Backstage at a show towards the end of last year I had a conversation with burlesque performer Coney Bow about act conceptualisation. She mentioned that her Dancer in Green act was based on the Hollywood Ballet Green Duet between Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in the movie Singin' in the Rain. In this bar scene Charisse’s character is drawn from her chair into a dance with Kelly’s character Don Lockwood. Coney Bow’s act is based on the extrapolation and interpretation of what Charisse’s character would do if Don didn’t turn up. The act explores how Charisse's character would move and act if she were dancing with herself.
I found it an interesting discussion, her comments gave me an insight into her act that I otherwise wouldn’t have had. While this perspective is by no means essential to enjoying her act, I found it added an extra layer of depth to her performance. As someone who is very much the type of person who goes around art galleries reading the wall labels, I get a kick out of hearing the concept behind people’s acts. As with wall labels, I don’t think a conceptual explanation is essential to understanding or enjoying the art itself, but I like how the contextual information suggests ideas that I would have otherwise been unaware of. This is partly why I loved hearing about the inspiration for Coney Bow’s performance, as it allowed me to view her act in an entirely different way.
Hollywood Ballet Green Duet from Singin' in the Rain
Coney Bow as The Dancer in Green. Photo: Peter Jennings.
At the time of this conversation I was in the position of nervously debuting a brand new act that was stylistically rather unfamiliar territory for me, while Coney was performing a polished and stunning signature act in a style that is very much her trademark. Despite the obvious differences in our acts, I realized the one thing they had in common was the similarity in the way we had both approached developing a ‘classic’ act conceptually.
So this led me to where I am now, writing a post about my most recently developed act, and the conceptualisation behind it. I call this act alternately Let Love In or The Dark Act. (It’s still settling into its true form, so I’m more or less waiting to see which name sticks.) If any of you have seen me perform before, most of my acts are character-based neo-burlesque. This act is unusual for me, in that it is essentially a classic showgirl act, albeit a slightly unusual spin on the genre. Like Coney’s act, the concept behind my routine probably isn’t immediately apparent to the audience, but this concept colours the entire act and informs all the decisions made in creating, costuming, and choreographing the act.
image left: Performing The Dark Act at The Cat's Meow
photo: Adam Baines.
The starting point for this act was being invited to take part in a 1920s themed show, The Cat’s Meow, for the Rock n Roll Circus. I had been thinking for some time that I wanted to develop a new ‘classic’ routine. In the year or so since I’d last created a classic act, my style as a neo performer had become more developed and I had grown a much better sense of who I had become as a performer. However, the classic side of my performance had remained comparatively underdeveloped in style. But that set an interesting challenge – how would neo performer Amourous Ava perform a classic routine? Or more accurately, because you can’t take the 'neo' out of a neo performer – how would she perform a neo-classic routine?
I also set myself another challenge – no Charleston. I knew other performers would be doing up-tempo numbers, so I wanted to do something that would set my act apart a little, play to my skills, and to push myself in a different direction. I’d also been watching a lot of classic-style acts and wanted to challenge myself to do a slow number. My usual performance style is high energy, frenetic and comedic. This to a certain extent is because of my physicality – I’m slight of build, so to get any sort of decent movement out of my costume I often need to move very, very fast. Torque is not my friend. I also tend to move quickly to dispel nervous energy, so I wanted to learn to control and direct it… and just for kicks see what would happen if I didn’t try to be funny. It was terrifying...