Brown Girls Burlesque (BGB) took a sold out house to school with their risqué acts at the Bowery Poetry Cub on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. With long held taboos shattered with a toss of a bra and "peek-a-boo" bright and sparkly pasties, this show took myths and stereotypes of brown love, and, within two hours, both embraced and dismantled them with erotica and clever parody.
As Emcee Mo Beasley states at the top of the show,
“We are here to liberate the exotic primitive. Twist, bend and obliterate the old ideas about what black people do behind closed doors…”
When many Americans think burlesque, they think blond 60’s bombshell doing a striptease in pasties. (Note: Pasties are sparkly or tasseled discs that are ‘pasted’ over the nipple to skirt obscenity laws yet often increase erotic impact of seeing topless women). An import to the US from Brittan, it evolved from Vaudeville and morphed into the common day strip club. Prior to its modern day forms, the acts were parody of fine arts (and/or upper classes) and therefore very rebellious/subversive. The current revivals or neo-burlesque shows draw from the more ‘artistic’ periods in burlesque. Combining opera, hip-hop, and spoken word, modern dance, and live drumming, BGB artists offer a pastiche that is fun, fresh, and relevant to this generation.
The night started off with a personal favorite of mine for its "authenticity," Chicava Honey Child’s Tribute to Katherine Dunham (Batucada, 1939). I understand these days you can’t say "authenticity" without explaining what it is you ‘real’ ly mean. However, what I know of Katherine Dunham’s choreography, she’d be smiling at Honey Child’s take on “liberating the exotic primitive.” The piece starts with a mulatto (Honey Child) in a full white skirt tied at the waste and being hounded and dragged about the stage by the very chocolate and masculine Shola Jones. The expression of fear and sexuality is palpable in the staging and the dancing to what I believe is Dunham’s original musical score. Honey Child is being pulled about but resists his advances. Shola has quite a time reigning her in close; all the while, the audience is left to question, “Who really has the power in this relationship?” Ultimately, the damsel in distress uses her body to turn the tables in an erotic strip tease down to the white frilled skivvies. Chicava Honey Child and Shola Jones were red hot in this duet. Their syncopated spines, rolling and undulating with the Dunham flavor, beautifully underscored a heightened sexuality in rape, taboos of American slavery and fears of miscegenation. Their burlesque dance mixed the primal erotic images with that “exotic primitive” BGB represents. Chicava Honey Child is so beautifully feminine as her body rocks and sways in this true danced number. And, yes I thought it was truly authentic!
Mo Beasley is an amazing artist in his own right and gave up several spoken word creations that even made me blush. Beasley, founder of Urban Erotica since 2001, has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand or rather his ‘kitchen’ in his piece, Welcome to my Kitchen. In a poetic parody mixing up sex and cooking he spits:
…sex in the oven and the lust that‘s been boiling over for quite some time welcome to my kitchen, your about to be done…because here in my kitchen the meal has been prepared for your anatomical pallet, so slip off your clothes.
(Forgive me Mo for not being able to capture the best parts in the dark. But, my chin dropped several times hitting my pin and I lost my page in my notebook a few times.)
Next on the scene was Aurora Boobrealis taking her inspiration from Sheila E, one of the first females to break the sex barrier as a prominent rock and roll drummer. Aurora takes the stage with E’s “Holly Rock” from the 1985 film “Krush Groove”. She enters banging drumsticks wearing a head-to-toe turquoise lace cat suit and a rocking asymmetrical curly fro/bob. The look was completed with lace turquoise gloves, socks and of course the three tiered scarf. Aurora really captures Sheila E as an image of macho womanhood and then progresses to her act. She definitely takes her time as she slowly slips off all the reminders of the 90’s. Finally, removing her top and swinging it overhead and giving a little booty shake for strong cliché finish.
The curator of the show, Miss SoCo’s (Southern Comfort) act was inspired by Otto Preminger’s 1954 musical Carmen Jones staring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte. This movie was a retelling of Georges Bizet’s Opera, Carmen (1875). Using a chair as a prop, the bold and beautiful SoCo lip-synchs on stage while Dandridge flirts around behind via projection. Miss Soco's style of slowly sitting on the chair or running to the far side of stage kept the audience off balance. The understated dance ramps up the suspense to reveal diamond studded pasties on her killer body. It is so nice to see these women of all different shapes and sizes mesh into a collective erotic, brown-feminine.
Mixing it up, Pam Patrick and Yuichi Iida of Brown Rice Family held a drum session on stage. Pam Patrick drummed with such clarity and originality that it made her one of the best female drummers I have ever heard. Yuichi Iida had the crowd clapping and swaying to the intoxicating rhythms blended from Africa and the Caribbean. It was a dialogue—call and response—while the audience that was packed to the ceiling, sitting on the floor in the aisles and atop speakers, added a layer of understanding. The ‘uhhuns’, ‘ah-ights’ and ‘yeeeees’ filled the room.
Out walks Heddie to the words “A violinist has its fiddle, a painter his pallet; but, I, Josephine Baker… I only have myself.” Her striking frame, clad only in a black cut-out tankini which she never removed, gave the audience some more modern dance. The work was hauntingly beautiful. She isolated parts of her body pulsing and jumping through space. It was not hard to see that this concert, modern trained dancer enjoyed the freedom of the burlesque stage. Here, she was not too tall, her skin shimmered and her butt could just be a butt. The erotica existed in the pure movement for the audience to voyeuristically experience Heddie’s joy.
Another favorite for me… Sunshine performed “Black Butterfly Maya Angelou.” Starting in a chrysalis stage of bronzed gauze that surrounded her entire body, she slowly spins. Her face to the sky she releases her back and sways to undulating rhythms. Slowly shedding layer after layer to reveal one final layer that she will not shed for many months—her motherhood! The audience gasps loudly at the beauty of her belly in full bloom showing her linea negra. It was a beautiful expression of life and not often seen in this western society. I found it ironic that here through erotica, Sunshine had returned to the warmer climates of many of cultures that make up BGB. She bared her belly and it was a blessing in the room.
Shockingly, this urban mix that BGB produces is rarely seen in the ultra conservative settings of Black, Latino and Asian American cultures. The restrictions on female behavior in these communities "publicly" are seen (from within those communities) as more conservative than their European American counterparts. Although burlesque itself is not anything new, seeing "brown" girls in a burlesque show is wildly celebrated in the Bowery on Saturday. Perhaps the audience is awakening to a new era of brown erotica that goes beyond spoken word, . . . the spoken and revealed body. .
Some of the improvisational go-go dance sections dragged on a bit too long. Also, the show suffered from numerous technical problems. However, the packed house was not there to see delicate lighting or have the techie hit every musical cue. The rowdy crowd was there for the dancing/bumping/grinding and of course the art of the strip tease.
For a taste of Brown Girls Burlesque, check out this NY post video on YouTube:
Photography Featuring Aurora Boobrealis, Founder & Creator of Brown Girls Burlesque
iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Sasha Deveaux
Edited by Candice Michelle Franklin
Performance: Brown Girls Burlesque
Brown Girl’s Burlesque Artists: Mo Beasley (MC), Cosmic Girl, Dafina, Aja Monet (poet), Chicava Honey Child, Aurora Boobrealis, SoCo (Southern Comfort), Yuichi Iida (Brown Rice Family drummer), Pam Patrick (drummer), Heddie, Sunshine, Suga Bomba, Be Be La Bown Eyes, and excerpts from an erotic film “Afrodite Superstar.”
Venue: Bowery Poetry Club, New York City
Date: Saturday, March 21, 2009, 10:00pm
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