Hootchy Kootchy Girls Burlesque
Toto’s restaurant: Monte Cristo Room, Auckland
16/10/2008 - 17/10/2008
The Hootchy Kootchy Girls Burlesque are Shimmy-ing their way back to Tempo!
Auckland’s premier burlesque company will once again dazzle Tempo audiences with some old favorites, and new!
The Hootchy Kootchy Girls have been performing at small venues for 2 years. They combine spectacular dancing, comedy and a bit of tease to create an enjoyable, unique night for anyone who enjoys a little glamour and cheekiness.
The Hootchy Kootchy Girls Burlesque is dedicated to the American style of burlesque that started in the 1920’s and continued through the 1960’s. American burlesque has its roots in comedy, where dancers were used as "fillers" between comedy acts. These dancers soon became headliners themeselves and women such as Gypsy Rose Lee and Lili St. Cyr were soon filling theatres and shooting movies, recently American burlesque has seen a revival in the likes of Dita Von Tease and Michele L’amour. The Hootchy Kootchy Girls Burlesque is dedicated to bringing vintage burlesque to New Zealand in a creative, classy way that is suited for all audiences.
For Tempo, the Hootchy Kootchy Girls Burlesque will be performing at Toto’s restaurant (53 Nelson St.), in the Monte Cristo Room on Thursday Oct. 16th and Friday Oct. 17th. Hope to see you there!
Dates: Thursday 16 October and Friday 17 October, 9pm
Tickets: $36 Adult, $34 DANZ members
Booking: Ticketek ph 0800 842 538
Inappropriate appropriation of a once-political genre
Review by Cat Gwynne 18th Oct 2008
The costumes are super fly, the ladies are scandalously hot – so why does it all feel … kinda unsexy?
The Hootchy Kootchy Girls return to Tempo with a somewhat carbon copy ‘homage to the glamour days’ of Vaudevillian Burlesque. Now perhaps nostalgic homage has its place, especially in the confusion and cultural complexity of our ever changing information-age, but did these chicks just watch a bit of Bettie Page on YouTube and copy the moves or what?
The genre of burlesque originated in the 1840s early in the Victorian era, a time of culture clashes between the social rules of established aristocracy and a working class society. Burlesque was born because it had to be; it was squished into existence by the lower class’s need to voice their growing discontent with the inhumanity of the class system through the only thing they had – entertainment. Originally, burlesque was POLITICAL, and it served the social needs of its community that had grown frustrated under oppression.
Fast-forward to 2008. I’m in the Monte Cristo room of Toto’s Restaurant in downtown Auckland amidst a bunch of well to do reserved corporates, and somebody is about to cut and paste the ‘look’ of an old burlesque dance show onto the stage in front of me, entirely forgetting to incorporate the very reason that Burlesque came about into the framework and concept of the show. Now that’s what I call appropriation. The exposed rafters of the building are creating an underground prohibition FEEL, but it’s definitely not for real if you know what I mean. And I’m like, hold up, that ain’t sexy.
We see the cowgirls, we see the sailors, we see the bookworm librarian. We see high-waisted briefs and Japanese parasols all hanging off choreography that my 8 year old niece, who just finished her grade two Jazz Ballet exam, would have problems with. But the thing is, I’m only noticing the choreography because of the dancers’ lack of in-the-moment execution; a lack of body conviction that is crucial when taking your clothes off in the art of tease.
It’s not even about the choreography anyway; it’s about the creative body injecting the movement with sensuality and intention. But perhaps intention isn’t important when the ‘cut and paste’ philosophy is what underpins your work.
Judy Garment is an exception to this, and thankfully her performance quality and ease with the movement gets me through to the intermission. Judy means business – and that’s what burlesque dancing was for those hungry penny-pinching ladies of old – a way to make a buck. I think this has been forgotten however.
Some may be happy to sit at their table in the Monte Cristo room and have their thirsts quenched by the Hootchys, but for me it’s like watered-down Raro and my thirst isn’t going anywhere. I think the Hootchy Kootchy Girls ‘burlesque’ act suffers under – or is the result of – the inauthenticity that postmodernism brings to culture.
Just as I can walk around in a Ramones t-shirt and feel like a punk without knowing any of the band’s songs, I can also go to a Hootchy Kootchy Girls show, see some ass in vintage underwear and titties in tassles, and feel like I’ve been to the Burlesque. But if this was real burlesque, I would feel socially and politically connected to it, surely.
It is also an example of an art form that has been displaced by the middle class’s desire to take from the oppressed and claim ownership. Which is ironic really, considering that Burlesque came about in revolt of people with money. And just as an aside, do these girls know that the term Hootchy Kootch is an extremely derogative slang-name that colonizers gave to African women?
Copyright © belongs to the reviewer
Colleen Davis March 26th, 2009Brilliant piece of reviewing Cat. Would love to see more like it. Some of these ideas are what Eve Gordon et al wanted to probe (jeez everything is a sexual reference in this world) in Burlesque As You Like It: Not A Family Show which, by the way, is back at Basement for a return season. Please excuse the wee plug. But thanks for the lovely dialogue you opened up. Please write more!
Kristian Larsen November 1st, 2008Acknowledgments to Cat for a piece of writing that communicates depth and breadth beyond a purely personal transmission of opinion. The ensuing discussion that it has provoked has also been refreshing with some genuinely interesting, informed arguments (banalities and inaccuracies notwithstanding).
The one regrettable irony is that this level of insight and debate is wasted on a show of this nature. This site would significantly gain if Cat Gwynne was a regular reviewer and wrote more frequently about weightier contemporary dance shows in Auckland for theatreview.
Mr Ree October 29th, 2008
Hello there... I went a long to the Hootchie Kootchie show with a bunch of mates as a novice in the world of Burlesque, infact I really had no idea what to expect. I knew it was basically about girls getting their kit off to french music, lots of fishnet stockings, satin panties, dancing and sexual inuendos... and I thought "this sounds like a bit of me"!
Much to my suprise I found it quite boring to be honest. Im no expert in the historical context of the genre, nor do I profess to be any kind of dancer myself but as a red blooded male in the audience, I wasnt into it. The girls were beautiful no doubt about it but there was a lack of passion and conviction in their movements. I wasn't readily drawn into the world of burlesque even though the guy in the fez tried his hardest to do so with dirty one liners. I actually enjoyed the blond girl Judy Garment the most - she carried the mood of the night as she strutted across the stage, sultry and coy yet with a look of mischief in her eyes.
I was of the impression that burlesque was much more about the actual role playing rather then outright sexpression. It all seemed a bit too safe for my liking, and Im not talking about wanting a strip show - but there was literally no sensuality and decadence in any of the dance routines - it looked like a jazz ballet class to me. And yes I live in Auckland, but come on - if your gonna go as far as calling youself a burlesque outfit - at least come off genuine. Do the genre justice and tell those girls to sass it up a bit, have some fun with the emotions of the audience... set the mood and tone for the evening by giving gravitas to your craft.
This cant be too much to ask? Even for poor little old New Zealand? I also didnt get the cowgirl and Librarian thing either... In my opinion this was a bad move, the show didnt try that hard to create an atmosphere of burlesque in the first place and then we get time warped to a spaghetti western movie set?? I was like WTF?
To the girl who reviewed this show- I have to sayI agree with you. I dont know much at all about what burlesque is "supossed to be" but I know what turns me on and it wasn't the Hootchy Kootchy girls.
So if you haven't sorted out the basics - all politcis aside - then whats the point of calling your show burlesque? Whats the point of dressing it all up in the fanfare of burlesque without actually knowing how to undress it?
If your gonna do it - do it with passion.
C. Smith October 28th, 2008Some valid points but I think you're a bit confused. Burlesque has never had a greater political meaning. In fact I believe you have burlesque confused with Cabaret and the comedians of Vaudville (any easy mistake to make). Cabaret, which involved at times girls in very little clothing, was a great one for political satire in times of oppression, a way for the poorer people to speak out against governments etc. as you have stated. Burlesque on the other hand has always been about one thing and one thing only, the art of the "accidental stripper". Although the first ever burlesque troupe came about in the 1800s, the aim was simply to tease, to show women without their clothes, moving, rather than in tableau (which was deemed acceptable and "art"). Some of the most successful burlesque dancers (such as Blanche de Blanc) of this time did little more than set the scene of a woman in her bedroom and strip one new item of clothing off each night. It was also around the time of the 1800's that the term "Hootchy Kootch" was penned in burlesque slang and used not as a derogatory term for African American women but by one of the first business men of burlesque, who used it in song form whilst playing a piano to attract customers. The Hootchy Kootchy Girls (of whom I have long been a fan, and a fan of burlesque) also state quite clearly that they are a 1950's burlesque troupe (the burlesque heyday when burlesque had split from performing alongside cabaret and vaudville performers). As with many of the modern burlesque artists, this is the era usually drawn from and you will be hard pressed to find much political satire in the works of some of the most famous burlesque artists of today such as Catherine D'Lish, Dita Von Teese, and Michelle L'amour. I'd suggest reading 'Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show' by Rachel Shteir and getting a little more familiar with the art form of burlesque before tearing a show like the Hootchy Kootchy Girls to shreds so readily. Of course you were going to be disappointed if you had the wrong information on what burlesque actually is!
Madeleine Hyland October 25th, 2008I don't think it particularly matters what the choreographer thinks. What I thought we were talking about is the relevance of discussing political context in a review or not - I'm saying I loved Cat's review because she wasn't afraid to this - and she's so knowledgeable and onto it that she can dance through history at the same time and actually talk about why burlesque mattered in that context and question if it still does matter at all in the context it's presented in now, or if it's just art as sedative/marshmallow as opposed to art as a mirror...
Celine Sumic October 20th, 2008What I'm wondering at this point is who choreographed the work, and whether they have a comment to contribute?
Cat Gwynne October 20th, 2008Yes Maddy, yes yes yes !!!! Thank you for your understanding. Your final sentence is dope and is exactly where the crux of this debate lies. x
Madeleine Hyland October 20th, 2008Didn't see the show but just want to say this is the most kick ass review I've read all year. I haven't read writing by a reviewer in ages that is actually interested in how and why humans construct these weird performance things, that can talk about the historical, political, social, and architectural context it came from and what the differences are now, and especially has a good look at the conditions in which the audience is meeting the performers. And it should be every reviewer's, every person's right to demand something deeper and more aware, especially when she has so very eloquently articulated where the smudgy and brushed over areas actually are. The day to stop questioning the form that a performance takes is the day you're perfectly content with the world the performance form and content is reflecting.
Hurray Cat, now do theatre, do theatre
John Smythe October 20th, 2008As I understand it burlesque, which is closely related to music hall and vaudeville, is a populist performance form that implies sauciness, satire and fairly broad comedy. Being ‘of the people / for the people’, and a stark contrast to the elitist theatre forms the rich flocked to in a very class-stratified society, the satire inevitably had a political bite to it – e.g. dealing to heartless landlords, horrible bosses, corrupt politicians, etc – but I don’t think there was much political content in the dancing girls-cum-strip-tease acts that formed part of the programme. The dancers were used as ‘fillers’ between the comedy acts …
It may be relevant here to mention the recent Toi Cabaret season at the Museum Hotel, where 2nd year Toi Whakaari students created a superbly ‘swelligant’ cabaret from the music of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin et al. They put the songs into context by inserting concise narrative links that encapsulated the state of the USA's progress through the Depression and into World War Two. Thus the songs were better understood as social commentary or, in some cases, as escapism.
The commentary on the economic downturn was particularly resonant, as it happened.
Context, as always, radically affects the content.
alexa wilson October 20th, 2008what better place to mis/direct political passion than in a public forum? aside from into art work itself.. I don't get your argument .. unless you're in the stop fighting/speaking up camp in which case you've totally lost me.
Cat Gwynne October 20th, 2008Hehehehehehehehe!
Celine Sumic October 20th, 2008Ok, thanks for that clarification.
Yes, maybe I mis-read you.
Nonetheless, I appreciate the dialogue and think its an interesting topic.
I'll just take my Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Portugese, French and Scottish ears and look forward to, hopefully, your valued conversation - as opposed to your isolating silence.
Cat Gwynne October 20th, 2008I think you might be out of your depth or something here. Im not advocating for "a recreation of the kind of poverty and social/ sexual oppression of the past era in question." I advocate for the FUNCTION of a dance form to REMAIN, ie, I believe Burlesque should reflect CURRENT oppression, in the process, avoiding CULTURAL APPROPRIATION. Anyway, I'm done, probably falling on monoculturally deaf ears...
Celine Sumic October 20th, 2008I agree with you.
I'm just not sure that critical and political awareness of these issues is something we can honestly expect from a show like the Hootchy Kootchy Girls... I guess I wonder about the fervour of your response - to this particular show. Its not that I don't appreciate your mind(s), your insights - your political passion and effort to communicate these things. Sometimes I wonder though, whether we (myself included) sometimes water down the effect of our own strength and influence by misdirecting it. If you know what I mean...
So my comment was not meant as an attack on you, but a question...
A provocation towards discussion.
I guess part of my question is - how relevant is a recreation of the kind of poverty and social/ sexual oppression of the past era in question, in this country, in this time and space - in the context of this show? To re-work it in the way I think you mean, would it not still have significant issues in terms of being culturally inappropriate (if meant as entertainment as opposed to education..?)
I'm wondering with this show, (which sounds quite pretty actually and maybe I should see it for the vintage-style underwear), whether your articulate and valid comments could still be made whilst accommodating an inevitable (and therefore honest and real?) appropriation, due to the shift in time and space?
I wonder, in terms of the issue of oppression, and the strength of your heart for this issue, - and your anger at what you perceive to be my blindness to it (which worries me a little) - can you tell me what it is you would like me to see, - or, what you think I don't see?
Cat Gwynne October 20th, 2008
"A reconstructed authentic sense of oppression. Why?"
WHY?!? Because people are oppressed Celine. But you probably haven't been to the ghetto.
Shame, what a whack comment.
alexa wilson October 20th, 2008an honest and relevant one, a slightly aware one. sexuality and oppression are hot topics celine, always will be. even in 2008- in auckland entertainment, especially in 2008- in auckland entertainment. why not? we don't have to be so backwards. some of us do think they're areas worth investigating with conviction and what is critique for? maybe you want these topics off the radar too? most people do, for reasons perhaps different from yours, but you've just helped prove the point. silencing others on their difference/of/ opinions and intellectual concerns in particular areas is oppressive, which is VERY auckland. I still say step it up, sex it up, fuck it up if you like. just make it real.
Celine Sumic October 19th, 2008Oh people; time and space - what did you expect?
A (re)constructed 'authentic' sense of oppression?
So you saw a superficial, watered down, seen-it-everywhere show of sexuality - sounds entirely appropriate to me in terms of an Auckland, NZ, 2008 interpretation of burlesque.
Of course there's no conviction.
What kind of social and political connection could you be wanting?
alexa wilson October 18th, 2008nice one cat. its choice to finally see some informed cultural critique occurring with regards to nz dance shows- especially seeing as unconsidered appropriation is so rife in postmodern culture and 'entertainment' (esp in nz) without question as you say, while politics blip off the radar. awes, time to step it up people.