Bristol's Badass Burlesque Show
British Burlesque Performer Ivana Van der Fluf discusses performance, bodies and preconceptions of women over the age of 30.
What do you see when you look at this photograph?
A middle-aged woman taking her clothes off in a cheap bid for attention? A confident performer sticking two fingers up at social stereotypes and feeling more at ease with herself than she did when she was 20 years younger?
I was in my late 40s when the burlesque revival started gaining popularity. Two years ago, having been a working, single parent for years, I fancied doing something fun and empowering . I answered an ad in Venue: “Have you ever wanted to release the Dare Devil Diva in you?” it read, “now you can do just that!” I eagerly ripped the ad from the classified pages and contacted Drastic Productions. The project was led by Michaela Dunne and Liz Clarke (aka Poppy Von Tarte and Betty Bruiser). ‘Dare Devil Divas’, a celebration of womanhood, attracted local women of all ages and backgrounds and used cabaret & burlesque as a framework in which to create an empowering performance. Drastic Productions is a Bristol-based, not for profit performance company consisting of a small team of live artists, performers, directors and arts & health professionals. DP creates original, contemporary work with people who would not usually have access to arts opportunities to express themselves creatively.
I admire the beauty of the classic showgirls, dance-based striptease and fan dancing but I was drawn to learn more about the history of burlesque which has its roots in music hall, cabaret and vaudeville and can be comical, satirical, even political. In a series of workshops on characterization and creative writing, my alter ego was born. With a passion for performing that never got further than school productions and a stint in Youth Theatre, a love of music and dance, half a century of rich life experience and 30 years working as a health professional, I had an abundance of raw materials from which to devise a series of short, burlesque-inspired acts which have become an outlet for self-expression. They represent facets of ordinary life that I hope many will relate to and recognise. I often portray a character who is overburdened by responsibility, duty and domesticity throwing off the restrictions of others’ expectations, reclaiming her sexuality and challenging social stereotypes and ageism in a lighthearted and tongue-in-cheeky way.
When Tuesday Laveau invited me to perform at Coochie Crunch Cabaret at Brisfest last weekend, I was thrilled to be able to debut “Stepford”.
Based on the 1975 film of Ira Levin’s book The Stepford Wives, I was struck by the feeling of coming full circle in the struggle of feminism. Stepford has become synonymous with submissive, docile, oppressed women. Today’s obsession with celebrity leaves many girls and young women with insubstantial role models for whom the pursuit of physical perfection is prized more highly than intellect or having something of value to say. What the hell happened to feminism and why has it become a dirty word? Which leads us to the argument about which side of the feminist fence burlesque sits on.
For me it’s obvious: I feel empowered, I hope I speak to and for women. I hope men get the joke and enjoy it too. But if people just want to gaze upon my 50-year-old body, that’s fine by me. I’ve looked after it and it’s looked after me.
Make of her what you will, you’ve not seen the last of Ivana Van Der Fluff.