The Power of Burlesque
Celebrating its fifth year, the Australian Burlesque Festival is touring the country again this month. Andrew Shaw spoke to local performer Alyssa Kitt.
“Burlesque is the only art form that gives the performer 100 per cent control of their artistic output. When I perform a show I have control over my lighting, music, costume, choreography, makeup, script and everything else that goes into creating a show. Not many other art forms can boast this kind of artistic creative license.”
So says award-winning burlesque artist and former Rockhampton girl Alyssa Kitt. Kitt is just one of the many artists taking part in the Australian Burlesque Festival Tour hitting Brisbane this month.
Kitt, who describes herself as a born performer, has trained as a singer, dancer, actor and classical musician, but she loves burlesque because it explores alternatives to commonplace social mores.
“Burlesque is not the space for dominant social discourse. It provides a space where an alternative not only exists but is celebrated,” she says.
Burlesque performer Alyssa Kitt. Photo: Joel Devereux
“This is not only a continuation of presenting visually different figures, such as plus size bodies, but also is able to present differences in social fabrics. Queer performers are a powerful force in burlesque and indeed across the whole arts industry – there’s even the International Queer Burlesque Festival in New York.”
“There are a great deal of similarities between drag queens and burlesque artists,” she continues.
“We both go through a transformative process involving exaggerated hair, make-up and costuming. Many of us have stage personas that vastly differ from our daily selves. I look up to a lot of drag queens in Brisbane and Australia.”
Check out the trailer for the Australian Burlesque Festival
Sexuality is only one area where burlesque embraces diversity, body image is another.
“There are certain stigmas attached to a fuller figure that don’t necessarily exist in the world of burlesque,” Kitt says.
“Identifying with a plus size performer allows me to connect to an audience that comes to see burlesque that isn’t presented to a lot of plus size bodies in other visual media, although this is changing. Being proud of what makes you unique is an asset in burlesque and I believe my voluptuous figure is my focal point.”
Burlesque is a constantly evolving art form. Kitt, who has a history degree, has studied the history of burlesque and describes her style as “classic burlesque” but the form embraces many styles including the emergence of male burlesque artists.
After seeing a decline in the 60s and 70s, burlesque is now thriving, Kitt says, with plenty of venues in Brisbane alone.
“There is so much burlesque in Brisbane at the moment – it is just wonderful!” she says. “The regular events are Sunday night burlesque run by Jacqueline Furey, Dr Sketchys, both at Press Club. Then there’s Cabbaret by BeBe LeBuff, The Bombshells Ball run by The Bombshells Burlesque and Beauty Academy…”
And this month: the Australian Burlesque Festival.
“I am so excited to be performing in the Australian Burlesque Festival. Unlike any other festival in the world, ABF is a touring festival which has the capacity to bring the best artists from around the world and show them off to every big city in Australia. It really is an extraordinary feet by Dolores Daquiri and Rosy Rabbit, our amazing producers.
“I am very excited for a few of our headliners – Coco Lectric is a friend of mine from Austin, Texas and is simply one of the most standout performers in the world of burlesque today. She is also a marvellous teacher - I highly recommend taking her bad ass boa class - and an incredibly sweet person.
Kitt also cites Cleo Viper, coming over from Italy to perform. “I saw her perform her signature butterfly act at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in 2012 when she had a broken foot, which just goes to show the incredible resilience of burlesque performers. She is a beautifully transformative artist and I can’t wait to see her light up the stage.”
“I’m also very excited to see Lada Redstar perform the number that saw her win best debut at the Burlesque Hall of Fame last year,” she says.
“Also a few of our home grown talents are definitely on my wish list of performers to watch including the reigning Miss Burlesque QLD, Bella de Jac, and current Miss Burlesque Brisbane, Coppelia Jane. I have been performing with both of these ladies for a very long time and they are true artists, not to mention incredible people.”
Kitt’s most famous routine is 'The Rising Phoenix', devised while she recovered from depression, taking the audience on a journey from darkness to light.
“To me, this number shows the duality of my personality and also the human capacity to make our own changes,” she says.
And that is the power of burlesque.
Australian Burlesque Festival Tour, Friday June 13, The Tivoli, 52 Costin Street, Fortitude Valley. australianburlesquefest.com