across the entire evening are so strange, so different to what I used to.  My usual boundaries did not apply—to an extent my gaze and desire was a non-fit, this place was not designed to facilitate encounters for me, but that did provide a space for me to transgress.  That was certainly exciting.  This is the nearest I have ever come to imagining, feeling, experiencing what it must be like to be a man.  I guess I was uncertain as to whether I would encounter any women with self-possession, dominion over her body, her touch, her looks but I did.  Throughout my research, I have to negotiate my own boundaries and ambivalences.  Watching women perform as objects is a strange terrain to navigate, and I have written about the moments when I have felt discomfort.  I have to emphasise that across this evening there were such a wide range of approaches to being a dancer that I cannot generalise.  Different approaches to style, dress, performance, interaction, flirtation, communication I cannot make any universal statement.  Each dancer represented different levels of object and subject.  However, living and working without shame, shameless display and embodiment is important work, there were women this evening that demonstrated that.
 
Thank you, Leanne and Aurora.   

 

Dec 022011
 

Over the summer I became an expert showgirl-spectacle viewer. 

During one show in Paris, my mind wandered and I began to develop a future consulting job for myself in which I get invited to view shows at rehearsal stage in order to advise how pleasure might be best generated in the show.  I pictured my business card, ‘Dr Alison J Carr – showgirl consultant’.  I mean, I think I could really help shows out, despite their wonderfulness, they really can make some bad dubious directional decisions.  I could help them avoid that and enable them to create appeal for the broadest possible audience.  And I could get to see the shows for free.  

Dec 022011
 
I tried to photograph the interior of this theatre, but without a magazine publishing deal they would not work with me.  So I loved the show, but it makes me sad to think about it.  

In the dark theatre, I could not make notes.  I make notes in the pub afterwards: 
 
Voulez Vous Coche Avec Moi number: women groin moves/sex moves. Kicking routine ending in water, Busby Berkely.  Homoerotics not sublimated, cavemen with Mohawks and one woman with boobs out, men rolling on each other.  Men stripping in shower.  Dancing in black leggings. Drag singing.  Jumpers in black bodysuits with lime stripes.  Girls not fully on beat of the music.  Smiles! I love smiles! Sex moves.  Contemporary choreography and music.  Girls over a barre number.  I’m Coming Up by Pink – strange disco headwear.  Trampy women in ‘cameras-flashing’ number, lace bondage leotards.  Short-haired female dancer going for it, my favourite dancer.  Tap-dance on a podium Matrix-style.  Sailor scene, strip for men.  Tango with two men and one woman.  
Dec 022011
 

I also visited Paradis Latin, and here are my notes from that show.  At the end of the evening I rode a ‘velib’ – a bike you can rent in the street, to my friend’s flat to say goodbye to her before she travelled back to Berlin.  Just some context for you!

Paradis A La Folie: Madness in Paradise.  Tourist crowd, same one as Nouvelle Eve.  No style.  Gaggles of women in 20s.  Couples in groups in 40s, boring looking.  2 x couples alone in 50s.  Blouse and purple knit jerkin.  Australian bus load of 20s in semi-smart clothes (but a bit townie too).  And audience on holiday, relaxed, drinking, speaking English.  Large Indian family.  Lower-middle class demographic?  Professionals, skilled workers and students?  Banquet tables.  Large groups of women. Sparkly diamante hair-band.  A straight audience?  A photographer comes round, I say no.  It’s strange how on the metro if I saw these women I see around me, I’d feel an affinity with them, but not now, in this context.  The lights dim.  Video projected.  Roses outfit, 5 girls, 4 nudes, t-bar tan shoes, all short brown hair, 5 boys.  Compère lowered on to stage, a pale pink top hat and tails.  Rose nude lowered from ceiling long hair and flower thong, ballet flats, nude with leaves.  Ballet pas de deux.  Female singer enters from back of auditorium.  Rose coloured long dress with large rose neckline.  Singer with 4 men and then compère.  Showboys for moment, lots of jump steps, tapping, cheeky, cheesy choreography, very Constance Grant Dance Centre.  Compère speaks to audience in French, then English.  Waiters on stage, the male dressed-up host as we came in, now in drag.  In ballet class number at the barre, evolves and more sexy leotard girls come out, very Eric Pridz video.  Judo boys – manly???  Music, Daft Punk-esque beats.  Steam shower with girls, just towels, 4 girls, strip with tease removing towel.  Bit more knowing choreography.  Bums in showers – men.  More comical choreography.  Barbie doll bodies – hairdown, swish hair head roll.  Rave disco scene – techno.  Pop/street dance influences unzipped skeleton wet suits.  Goes to black, zip-up full skeleton suit.  Oh-la-la song.  Girls in Adidas type tracksuit bottoms.  Compère back, black suit.  Angelou, unicycling bartender.  The formula makes me think of the ‘70s.  Country fair carousel, rotating with girls on as architecture – blonde pageboys.  Opens up into 4 girls in leathers on motorbikes, take off helmets and shake out blonde hair.  Strip off to boob harness and thong.  Dance on the bike, arched back.  Hair swinging.  Rope and man in white pants – ‘Christopher’ – sublime smile – Tarzan/Indiana Jones music.  Shaved armpits, arm decoration, sequinned shorts.  Very flit, flexible, was he an Olympic gymnast 15 years ago?  The guy spotting him is a star too.  Montagues and Capulets Prokofiev music, period dress.  Court dance, with boobs, pas de deux scene from Romeo & Juliet.  Strip off to under-net, they marry, sexy ballet??  Hip hop tribute to Romeo & Juliet.  4 girls in waistcoats, jeans and Trilbys, 5 boys in just jeans and Trilbys.  Body hair-free evening.  Boys as objects.  17tth Century Louis 15th number, girls as boys court dancing, boys strip off and stay, girls leave.  Real boys in same sort of outfit and they strip off too.  2 sets of boys dance together.  Bouillon?  Tap-dancing juggler.  Can-can, better costume, better choreography (than La Nouvelle Eve).  Girl tumbler, 3 boy tumblers.  Compère in white tails.  Thanks technicians, dressers, musicians, front of house.  Cheerleaders, singer in a long white gown – Marie.  No fake boobs.  Crossdresser type dame goes back and forth between male/female dress.
Dec 022011
 
I visited the the smaller scale cabaret ‘La Nouvelle Eve’, and drank a small bottle of champagne, included in the ticket price, whilst making these notes:


Audience: tourists, families – large Indian family.  Middle aged couples, girls aged 10, boys aged 13?  Australian student group.  Young smart couple, 20?  Middle aged large group, breaks up into men and women.  Two German women in 60s.  Everyone dressed up smart.  American father and son.  Preppy Americans in front of me.  Opening number, 10 women, 4 men.  Is this chorography dated?  Disco-ball entrance, blonde-singer, g-string.  5 girls techno-beat number, red top with cut out heart on sternum, more commercial dance.  4 boys enter, girls leave.  3 girls back – smiles! Topless dancer, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  Sparkle sleeves, original.  I like the dancers, personality.  Head-dresses, just hair up, understated.  Blonde-singer comes on with very Moulin Rouge headdress.  Topless, singing.  She doesn’t have ‘it’ fully.  Two men juggling with hats.  Black waistcosts, white shirts and trousers.  Australian audience member pulled up on stage – juggler speaks English – tourist language.  Cancan – three boys in red and black, two girls in pink.  Ten-girl line, multicoloured costumes.  Lots of yelping, like wildcats.  Boy cartwheels and tumbles, takes centre-stage, why?  Kicking music, same as Constance Grant Dance Centre uses (my dancing school).  Three boys come on.  Boy doing jumping splits – why?  All girls in twos, 2 girls dancing together.  Mr Bean type clown enters.  Physical comedy.  New number, 4 girls in trousers and 2 boys – all in the same costume, 5 girls in floppy drop-waisted dresses, 2 couples come on.  Feels fresh, dramatic tango-like.  Girls are boys in the choreography.  Nice use of back.  Cuban-heeled Oxfords on girls as boys, boys in a flatter heel but that’s the only difference in costume.  Music is a bit Eurovision.  4 boys from Grease, 2 girls on ribbons, topless in S & M harnesses.  They leave.  Black strap costumes – nice.  Blonde singer is ‘Arta’ the star girl/compère is a better dancer than singer.  No singing.  Topless male, more manly.  White costume dancer with ballet-flats and thong.  Enigma type music for ballet.  Arta back in long backless frock.  Good set of lungs on her.  I don’t like her bottle blonde bob.  Jazz Hot Baby – blue leotards and bows, pillbox hats.  Great costume, not used enough.  Jazz Hot – great song, would love a bit more tapping out.  Arte talks in every langue – she’s like a flight announcement.  Frothy, needs balls.  Arta gets 4 audience men to dance on stage.  Really?? A bride as a prize?? Bit weird.  Bit buy-a-Russian-bride.  Man comes on stage with showgirl holding a baby.  Weird.  Like Fire number, film Showgirls hand-move.  Arte, she’s good, but I want a larger personality to carry the show, she’s slightly lacking in charisma.  How do shows queer themselves?  Finale black and pink.  Love Me, 6 girls, topless, platform shoes for shorter dancers.  Oui Je T’aime finale number.
Dec 022011
 
In the summer I went to view a number of showgirl spectacles in Paris.  During the shows I made notes.  I wrote down descriptions and on the spot analyses of the displays in front of me.  I typed up my notes with the hope of using them in my writing, however I have found it hard to make them useful. As I just cut the words from my Chapter 2, I thought I’d recycle them here.  This is what I wrote from my not very good seat at the side of the stage, at the end of table I shared with noisy disinterested patrons.
Dance, Dance white caps, disco-dancing.  Older showboys.  Thong bum.  Parle Dance? Long hair through caps, high kicks, glitter.  Aujhord’hui 3 singing bun-heads, mics on face, string beads for a top.  Pleat skirt with feather trim.  Camp dancing.  3 nudes high-kicking.  Male dancers, dry ice, uniform-type hats, marching.  Female voice – la la.  Women with coloured trim dresses.  As girlfriends to soldiers.  Bead top.  Boobs covered for some.  Red dancing pom pom.  Slim thighs.  Amazing costumes with moving parts.  Juggler act to techno music.  Pirate number, men.  Hookers for pirates, hair down.  Boobs out and harnesses.  Sultry looking faces.  Pith helmet – safari suit.  Orientalism outfit.  Harem with beads and harem women.  Strange fan-like headdresses.  Cat-like women – leopards, enter wailing – ahhhhh, fight with soldier guards.  Body ripples.  Medusa.  Blonde girl slave enter.  Jumps into pool with snakes.  Snake dance underwater!  Kisses snake.  Couple fly in on string in neon and UV light.  Orientialism.  Pantomime.  Real boobs.  Featured act – male and female acrobat.  East-European looking.  Circus type ringmaster.  Clowns – men – mini horses walk on x 6.  Kossacks!!!  Orientalism less successful than using tropes from entertainment – girl clown number.  Pointing to own construction – more useful.  2 girls in one dress.  Lions – dancers as lions.  Wide trousers on clowns.  Drum bit featured act.  Audience interaction.  Mexico – big sceam from crowd “Mexi-co!!” “China” “Ukraine” “Brazil”.  Drunk woman – act – dancers clubbing, comedy.  Cancan, no men.  Men.  All cartwheel.  All cartwheel and splits – but male extra-flex man!  Boogie Woogie number.  3 singing women – English – all other in French – short-hair wigs.  Punks/Cher costume – zip t-shirt.  ‘New Generation’???  3 girls and all men.  “I will survive!” song.  Tom of Finland hat and jacket – strange Eastern European Eurovision moment.  Stage lowered with men.  Mirror ball man – over the top pink costumes.  Hip wiggle move.  Wardrobe malfunction –  lights not on on one side of pack.  Pink boots, thigh high and ankle.
Aug 272010
 

I went to University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) special collection to meet the women who started the oral history archive there, and read some of their transcripts http://www.library.unlv.edu/speccol/).  The testimonies of the various Las Vegas showgirls were amazing and addressed such wide issues from technique, upbringing, travel and visa arrangements, racism in Vegas etc.  They make for amazing reads and I managed to photocopy some of the best.  This made me wonder about using appropriated interviews too.  I’m not sure I have to be the interviewer, I’m just really interested in the voice of the showgirl.  It still doesn’t quite answer the question of what I will do with the interview material, but it got me thinking about it.


Aug 062010
 

I saw the show at the Lido (http://www.lido.fr/us/cabaret-paris.html) and had great fun.  It was so camp its indescribable.  They feature showboys in their show as well as showgirls, and I have to say they just made me cringe (I’m cringing so much I cannot bring myself to type a description of their worst costume).  A featured act was a male acrobat who performed on two long bits of material.  He was incredibly strong and flexible and his costume was a small pair of white shorts.  I was interested to think about this.  Through the use of his body, he displayed both a masculinity (strength) and femininity (fluidity in his movements and flexibility), this routed his performance outside of camp, somehow and located him in some sort of more serious object-of-desire place, in a way that the showgirls operate.  The showboys, on the other hand, are total camp, in a way that sort of negates their skill and makes them look like a Butlins act.  They are not any sort of object of desire, they are, as far as I could tell, a tacky joke.  Of course, I have no access to the spectrum of responses that a gay male spectator might have, and who knows, perhaps they function as an object of desire for them.  My point is, for me, showboys, no.  (From other performance instances I can say, male showgirls, yes).
 
Watching Crazy Horse (http://www.lecrazyhorseparis.com/) I lost my visual innocence.  The cabaret featured a troupe of female dancers, who performed butt-naked except for a very small strip of what looked like black gaffer tape, strategically placed. Although there was an audience roughly evenly split between men and women, I felt transgressive watching it, as though the whole spectacle was directed towards a male spectator and not me.  It was by far the most knowing caberet-revue I have seen.  It reputedly crosses over with burlesque as earlier this year Dita Von Teese was their featured artist.  However, I think this says more about Dita’s hetero-normative position within burlesque that she can cross over into more overt stripping contexts, rather than Crazy Horse’s closeness to burlesque. 
 
I felt that the show did a number of things in terms of styling and choreography that took the whole thing far closer to a gentlemen’s club dance context.  For example, the lighting and choreography dissected the bodies so that we saw perhaps, only legs performing.  I found the amount that we did not see the faces of the performers quite shocking.  There was no opportunity for the performers to ‘send-up’ the performance with their faces in darkness or out of view.  I found this the hardest aspect to handle.  I also felt that the repetitive use of the arched-back position that pushes the bum out moved the performances away from mainstream theatrical dance technique (which is often clearly visible in burlesque performances and particularly at the Lido) and more towards of gentleman’s club stripping.  I realised watching the Crazy Horse that I actually need to watch strip shows featuring lap and pole dancing so that I can write about the gaps and overlaps between the different styles of performing I’m interested in.  The show also featured some numbers that felt really disturbing and uncomfortable, for example a solo performance with a dancer who commenced her number tied up in ropes, and then used the ropes as props to perform on.  It’s S&M references felt shallow and quite frankly, anti-women.
 
The featured act was a male tap duo, which came as a blessed relief.  Fully clothed, the two were fully spot-lit, used their faces, audience interaction, humour and a number of different tap dancing ‘quotes’ to create an entertaining number.  And then we had to return to the strobe-lit naked women.  It was like our one moment of fun.  The seriousness of the naked women was alienating, I longed to see some smiling faces!