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Jurassic Lounge at the Australian Museum

July 28, 2011

Marie Claire Magazine: June 2011

June 8, 2011

Vintage Fashion Shoot in Marie Claire Magazine, July 2011. pp141 “Love Me Tender.” Photography: Hugh Stewart. Produced by Pia Andersen.

(I am wearing my own spotty skirt and cashmere sweater.)

Marie Claire July 2011 pp 141

Painted Babes: Contemporary Art within Miss Burlesque Australia.

May 30, 2011

Last night I had the entertaining occasion of attending the “Miss Burlesque NSW” pageant: a heat in the second-ever “Miss Burlesque Australia” competition, hosted by the Bijou Entertainment Group. Burlesque competition is not new, with the title of Burlesque Hall of Fame “Miss Exotic World” being awarded to a single burlesque performer, recognised for their excellence and contribution to burlesque community each year in Las Vegas, in a tradition that spans names from Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand, Josephine Baker, Bettie Page and Tempest Storm to modern-day burlesque heroes such as  Julie Atlas Muz, Angie Pontani and Dirty Martini. The Miss Exotic World competition has sprung up from within the heart of the worldwide burlesque community to honour its best since 1990 and is judged by judged by performers and leaders of the worldwide burlesque culture.

The new title “Miss Burlesque” by its name would seem to suggest a figurehead or representative for the burlesque community or standard.  In reality, I found this claim to be wildly distant from the truth as the majority of the competitors on this particular night had less than a couple of years of burlesque experiences under their belt, one with a performance history of as few as 2 burlesque shows in total. There was a notable lack of community stalwarts who were entered in the competition, (with the exception of the deserved winner Danica Lee, who has many years of experience and is an accomplished burlesque performer and producer in her own right.)

The format of the Miss Burlesque Australia pageant includes an evening gown parade, a classic routine, a neo-burlesque routine and a unique routine for the top five entrants who are selected to go through to the last round.

Watching the well-run format and chugging wine in my comfortable seat, far up the back of the packed-out Factory Theatre, I sat pondering all of these things… wondering and trying to articulate why I was not personally drawn to entering, why so few of my peers had considered it. I found myself ruminating that if Miss Exotic World could be likened to an inside industry awards night (like the Grammys are to music) then perhaps Miss Burlesque’s dash to the top is a little bit like Australian Idol. I wondered how it was that at these big events (not specific to this event) that there were always such a high percentage of audience members who were being exposed to burlesque for the first time. I also spent time with amazing burlesque babes and cheered on my feet, as loud as possible for these performers who were giving it their all on stage. I too, tweeted my two cents worth as the popular event rose to the local trend for the evening. I wondered how the trajectory is to pan out for the competition and its entrants. I also wondered who some of them are, as there were quite a few who I had never seen round the traps before. I found myself wishing them well, but was not in any way attracted to putting myself through that process.

And from within this competition structure came something unexpected… a performer who damn near blew my socks off.

Betty Grumble entered the competition in character. Yes, I hear you say, we all are in character on the stage… but I mean she was IN A CHARACTER for every part of the competition. She entered this pageant AS a pageant entrant and didn’t let the act drop for a second. She was a high glitz pageant princess, replete with blonde southern-style permed wig, spray tan, exaggerated candy coloured makeup, brilliant false teeth veneers and Lolita ankle socks. In the evening gown section, she wore a cupcake-style child’s pageant dress and white patent mary-jane shoes and walked with all of the awkward stiffness of a child pageant star. She employed the stylised cutie-patootie saccharine charm and confronting sexuality of the over-trussed dolly girl, Eden Wood.

For her “traditional” routine, she interpreted this as a horrific, patriotic flag-waving nationalist child-beast with reference to the blonde Midwestern little girls who are vehicles for their parents’ racist political agenda. Here, she was the perfect white Cronulla spawn of Pauline Hanson, keeping it ‘traditional’ and in no way ‘exotic.’ Amusingly, she incorporated golden age bump’ n ’grind moves into this routine, alongside her crude and preposterous and completely entertaining stripping.

Betty Grumble performed the ‘neo’ section of the competition as though it was the ‘talent’ section of a beauty pageant. She entered the stage as a child pageant pig in a private school uniform. Her tap dancing routine was actually quite skilled and sped up to a comical track as she imbibed (nay, skolled) Bacardi Breezers from her schoolbag and eventually vomited glitter all over her bare torso and six piggy nipples.

I loved the conviction that Betty Grumble took into this pageant, fulfilling the criteria on her own terms. Makeup is good, therefore more makeup must be better. You want a pageant gown? Tick. You want tradition? Talent? Tick. She was ticking those boxes so hard she tore a hole right through that judging paper. Around me, the crowd were going wild. A massive response – wild cheering, horror, revulsion, choking and raucous laughter. Miss Burlesque Sydney had turned into Toddlers and Tiaras on meth and we had one more interval to go before the final round.

Needless to say, the controversial Ms Grumble didn’t make it through to the top five. Regrettably so, as I was gagging to see her “unique” routine. The mind boggles at where she would have gone to from there. I had never met the girl but I instantly felt like I could be her stage mum.  I had to tone my excitement down a notch because I was just buzzing with the realisation of what I had witnessed.

I consider her entry in this pageant as an amazing conceptual art intervention. She made burlesque of the pageant. I felt it was one of those brilliant moments that lifted the roof and shone a light on the construction of one’s value of “appropriate” performance, the arbitrary nature of imposing criteria from the outside, the amazing range of physical performance that can share the name “burlesque” and the power of the audience’s response to persuasive and unsettling performance, even if they don’t know what to make of it.

Betty Grumble (AKA Emma Maye Gibson) is a compelling performer — a consummate in her own right. A quick google-stalk reveals that she has performed burlesque at major music and performance festivals, amongst other places, supporting radical artists such as Peaches and creating and directing burlesque and performance art with her group What Makes Men Blush (O yes, NOW I remember…) and has graduated with honours from Sydney’s COFA. She has an evident lifelong background in dance and has trained in physical theatre at Siti Theatre Company in NYC. I am looking forward to seeing more of her dazzling performance, intelligent ideas and powerful, hot physicality on stage in the future.

And on a closing note… if I were in the jury, I would have handed out the awards as thus:

Miss Burlesque NSW – Danica Lee

High-Glitz Grand Supreme Fucked-Up Pageant Princess – Betty Grumble

Anddddd… (though she was not in the competition, nor should she need to be)… Up at the top through nothin’ but hard work, experience, creativity and brilliant talent…

Australia’s QUEEN of Burlesque, (long live) Imogen Kelly. May she perform outstandingly at her first ever attempt at the Miss Exotic World title in Las Vegas this week.    Salut.

Express Yourself.

May 14, 2011
Copyright: Jordan Graham and Paul Scala, 2011.

Photo by Jordan Graham and Paul Scala. MUA Sophie Roberts. Shot at the Rat's Nest Studio in Darlinghurst.

Mardi Gras Film Festival: “Spork.”

February 23, 2011

There is a really fantastic feature film coming up at the Mardi Gras Film Festival next week. Winning the audience award at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival, Spork is a feature-length film from director JB Ghuman Jr which explores belonging, identity and bravery.

Spork is the nickname of the main character: a pubescent, self-proclaimed “hermaphrodite” girl in junior high who is systematically bullied for being different.  She is gentle and frizzy-haired and socially awkward and talks to her deceased mother for advice, who is buried outside next to the caravan that she shares with her brother and his Courtney Love-esque partners in the trailer park on the outskirts of a nondescript suburban town. (Honestly, she looks like any coke-bottle lensed, plastic neon and denim anarco-punk queer from Marrickville.) Her loyal neighbour is the fast-talking black “booty-popping” champion, Tootsie Roll.

Of course, the bad girls are perfectly cast as the Britney-worshipping ‘queen bees’ and their bitchy top girl, Betsy Byotch. After Spork boils over and ‘accidently’ injures Betsy’s button nose, the insults and threats culminate in a school-spectacular dance-off. Tootsie takes Spork under her wing and into the throbbing underworld of booty clubs and excessive hair product. There is a lot of Sparkle Motion, a distinct ring of “Glee” in each musical number and a good dose of John Waters’ suburban irony and colour.

I was taken by the tender teenage love, hilarious and sassy one-liners and fantastic musical direction in this story that is focused less on her intersex status and more on the experience of feeling like a weirdo and finding true friends. Spork is also on the Youth Programme and is suitable for viewers aged 15+

Spork is showing at:
the Dendy Newtown on Wednesday March 2nd, 7:00pm.
and at Hoyts EQ Moore Park on Monday 28th February, 7:30pm.

Sydney’s historic Trocadero Dance Palace back in the swing.

January 20, 2011

The Original Trocadero, 1936

The Trocadero opened in 1936 in Sydney, in the middle of The Depression opening a space for jazz bands and dancers, bohemians and hep cats to mingle and swing. Can you picture it? On George Street, right where the Hoyts cinema complex stands today in full art deco glory, it remained until 1970 as a glamorous night spot.

This evening I attended the opening of The Trocadero Dance Palace in the Sydney Town Hall, as part of the Sydney Festival. A warm Summer evening, still light outside and people were skipping up the steps of the Town Hall for a very special night. The foyer was buzzing with people, many dressed up to the nines in sharp suits, pretty dresses and some serious hairdos. In an alcove to the left, you could find the Vintage Allsorts Styling Parlor where a team of vintage stylists were on hand to help you fix your victory rolls or pin on a corsage. The music and excitement spilled into the main ballroom and Swing Patrol led an introductory dance lesson from 6:30 onwards.

This cavernous civic space was artfully re-imagined with some very clever lighting design by Matt Marshall. The beautiful uplit columns and lasers created a modern, yet Art Deco aesthetic which directed the energy down to the dance floor, where the action was happening. Spins, dips and pop jumps — the swing dancers electrified the boards! And the rest of the crowd snapped along appreciatively from the surrounding tables and upstairs gallery.

In the true spirit of the Trocadero which originally featured an all-girl jazz band, the Troc Dance Palace is kept swinging by the Sirens Big Band and the adorable vocalist, Lanie Lane. These girls covered all the classics, with tempos to suit all dancers and swing covers of Beyonce and Kylie. There was a floor show, aerialists, dancing, cocktails, schmoozing and crepes. My recipe for happiness. The greatest disappointment was the dance component of the floor show, with 4 young professional dancers, the boys costumed in some alarming jeggings and hipster nerd glasses and the girls in some kind of square-dancing negligee attire. They danced with the enthusiasm of a schools spectacular production of Westside story, but lacked the dance connection and feel of the swing era. The true vibe of the night was brought by the swing dancers in attendance, who filled the floor, feeling the music and   rocking out like it was no big thing.

Pic: Paul K Robbins/Monde Photo

Unfortunately, this palais de danse is only open for 3 more nights and tickets are totally sold out for the early part of the evening. But you will still have a chance to experience the Trocadero party atmosphere, as limited tickets are still available for The Royal Crown Revue, those kings of the American swing revival who will hit the Troc stage from 10pm this Friday and Saturday night. I’ll be there. I can’t WAIT!

For more excellent Trocadero history, take a look at

It’s not gay if you’re related: The Wau Wau sisters’ Last Supper

January 18, 2011

As their Twitter bio reads: (we) “have the same dad, different moms, like the same cocktails and are coming to Edinburgh fringe!!” And they blew the Fringe away with 4 and 5 star reviews piling onto their star-stacked credentials, which include the World Famous Spiegeltent, Miss Exotic World, The Grammys, London’s West End and countless international festivals.

La Clique stars Tanya Gagne and Adrienne Truscott may or may not be ‘real’ sisters, but they certainly send out the vibe that they are friends with the ‘other’ kind of sisters. These girls from Brooklyn are a part of that amazing community of performers from NYC who appeared in John Cameron Mitchell’s ‘Shortbus’, along with Murray Hill, Justin Bond and every other fascinating person in New York.

Their hilarious and blasphemously slutty show, ‘Last Supper’ is an explosion of organised chaos as they morph, in full-audience view through a series of costume changes and characters: impudent schoolgirls, incestuous born-again country boozers and psychedelic pagan trippers. The Benny Hill slapstick soundtrack and audience-assisted disrobing creates a frenetic blur between their spoken word and smutty songs, which are often delivered from a carefully balanced aerial adagio.

The Wau Wau Sisters have this organised chaos thing down pat.  They know how to read their crowd and miraculously coerce the right victims  into some potentially mortifying yet disarmingly blithe audience participation. The unwitting punters are quickly utilised for acrobalance tricks, revealing leg muscles they probably didn’t know they had. As soon as they are returned safely to the cheers of their tables, the wigs are flying and the Wau Wau’s boobs are frantically being tucked back in to another costume literally seconds before each next hilarious number begins.

This style of renegade improvisation mixed with chaos and bedecked with sequins, politics and gay abandon seems to come from an earlier time in modern cabaret, genuinely self-directed and uncensored and utterly audacious. It was completely refreshing to see such a smart, wild and experienced pair of gals given free reign on a well-produced stage.

The Last Supper is part performance art, part burlesque and  most deservedly circus. Their Rock and Roll trapeze act is a standout as their beautiful, strong, sinewy bodies confidently span death-defying drops and graceful aerial ballet. And the finale? It is a corker. I won’t reveal it here, but we were left cheering and giving each other those “Did-they-really-just-do-that” sort of looks.

I was inspired. I must admit, as soon as we got home, I was busting to try out a bit of the old ‘aeroplane trick’ acrobalance on the bed.   It’s just that sort of show.


Buy Tickets

‘they turn the audience on with wit, humour and a cunning array of stunts… ‘ – Time Out, New York

‘irreverent, sacrilegious, foul-mouthed and uninhibited’ – New York Times

like the Vagina Monologues on acid’  – News Weekly

*Warning: Contains nudity and Offensive language. Age Recommendation: 16+ (Mature Themes)

At the Opera House Studio, till 22nd January. $39/30

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