Thursday 18 January 2018

'We would never show off our lady gardens' - Irish burlesque performers reveal the art of the tease

Miss Burlesque Ireland 2016 contestants. Photo: Rick Taylor First Focus Photography
Miss Burlesque Ireland 2016 contestants. Photo: Rick Taylor First Focus Photography
Alexia Lace. Photo: Hector Heathwood
Alexia Lace. Photo: Hector Heathwood

Meadhbh McGrath

Fishnet stockings, suspenders, satin lingerie and saucy performances are all on the menu tonight as Miss Burlesque Ireland hosts its third annual competition in the capital.

For the semi-final, 13 women will take to the stage at Dublin’s Tivoli Theatre for a series of racy routines combining old-school and revival forms of burlesque.

Alexina Davidson will be competing as her alter ego, Alexia Lace, with a retro 1940s-inspired costume and act.

An actor by day, she first tried burlesque for a Dublin Fringe Festival show in 2010, and instantly fell in love.

“At first I thought there was absolutely not a chance I could do it, no way,” she told Independent.ie.

“It was completely outside my comfort zone, and even though I’m slender and reasonably attractive, as women we tend to have a lot of self-doubt.

“What I love about burlesque is it’s given me a lot of confidence in myself, not from other people.”

Although burlesque often contains elements of striptease, Alexia was quick to point out that it is distinct from stripping.

Alexia Lace. Photo: Hector Heathwood
Alexia Lace. Photo: Hector Heathwood

“Burlesque can often be portrayed as gratuitous stripping, which is always something we’re really careful of.  That’s not true to the art form,” she said.

“Some of the most sensual routines I’ve seen have been just a glove reveal. You’re really thinking about how satin feels on skin and portraying that to the audience - the illusion of the sensations rather than the more primal parts of the body.

“One of my routines won’t be full striptease at all. We go down to (nipple) pasties and underwear, we would never show off our lady gardens or our nipples.”

In an age of internet-fuelled instant gratification, Alexia and her co-performers emphasise that burlesque is an art form based on feminist ideals of body and sex positivity.

While some may imagine a dark, smoky room and an audience filled with leering men, Alexia said that most of the people attending her shows are women, and the audience is always very respectful.

“Women are our biggest followers. We have more women than men at our shows,” she said, noting that she has had women in their 70s coming along.

“We are very much in control. There is absolutely nothing that we would do on stage that we’re not comfortable with. There’s no jeering from the audience, it doesn’t have that vibe to it.

“It’s a very well respected art form where it’s about leaving the audience wanting more rather than showing them everything.”

Alexia Lace. Photo: Hector Heathwood
Alexia Lace. Photo: Hector Heathwood

For Alexia, the appeal of burlesque lies in the thrill of the performance, which she described as “empowering”.

“The adrenalin rush is fantastic, you are completely in control. You bring the audience to their peak, and then you can just walk off, if you want.

“I find it highly empowering. I’m usually a tomboy in my daily life. Since I was a child, I’ve never been very girly, so it’s been such a great outlet for me to really explore that femininity and enjoy that aspect.”

Tonight’s event will be hosted by drag queen and Pantibar favourite Bunny, known for her abundant cleavage and raucous sense of humour.

It marks the third year of Miss Burlesque Ireland, and is organised by Azaria Starfire, one of the Irish burlesque community’s most well-known faces.

Azaria’s career as a burlesque performer began seven years ago, and has taken her around the Irish festival circuit and abroad to the UK, the US and Australia, where she was crowned Miss Burlesque Adelaide.

After winning the title, she headed along to the national competition as a wild card, and was enchanted by what she saw.

“It was like a trial by fire and when I came home, I brought the competition back with me,” she said.

The first Miss Burlesque Ireland was held in 2014, and Azaria said the standard has improved dramatically over the years.

“This year I can really feel that it is becoming its own beast, it has so much energy behind it," she said, adding that this year they have contestants coming from Waterford, Athlone and Belfast.

Although still small in number, she described the Irish burlesque community as a very supportive hub of performers coming from backgrounds as diverse as cabaret, drag, belly-dance, jazz music and contortion.

“I’ve travelled and performed abroad, and I’ve noticed that the Irish community has something that is quite unique,” she said, citing the Irish sense of humour and love for dressing up as two crucial elements that set us apart.

She added that audiences can expect a generous dose of that signature comedy along with “at least seven million rhinestones” at tonight’s heat.

After a gown parade to introduce the performers, there will be two different acts – a classic routine inspired by 1920s-1960s American-style burlesque, and a story-telling piece which reflects the new wave of burlesque.

“We’ve got 13 girls performing and they’ve been working so hard, they all have very different ideas and different backgrounds. It’s going to be super exciting,” said Azaria.

At tonight’s show, six girls will be selected to head the grand final, which will take place on Saturday, July 23.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/missburlesqueireland/

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