by Grace McCarthy
Mrs Rivette’s nipple tassles are made of the same material as bath scrubs, not sequins. She twirls them, flicks her hips and shrieks. The one woman show ‘Mrs Rivette’s Wild Night In’, at the Sydney Fringe Festival, is not typical burlesque, although it is about female self-empowerment and sexual tease, set to a XX soundtrack.
In a small room in the back streets of Marrickville, aptly named ‘The Newsagency’, as it once was, burlesque performer Rosie Cremer, 23, plays dysfunctional widow Mrs Rivette who is encouraged by the ghost of her dead husband to explore her sexuality by way of fetishes, strip tease and dance.
Avoiding the tease and titillation characteristic of conventional burlesque performances, Mrs Rivette’s emancipation from helpless prude to sexually liberated diva says much about female pride and sexuality, according to Ms Cremer.
The emergence of burlesque in the United States in 1840 challenged the typical representation of women, as performers began taking off their clothes and making a show of it. As social satire, performances made a mockery of the cultural mores of the bourgeois of the time. Modern burlesque does not have to contend with the same cultural conservatism of the nineteenth century but the issue of female empowerment remains.
“We no longer live in a time where strong divisions exist between classes, however we do use it to challenge gender expectations as a form of feminism,” says Rosie Cremer.
The art of burlesque is in the midst of a revival that began in the 1990s, and part of its popularity has been its uniquely female self-expression and embrace of old-school femininity.
“I love being a woman and all things feminine,” says retired burlesque dancer Bethany McCarthy. “This is a large part of modern burlesque for me.”
Critics of burlesque claim it is little more than stripping. In London, adult entertainment licences are now a necessity for any club offering nudity or stripping, or burlesque.
However, as Miss McCarthy says, “Good burlesque is more about the how of the tease, not the actual nudity part. There’s more of a focus on the suggestion – the tease – than the naked body.”
Regardless, the burlesque in ‘Mrs Rivette’s Wild Night In’ spells nudity for some. “What’s not to like when there’s nudity involved?” says audience member Nick Dunn.
“The show is advertised as burlesque which was what compelled me to buy tickets,” says audience member Taylor Kelly. “It’s just a bit of a fun and I like the idea of glamour.”
It is a sentiment shared by Rosie Cremer. “The glamour of burlesque is a large part for me. I feel that glamour has power, it makes people feel good to be glamorous and to be around glamour.”
But Rosie says there’s a far stronger message behind her performance than just glamour. “I enjoy challenging the ways people perceive the female form, presenting myself in a way so that my intellect, thought and charisma are strongly linked to the way I use my body.”
Describing her burlesque style as “whacky”, Rosie says, “It’s fun and chaotic and that’s what the Fringe is all about.