Sex & George Orwell: Burlesque Revival with the Bad Ladies and the Detective

The Bad Ladies and the Detective is a defiant return to classical burlesque – in all its glittery glory. Characterized as a “multimedia neo-burlesque qui célèbre la liberté” the performance was as entertaining as it was subversive. Produced by Japan’s Cherry Typhoon and Montreal’s Lady Josephine, the two have conceived a dystopian society liberated through a burlesque coup d’etat. A parade of fabulous acts included everything from tinsel and tassels, to Boylesque and cross-dressing.

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Bad Ladies and the Detective 16Writer and director Cherry Typhoon played the authoritarian Detective with eye-twinkling Vaudevillian wit. In her character’s climatic conversion, she stripped off her police uniform to reveal spangly bloomers. But it was only after she was half naked that she plucked and tossed her bristly mustache. The performance challenged gender roles and embraced queer eroticism with a perfect balance of titillation and satire. James and the Giant Pasty swaggered through the curtains in a three piece suit, but quickly can-canned out of his clothes, retreating in nothing but pink feathers and a fringed thong. Saint Stella thrashed blond dreads, triumphantly ripping off a corset to reveal “BAD” pasted across each nipple. The narrative did an excellent job of evoking relevant polemics like Pussy Riot and North Korean totalitarianism, rendering it palatable behind comedic tassel-twirling.

Bad Ladies and the Detective 7Originally nudity-free, this Victorian satirical theatre pioneered gender-bending “trouser roles” for women and employed biting political commentary. Yet today’s “revival burlesque” tends toward repackaged female objectification, veiled as a feminist art form. The Bad Ladies and the Detective transcended all that consumerist mess. The show had brilliant touches of absurdity and farce – my favorites were the ass flexes, the art deco pasties, and the winged, thong-jumpsuit of Paco Fish. The pantomime of Lady Josephine’s Chaplin grimaces were so hilarious and campy that her exquisite beauty played only a supporting role. In the ceremony of the tease, Sucre à la Crème circled her wrists, running fingers along a silky glove. Rolling it back slowly, she revealed only precious inches of porcelain skin. We were held breathless by the revelation of a forearm. Every stocking was removed in a puff of softly falling glitter. Mocking the superficial, the hyper-sexualized, and the rigidity of gender, the cast illustrated sensuality through confidence and charisma, rather than literal nakedness. Although there was plenty of that, (thankfully).

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The Bad Ladies championed the aesthetic of “tease” over “strip” and “mission” rather than “submission.” A voice-over at curtain close reminded us: “Burlesque has existed through the ages because it preserves truth, beauty, and freedom of expression.” Embracing more fluid definitions of sexuality, and a more engaged political proletariat, these performers proved burlesque as a path to a more…naked?…honesty. Orwellian parody at its sexiest.

Photo CreditMelanie Boisvert 

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How has neo-burlesque evolved in the Montréal scene, and who are the principle players? Discover the central characters and developing styles of burlesque montréalais in the continuing series on WATS.

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