Backstage at Miss Burlesque Queensland 2013
It's approximately 2pm on Sunday 24th March and believe me, it is a stifling hot Brisbane afternoon!Instead of being in the breeze sipping a cocktail I find myself backstage at the Queensland Grand Final of the Miss Burlesque Australia competition. Backstage is a mash up of Queensland's best male and female burlesque and cabaret performers. As they race up and down the back hallways of The Old Museum, the saying “no pain no gain” becomes extremely evident, as the mass of hair straighteners, curling irons and steam irons are definitely not helping the heat situation. However it is also apparent that at this point in time, they care for nothing but the next 4 hours of intense competition and that by the end of the night, Queensland will have crowned it's a new King & Queen of Burlesque, as well the Runner-Up position of Miss Burlesque Brisbane.
Walking past the 9 massive racks of costumes, it's hard to even guess how many hours, or maybe even more appropriate, months of finger-numbing work have gone into these costumes. Floor-length ball gowns that are bursting with Swarovski crystals and rhinestones, laced with pearls, or delicate cup-shaped sequins. All this without even beginning to count the numerous international-sized suitcases that are filled to the brim with costume pieces and shoes. But what can I say, a gal needs options, yes? Miss Burlesque Australia Director, Cassandra Jane estimated that over 100,000 Swarovski crystals, hundreds of metres of silk and satin and hundreds of exotic feathers will be seen this weekend. And I can tell you all, she definitely wasn't lying!
Miss Burlesque Australia is serious business. Unlike most other artistic competitions, the performers must prove that they can nail every element of their art form, reaching from traditional-classic, to bump 'n' grind, to narrative burlesque, to comedic and that is just in the preliminary rounds where they must present two acts each. From there the top five are selected to perform their Unique routine. The Unique category allows the artist to really show why they are the best-of-the-best. These Unique acts will showcase not only all the skills from the preliminary rounds, but also may involve singing, the use of elaborate props, and back-up dancers.
Finally, showtime was upon us. All performers were dolled up to the nines in their ball gowns & glam suits (for the gentlemen of the competition). One at a time they were introduced to the stage by Rita Fontaine, MC & Winner of 2010 Miss Burlesque Australia. Nervously each performer struts the tennis-court sized stage as their bio is quickly introduced to the audience. Then, as soon as they leave the stage the backstage flurry begins again. Classic costumes at the ready! Doubling up as an official “Dresser” for the gals, I jumped into action. Zippers and stockings and head pieces were everywhere! Providing a balance point as tightly corseted burlesquers tried to get into their high heels was the most common of all jobs backstage. Because honestly, after being tight-laced to the point of suffocation, who can bend over to touch their toes, let alone do up stealthy straps around your ankles?!
Taking the stage to perform their Traditional-classic burlesque routines you can see the nerves come out in the artists. First act of the night is always the hardest, after months of anticipation, countless hours of rehearsals & general stage-jitters, it is test of wit more then skill. Every performer is here because they truly are the best in Queensland. Not to mention the presence of Bella De Jac, The Diamond Dahlia and Coppelia Jane in the line-up – all previous Winners and International performers.
To be an international burlesque artist is one of the greatest challenges and milestones in the career of a burlesque artist. There is no label to back them up, book their shows or fund their travel, costume sponsors are rare if not non-existent, and to perform on any international stage requires a major investment in specialty services such as filming, professional photography and technical training. And even once an artist has achieved all these things and is able to commit to international tours, there is absolutely no assurance that you will be booked, because you are entering a circuit that is not your own. In the cases of Bella De Jac and The Diamond Dahlia, both gals have been performing on the international burlesque circuits in the United States and United Kingdom for a number of years and to top it off, on the morning of Miss Burlesque Queensland, Bella De Jac was selected to perform at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas later this year. This competition being the equivalent of Miss World for the Burlesque scene.
So with a line-up of Ingenue artists and International artists, the QLD Grand Finals were going to be a serious challenge, not only physically but mentally. With a huge element of support being present backstage, you couldn't deny the undertone of seriousness.
Following the Traditional-classic section of the competition, the costume changes flew back into speed. With the plus this time that most of the costume pieces used in the Traditional routines were already stripped off on-stage, this freed up the performers to quickly change into the Neo-burlesque costumes. Neo-burlesque is the most modern form of Burlesque and must demonstrate traditional burlesque moves, however they may be re-interpreted to include skills borrowed from other art forms, including Belly dancing, swing dance, contemporary dance and comedic theatre. A clear judging category was included in the Neo-burlesque section of the competition: That all performers must convey a narrative storyline in their act. For example, The Diamond Dahlia presented “Teenagers” - a narrative Neo-burlesque routine where she introduced the audience to “Miss DD's Rules of Teenage Etiquette”, beginning with a chalkboard list of rules, including:
- “Boys & Girls must always be 3 feet apart”
- “One must never show cleavage”
- “A lady should never ever remove her clothes in public”
Then in a storm of bumps 'n' grinds and some serious booty-shaking, The Diamond Dahlia stripped off her teacher's costume whilst eating a delicious red apple. I must note that eating and stripping whilst also looking absolutely stunning is a serious skill and should not be tried at home, unless under the supervision of a professional.
With only half an hour to go until the end of the show, pressure had risen to it's highest point yet. With the conclusion of the Neo-burlesque acts, the judges took a short break to select the Top 5 performers to go through to the final round of Unique acts. Out of the 10 competitors, the Top 5 were: Bella De Jac, Coppelia Jane, The Diamond Dahlia, Magnolia Knife and Dolly Cakes. Ingenues to the competition, Magnolia Knife and Dolly Cakes had immediately stepped up their place in the Queensland scene with their strong Traditional and Neo routines. However, coming into the spotlight against three long-time headliner artists proved a challenge they unfortunately could not meet. With three very strong Unique acts being presented by Bella De Jac, Coppelia Jane and The Diamond Dahlia, the winning places were won by the headliners in consecutive order. Admittedly the winning gap between Coppelia Jane and The Diamond Dahlia seemed extremely tight up to the point of the Unique acts, however, as brilliant as The Diamond Dahlia was, Coppelia Jane skimped over the line with her absolutely massive showcase “Game of Thrones”, where she was able to conjure fire at will from large torches stationed behind her thrown. It's pretty hard to beat fire-hands.
Wrapping up an absolutely massive night of elaborate costume changes, bumps 'n' grinds, striptease and way too much backstage cheering and jumping in heels, the Winners were crowned and the champagne began to flow. Like most things “Queensland”, Miss Burlesque Queensland was vicious, hot and covered in fauna.
A huge congratulations to all the competitors and a very special thank you to Cassandra Jane, Miss Burlesque Australia Director and long-time advocate for the Australian arts scene!
Kate Creevey - Burlesque Lover