Monday, February 11, 2008

Burlesque Is Alive And Well

Vaudeville's naughty cousin is back - and nowhere is it more popular than in New York. Rodney Bolt enjoys an evening of irony and titillation.

A Rubenesque woman in a sequined bikini arches an eyebrow and lowers a false eyelash as different bits of her wobble and shimmy independently, like a troupe of extraordinarily well-trained jellyfish.

A dancer drops the last stitch of clothing to reveal, not what one might expect, but a moustachioed Groucho Marx mask. In New York burlesque is back - but with a difference.

Burlesque blossomed last century, as a naughty cousin to vaudeville. After the Second World War, it went into slow decline and, from the 1950s, degenerated into seedy striptease.

In the 1990s, a German stripper named Ute Hanna began an underground revival of burlesque in a New York club called the Blue Angel.

Part of the point was to play with the glitz and innuendo of old-style burlesque, but in a way that was friendlier to women.

Singers, bawdy comedians and acrobats were slotted in between tongue-in-cheek strip routines, which sometimes veered off into zany performance art.

When Rudy Giuliani, New York's former mayor, began his pre-millennium crackdown on the city's seamy stripclubs, neo-burlesque (as it now known), with its campy irony and artsy audiences, survived.

Today, burlesque has its own section in the New York edition of Time Out.

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