Burlesque is like poetry. Sometimes it's extremely culturally relevant; other times it fades into the background, but it never goes away completely. (Kinda like pumpkin spice...) In a male-dominated society, burlesque will always remain relevant because it adds a sense of humor and a winking bawdiness to the male (and female) gaze. There is a sense of humor, showmanship and fun to the enterprise that a good majority of strip clubs lack.
Justin Buckles has taken the basic concept of burlesque and morphed it into something he can travel with. As Buckles explains, "Angel Hanson (Ecstacy Inferno) and I created TEASE to bring the art of Burlesque to smaller communities that do not necessarily have a Burlesque outlet. We followed the same pathway that we did when we created the Caravan of GLAM as well. Smaller cities tend to be deprived of performance art and it was, and still is, our goal to create eye-popping, over-the-top stage productions and take them on the road."
The art of burlesque isn't really about ogling beautiful women. There are aspects of performance art, ballet, modern dance, theater and standup comedy that date back to the early 16th century. "Personally, I think burlesque is only really known and understood if you live in a larger city, such as Portland, that has regular burlesque shows," says Buckles. "The same thing for drag-based shows as well, hence the Caravan of GLAM. We recently took the show down to Coos Bay and performed at the Egyptian Theatre where we had over 500 in attendance, with more than 50 percent of the crowd raising their hands when Ecstacy Inferno asked them how many have never been to a burlesque show."
Teasing an audience of strangers is something that takes an incredible amount of self-confidence and a fearlessness that's rare in the realm of the performance arts. Bringing an audience right up to the brink of satisfaction and then backing away with a smile is a fine line to walk.
Sandria Doré, a world renowned burlesque performer, talks about her first foray into the world of burlesque: "I had always wanted to get into burlesque after I saw photos of the amazing Catherine d'lish online when I had a monster desktop computer and dial-up internet. In 2010 when I was asked to perform for the first time, I was nervous as hell but I accepted the booking and that started me on the journey of tease."
But burlesque isn't some self-sustaining art form that will continue without fans' help. "The art form needs some folks to invest in the local shows and performers," says Doré. "We do so much out of pocket from advertising, flyers, word of mouth, appearances, etc. and we all help each other out as much as we can. It's really incredible and admirable what some people in the community have achieved with just their ambition and hard work. If you admire a show or a performer, come to the shows. You're investing in us to keep making our costumes better, our acts fierce and our venues to seat you. I get the most joy from seeing a sea of faces having a good time. I love seeing people feel good, smile and enjoy themselves. Nothing beats that powerful energy radiating from a group, especially when it's a positive radiance. I love it. It's addicting!"
Justin Buckles and company have taken the art form of burlesque and transformed it into something to fit any venue and city. While TEASE is a fun show and the audience always has a wild time, the aspects of self-empowerment and body positivity are what truly stick. "We are a male-dominated society and anytime a female can get up on stage, demand attention, and make themselves the focal point while exuding confidence, is something that should be appreciated," says Buckles. "With burlesque you have to love yourself and love your body regardless of size, shape, or color! Burlesque in extremely empowering to the performers. Burlesque has done all of this from the beginning and, to me, that's something extremely important."
Saturday, Sept. 17, 9pm
Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr., Bend
$15 adv., $20 door Tickets available at bendticket.com