I feel like the Tony Jones of the burlesque world this week. The Cabaret Confessional team told me that some questions came in about the relationship between burlesque and cabaret in terms of genres. Unlike Tony, I won’t ‘take that as a comment’, because it’s a damn good question!
While doing a bit of research for this topic, one website Colombia Empire Burlesque suggested “…the difference between burlesque and cabaret? Both have had movies made about them, while only one had the good grace of starring Liza Minnelli.” That was just too good to keep to myself!
Another of my favourite site, 21st Century Burlesque, a burlesque artist Essence further suggested that burlesque and stripping are sisters but not twins. To extend that metaphor further, I’d say burlesque and cabaret could be classed as stepsisters. They are both in the same family, but how close they are varies a bit.
I can see a number of similarities between the two genres. These are most evident perhaps when you compare burlesque and cabaret shows as a whole.
Cabaret shows can involve theatre, dance, comedy and music. All of which burlesque shows have in abundance. A burlesque event will mainly have acts created by individual performers (occasionally a duo or a troupe) that are an intoxicating blend of striptease, comedy and dance. These acts will be joined together for the audience with some banter from an MC or comedian. And often a burlesque show will incorporate some variety style performances – song, aerial or circus and perhaps a dance number.
Not all burlesque acts of course are of the classic striptease variety. As with cabaret, satire, parody and political statement are utilised. Perhaps most famously we might remember the press going gaga over the gorgeous Gypsy Wood when she jumped out of a ballot box dressed as former PM John Howard for Bob Hawke’s 80th birthday?
And then there are the venues. On most occasions you’ll catch a burlesque show in a club, bar or more intimate theatre, as you do with cabaret. There are exceptions, but they do seem to gravitate toward similar surrounds.
I think we’re starting to see the family resemblance!
I have seen more blurring of boundaries between burlesque and cabaret. Burlesque shows have elements of cabaret within them and vice versa. It’s all in the detail in my mind. But with all the similarities between our step siblings, why bother with two separate genres? They key differences that separate the two, in my view, would include:
- Strip and tease Cabaret shows might have nudity. But a great classic burlesque night (say for example “The Big Tease” show at the Australian Burlesque Festival) there is a huge push on striptease – emphasis on tease. A careful concoction of music, costume and theatricality combined to bring about glorious strip tease that will leave an audience smiling…and a bit hot and bothered. In these acts, the production is about tantalizing the audience and leading them into a big reveal. The performer will generally be undressed to pasties (sparkly nipple covers) and a g-string or knickers.
- Music Burlesque shows rely on music be it canned or live. A cabaret shows use the song to either set a particular mood or to tell a story to the audience. Some burlesque shows employ this (Polly Rae and the Hurly Burly show are great examples), some artists do a ‘sing n strip’ but it’s the exception to the rule. More often, burlesque artists use their bodies and faces to convey their message - be it a political statement or a sexy strip.
- Narrative Cabaret shows seem to be well crafted with an overall narrative or story arch for their audience. Or a key and distinct theme. Many burlesque shows offer this - see for example the upcoming tour of Star Wars Burlesque or the Hurly Burly show – but more often than not a burlesque show is a mix of different acts, created by individual performers. There may not always be a link between them. Festival shows like the Australian Burlesque Festival or a regular night at a burlesque hub, will provide the audience with a chance to see skillful performers perform notable numbers, but there will perhaps be nothing else linking them together for the audience other than the fact they are burlesque shows.
I could go on. And on. And on. But I hope the differences seem a little clearer. I see more fusion between burlesque and cabaret in the shows as a whole. Good burlesque producers have enough expertise to realise that boob upon boob isn’t enough to entertain an audience. Our audiences are burlesque savvy and expect something different. So I hope as we progress through the burlesque revival we see more of a fusion between the two genres - I think they do complement each other.
Miss Kitty’s Meow is Hobart’s leading burlesque and cabaret troupe with penchant for glamour, classic musicals and vintage fashion. They’ll be showcasing their tantalising show The Beautiful and the Damned: Burlesque Revue at the Adelaide Fringe 2012. As they put the finishing touches on their show, the troupe’s femme fatale Grace Cherry will be shedding some light, sparkles and glitter on the mysterious world of burlesque in this blog series.
Grace Chery’s Burlesque 101 Series
Click here to get the tickets to The Beautiful and the Damned: Burlesque Revue at the Adelaide Fringe 2012 at Excess Theatre, Gluttony on 23-25 February (the 24th show is sold out).
Click here for Grace Cherry’s bio, more information about the show and Miss Kitty’s Meow.
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Check out Grace Cherry’s blog here.
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