The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts December 1, 2006

Burlesque Revives Lost Art

“Boobies and Beer, that’s what its all about, right?” emcee senior Margrit Pittman-Polletta so eloquently exclaimed, standing on stage in nothing but dazzling, firecracker-red Long Johns.

The ’Sco was much more, er, well endowed with the former than the latter at the Oberlin Burlesque Show on Sunday, Nov. 19, where the tassels were in full swing.

Just one of the many products of Oberlin students’ desire to be transgressive and their willingness to get naked (see Rugby Calendar and naked library run), the Oberlin Burlesque show has more intentionality packed behind its performances than your boyfriend on prom night.  Each act is the result of careful planning, always with the celebration of the human body as top priority. 

“Our objective in continuing the [burlesque show] is to empower performers and provide an opportunity for the unique brand of self-expression that burlesque allows for,”  said senior Caribeth Klemundt, one of the show’s three continuing participants, along with senior Elise Sipos and sophomore Ariel Brickman.

Historically, before burlesque theaters degenerated into places of exploitative striptease, it started as a way for the lower and middle class in Great Britain and the United States to make fun of the social habits of the upper class. Often women ran the shows, dressed as men, playing sexual aggressors, usually to some comic ends. The shows were very popular among both men and women, and the criticism from puritanical detractors only made burlesque more appealing. It was only after burlesque hit hard times that venues turned into strip joints looking to attract men who were willing to pay to see women strip.  

Oberlin Burlesque is part of a recent movement to revive the traditional aspects of burlesque theater — namely bawdy and subversive humor that serves to titillate, not exploit. This comic, theatrical aspect of burlesque makes it a thoughtful form of self-expression.

“I would say that our burlesque is about taking a ribald comedic approach to using performance as a platform for sexual/social commentary. In particular we put a heavy emphasis on narrative or concept for our acts. I also like to emphasize that stripping is not the end of an act — it is the means to the end of the act, which is to tell a story or round out a statement,” said Brickman.

The show opened with a chaste but large-chested woman in safari gear standing on stage. Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” started to play and women dressed as cats surrounded the woman on stage and started to forcibly remove her clothing. Following the logic of only the best pornographies, the indignant prude only became less and less inhibited the more she was assaulted by the wild cat-women. By the time they were finished with her, she was stripped of not only her clothes, but presumably of social conventions as well, as her unbound bosom heaved without restraint for the first time.

One wonders what the post-colonial implications might be.

Another act featured Brickman as a broken-hearted ex-girlfriend, crying on stage in a pink bathrobe, clutching a picture of her ex-sweetheart, cheeks stained with obligatory trails of mascara tears. Just as you might expect, the tune “I Will Survive” begins, and in walks the sleazy boyfriend, trying to win her back.  Familiar territory, but the twist comes at the end when, finally acquiescing to the boyfriend’s attempts, Brickman’s character starts to respond very aggressively, much to the surprise of the boyfriend. The act ends with the woman discarding her pink robe — the symbol of her submissive and fragile character — to reveal a dominatrix outfit and chasing the boyfriend off the stage.  Message: A good man may be hard to find, but at least there is a dominant woman within all of us.

A similar message could be gleaned from act to act, from the virgin bride who cannibalizes a wedding cake in nothing but a thong to a mannequin who steps out of her plastic world, gyrating and contorting in positions that one would be hard pressed to find in the window of Macy’s.

The cross-dressing act of the evening featured a transvestite trying to seduce a cowboy. Everything seemed to be going very well, until his balloon breasts popped, blowing his cover.  However, the transvestite was able to outwit the cowboy in the end, when the cowboy’s stupidity bit him in the ass (quite literally). 

Oberlin Burlesque is racy, raunchy and may very well become a large part of Oberlin tradition if it continues to be as popular as it has been these past few semesters. It has the ability to be subversive without being pretentious, to be entertaining while thoughtful.

Ladies and gents, step right up and let the entertainers of Oberlin Burlesque stand up and strip down, give you a thrill and maybe a chill!  They’ll tickle your funny bone, and any other bones for that matter.


Powered by