Steven Antin doesn’t want to sound “like a prude” but the director of the new movie “Burlesque” believes the performance genre best associated with the bump and grind has been misunderstood as sleazy and only about stripping. “The original burlesque performances were musical, theatrical parodies and political satires,” he says.
In Antin’s film, which stars Christina Aguilera and Cher, burlesque performers wear plenty of sexy costumes but do not strip down to pasties and G-strings. “I wanted to embody the kind of entertainment that was enjoyed by all kinds of audiences,” he says, noting that burlesque, which originated in Europe, became associated with striptease in early 20th century America.
Premiering Thanksgiving weekend, “Burlesque” tells the story of Ali, played by Aguilera, who flees her small town and heads to Los Angeles in search of big city stardom. She gets hired as a waitress by Tess, played by Cher, owner of the Burlesque Lounge. Set in contemporary Hollywood, the club serves as the setting for Antin’s vision of authentic burlesque performance.
The film comes out during a time of thriving burlesque scenes in Los Angeles and other big cities such as New York and Seattle. “Burlesque is booming,” says Lili VonSchtupp, producer of the “Monday Night Tease,” now in its sixth year and the longest-running weekly burlesque show in Los Angeles.
For VonSchtupp, winding up onstage in pasties and a G-string is an integral and authentic element of burlesque performance. “Burlesque has also become an empowering thing for women,” she says. “And there’s something fantastic about being able to entertain with honesty…there’s not a lot to hide behind when you’re standing up there with a g-string and pasties.”
Personally, VonSchtupp feels disappointed that Antin chose to depict a “more stylized” version of her beloved art in his film. “But hopefully the movie will expose more people to burlesque,” she says. “It might even get them to wander into my show.”
To read more about “Burlesque” and the burlesque scene in Los Angeles, click here for Sunday's Art & Books story.
–- Susan Josephs