Christos Tsiolkas enjoys the serious and playful sides of burlesque.
THE Queen of Burlesque, Moira Finucane, is also the Queen of Adjectives. As she enthuses about her new show, a tumbling cascade of P.T. Barnum superlatives collect at our feet.
And why not? Finucane is clearly excited about her collaboration with author Christos Tsiolkas, who has written a piece for her new Burlesque Hour show at fortyfivedownstairs, Glory Box, which opened on Thursday for a four-week season.
The two have admired each other for some time and shared the stage at literary events.
”I said, ‘Christos, you have to write something for Burlesque Hour’, and he said, ‘No, I don’t want to perform on stage.’ But I told him, ‘No, you write it and we’ll perform it.”’
So Tsiolkas delivered three pieces and Finucane chose what to run with. The afternoon we meet she has just come from workshopping it and the piece’s possibilities are starting to gel.
”[Burlesque Hour colleague] Maude [Davey] and I are in a kind of constant whirlpool,” she says. ”Luscious, dark, irreverent; it’s an outrageous reclamation of the Garden of Eden – an original take on original sin of epic proportions.” And in Burlesque Hour terms it is epic, involving for the first time all the performers – both ensemble and guests – on stage ”in a hyper femme fatale mash-up of the Supremes and maybe Madonna – and yes, apples”.
On the phone from his country escape on the New South Wales south coast, where he is working on his next novel, Barracuda, Tsiolkas is as excited about the collaboration as Finucane.
”I love the sheer sensuality of what Moira does; how she takes complicated and complex ideas and seduces you in,” he says.
”I’m very conscious of sexuality and how queer life has become so wholesome.”
The Garden of Eden is almost a poisonous story, he adds, ”the way it has been interpreted and women’s fall in particular in the Judeo-Christian tradition”.
”What I’m hoping is that moment of seduction allows the audience to understand pleasure and that what Eve was responding to was pleasure, he says.
”Something I really enjoy about burlesque and cabaret is, you can be playful and serious. If you can straddle both, you can be complicated and sexy. We don’t have to downplay the sexual, don’t have to apologise for our desires.
”We’ve become almost puritanical about seduction, it’s almost a negative now.”
The Garden of Eden is not the only new work. Opening the show and continuing the serpent theme is Finucane as Medusa. ”She is a collector of love and people’s fingerprints, with two-foot-long fingers in a dress of slashed ribbons,” Finucane says. ”As she moves and breathes, so does the dress – a contemporary Eve meets thrash metal and New York punk. Maude Davey is doing a wounded deer version of Portishead’s Glory Box – all vintage crystals with antlers flown in from San Francisco from a woman who makes antler head-dresses. She will also do Patti Smith’s Gloria in seven feet of iridescent orange feathers.”
Guest performers are flying in from around the world, including Meow Meow and Ursula Martinez, for the first two weeks of the show. New guest Miss Behave will jet in from Hamburg for the final two weeks. ”She has broken the Guinness [world record] for swallowing swords,” Finucane says. ”I saw her swallow five swords once – she is amazing. Tattooed at 14, swallowing swords at 16, breaking the world record by 21.”
Other performers include dancers Harriet Ritchie doing a half-wolf, half-woman piece to Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady in an outfit of genuine yak hair, and Holly Durant in a reworking of her Salome number performed to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love in 20 metres of chiffon.
Overhead work is back, too.
”European circus performer Anna Lumb is doing a new trapeze work based on 1950s nihilistic antiheroes such as in West Side Story, James Dean – living fast and dying young – in an electric blue suit, red mohawk and seven-inch heels, to David Bowie’s Rock and Roll Suicide.”