A song that I’d had loitering in the back of my mind for some time, and thought might have act potential was I Let Love In by Nick Cave. It's a dark, gothic love song. I realized the lyrics were unexpectedly synchronous with the Ishtar concept I was planning for my Dark Act. I’m a little bit of a Nick Cave fan (ok fine, full disclosure – when he played at the Civic in Auckland recently I ended up going to both nights of the gig and went up the front with the Nick touchers). So I was fairly confident I wasn’t going to get sick of hearing this song over and over while I rehearsed. Do you want to read the lyrics? Ok then, if you insist:
I Let Love In – Nick Cave
The act itself I’m still learning to perform to it's full potential, currently it's in the refinement and polishing phase. But I love it. I'm very much looking forward to seeing how it evolves and what it’s final form takes. If you’ve seen The Dark Act, or Coney Bow’s Dancer in Green, does having an idea of the conceptual underpinning of this act make you consider the act in a different way? Is that a good thing? Or do you prefer to take performances at face value and make your own meanings of them? If you are a performer, how do you go about conceptualising your own acts? Feel free to comment!
Parts 1 & 2 of this series on act conceptualisation can be found on the main blog page
I was attracted to the idea of doing an act based on the goddess Ishtar, as Theda Bara might have played her. Ishtar was the Babylonian/Assyrian goddess of love, the night, fertility, sexuality, and war, but who had a tendency to destroy her lovers. This was the perfect vamp character – exotic, seductive and destructive.
I began to research Ishtar for costume inspiration. I was interested in Eastern-inspired 1920s costumes and sought out archival imagery as a starting point. Many sketches of swathes of shimmering beaded fringe and loops of beading were made.
As a goddess of the night, I decided her dress must be dark and glittery. The sparkle was important not only for glamour, but to pick out the contours of the black costume, so it doesn’t disappear against black stage backgrounds. I had a hunch the contrast between the black costume and my skin under stage lights would make my skin glow almost supernaturally.
I'm facinated by classic burlesque and showgirl headdresses, and wanted to take on the technical challenge of making a headdress with significant structural demands (my first). As Ishtar is referred to as a 'cow moon goddess', I decided to construct a horned headdress. The horns were literally made from number eight wire (or a wire gauge that was pretty damn close), and I constructed the form for the horns out of packaging that a motorcycle magazine had come in.
The layered skirt is based on representations of Ishtar's dress in bas-relief carvings (above). The cape references the wing forms usually depicted behind her. She’s most often depicted naked, wearing only an ornamental headdress, an ornate necklace and bracelets at her wrists. These costume elements are what I strip down to, forming the basis of my final reveal. On the eve of my first performance my flatmate told me the underwear piece that I constructed looked 'like sparkly pubes’. Success!
I accompanied my luxe-gothic costume with period-appropriate makeup. This was based on photos of Theda Bara and a Russian actress that I had used for costume inspiration. Conveniently the Kryolan concept store had just opened in Newmarket (a glorious wonderland!). There I was able to find the blackest of black and cochineal coloured eye shadows to recreate 1920s makeup.
The actual makeup they used when filming silent movies was rather unusual. In order to be able to be registered by the primitive cameras, blues, lavenders and yellows were used to contour the face. I suspected it looked truly bizarre in real life, so I aimed to approximate how the make-up would have appeared on screen, rather than in reality.
Part 3 of 3 to follow...
What is the thought process behind creating an act?
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.
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...
Part 2 of 3 to follow...
I know which are my favourite acts to perform, but which are your favourite acts to watch? Here's your chance to help me decide which acts to perform in my upcoming shows! Thanks!
I was interviewed recently by NZ Burlesque & Cabaret Events, here is the post:
Time for a Tuesday tease and our next performer of the week. Introducing the fastest ass in the west, part wolf, part girrl, part naked, Amourous Ava!
We wanted to get inside the creative mind of this innovative performer, so asked her some questions...
What is your favourite routine to perform and why?
Teenwolf is my most performed act, though no matter how many times I perform it, I still love it. It's a character driven B-movie romp with clothes rending, satire, snarling and howling, with a bit of bonus feminist subtext. Teenwolf goes from embarrassed he-wolf teen angst to WOLF SPIRIT. Literally. Teenwolf becomes a hairy she-wolf cheerleader. It's an act about metamorphosis and embracing your quirks, which to me is one of the most worthy things that burlesque as a whole encourages. I think a lot of people have a soft spot for Teenwolf, because we all love an underdog (hurrr, pun). Plus Teenwolf has a pretty sweet pair of rhinestoned chucks and I do love a good shoe.
Best burlesque compliment?
I had a brilliant judge's comment at the Australian Burlesque Festival Baby Bombshells show last year: 'Loved it, very funny, a bit weird, but that's what you wanted, right?' - Cassandra Jane, commenting on my Teenwolf routine. Yep, that sums up my performance style alright. But the best is having other performers or aspiring performers tell you that you inspire them. That is the best compliment of all.
What was your most sparklelific accomplishment to date?
Performing in Baby Bombshells last year was a very positive experience for me and coming runner-up built my confidence as a new performer. It made me consider for the first time that working towards developing an international level of performance isn't a ridiculous or unachievable goal for any NZ performer. I can't wait to perform in the Nouvelle Royale Melbourne show this year!
Why did you start burlesque?
After a five year stint living in a smallish town with limited sparkle opportunities, I somewhat inevitably ran away to New York and went to burlesque school at New York School of Burlesque. The first class they had us tassel twirling (baptism/boobtism by fire) and I was hooked. When I got back to NZ I hassled Misty La Moore of Hootchy Kootchy Girls until she let me do classes and my first show, then I fell in with the fledgling Rock n Roll Circus with good time gals Sugar Spanx & Penny Pins (next R&R Circus show is Aloha! 1950 in Auckland, 12 July) . When I realised people were as interested in watching me put on ridiculous costumes and dance around in my underpants as I was in doing just that, I knew DREAMS COME TRUE. I love creating acts, building a costume and honing a concept, then the rush of performing. I love the satire of it, and that burlesque can be both pop and political at the same time.
Where can we see the fastest ass of the week performance?
I'm special guest performer at the Hootchy Cootchy Girls show in Auckland this Friday, come along – I'm performing my newest act! Then I'm down to Wellington for Nerdlesque next Sat, then off to the Australian Burlesque Festival to perform in the wonderful Nouvelle Royale Melbourne show 8 June.
You can see the original post here at NZ Burlesque & Cabaret Events
For everyone who buys one of the Colouring with Amourous Ava colouring books – email in a photo or scan of your colouring of a page from the book and the best colourer will win a prize.
What prize? Let me raise an eyebow and whisper that the prize might be a signed Ava photo and a lock of Teenwolf's chest hair – COLLECTABLE.
The competition will be drawn (pun intended) in a few weeks or so, you have time to order a book if you want to enter. Happy colouring!
Books are NZ$15 + postage and can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm excited to announce that I've been selected to perform in the Australian Burlesque Festival!
I'll be performing in a show which I'm delighted to be a part of – the Nouvelle Royale show in Melbourne.
If you're in Melbourne in June pop along and see some of the finest neo-burlesque talent from Australasia and beyond!
8 June 2014
Howler Bar, 7-11 Dawson Street, Brunswick, VIC
Doors Open: 7pm Show: 8pm
I've made an Ava colouring book! I know it's a big ask to ask you to part with your hard-earned cash, so I tried to make it extra awesome. It is called Colouring with Amourous Ava, and will be $15. It's A4,12 pages of illustrations drawn by moi, and proceeds will be going towards my plane ticket to the Australian Burlesque Festival. (The centre spread has boobs, so maybe take that spread out before showing it to any kids.) Personally signed for you! Free postage within NZ for burlesquers (performers/photographers etc). Message me at email@example.com if you want one and I'll send you the details! xx
I'm very excited to be performing 1 February as part of the Cabaret Royale tour. The show is on at the Whitehouse here in Auckland and features international headlining performer Dusty Limits. It's going to be epic! I'm gluing some extra rhinestones onto my costume especially!
tickets available here
It’s Friday evening, I’ve gently quaffed three Peronis, spent far too long reading a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) post about a dude with two dongs (not related to this post, but fascinating nonetheless) and now I am thinking about such things as the sexualised nature of burlesque performance, feminism and the nature of consent.
In particular lately I’ve been thinking a lot about rape jokes. In real life no one actually thinks rape is fucking hilarious. If someone said at their office meeting on Monday ‘so I raped my girlfriend last night, har-de-har-har’, I guarantee no one would laugh, (unless you work in an office full of total rapist assholes).
A solid decade ago I went to a comedy show at Indigo (currently the empty venue formerly known as San Francisco Bath House). It was a great show. A comedian announced onstage to his girlfriend who was in the audience that he was going to rape her later. The joke tanked. From that point his act tanked. He was met with 40+ stony glares from the entire audience, he cut his act short and fled the stage. On the way out of the gig my friend and I discussed how proud we were of Wellington for not laughing. For not letting our instinct of sympathy for a fledgling performer override our sense of humanity.
So why have rape jokes become A Thing in Burlesque shows? I’ve been to at least two shows in the last year, with difference MCs, where a component of the MCs patter has been commentary along the lines of “Wasn’t that perfomer hot? She’s so hot I’m going to rape her later.” The first time people laughed. I didn’t. Neither did the woman next to me. I felt uncomfortable. The jokes were repeated. After the show I wondered why I didn’t heckle, or at least draw attention to the rape jokes. Some people left at half time. I didn’t. I've always thought of heckling as rude, there was an international performer and I wanted to see her and the other performers do their second acts. The performers were amazing – blow your mind awesome – but I wondered about how hard it would be to go on and perform after a MC has made a joke about raping you later. I thought about emailing the producer afterwards about the rape jokes. I didn’t.
The second time I saw a different MC telling rape jokes, I emailed the producer. I felt better, but I didn’t get any reply.
As recently as November the Roastbusters story broke, which threw a spotlight, albeit a dirty and thoroughly rhinestone-free spotlight, on rape culture and how we discuss rape and the nature of consent in New Zealand. As it turns out, we are shit at it. Ten years on from rape jokes being met with an uncondoning and icy wall of silence in a dive bar, two mainstream media presenters on Radiolive victim blamed and slut shamed a young woman who rang in to share her experience of the reviled members of the ‘Roastbusters’ group. Rape: thoroughly trivialized. The older male ‘journalists’ implied that the thirteen year old girls who were raped by these boys were sluts and were asking for it.
One in three women in New Zealand will be physically or sexually abused by a partner in their lifetime. Around 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys in New Zealand have experienced sexual abuse. That’s one in 4 girls in your audience and one in 10 boys. That percentage of your audience at least will be finding your rape jokes far less than hilarious.
This is why rape jokes bother me. A burlesque performer gets undressed on stage, a MC jokes he’s going to rape her.
Just because you don’t use the ‘R’ word doesn’t mean what you are describing isn’t rape. Saying that you’ll tie someone up and force them to have sex with you is describing rape. Yes that is rape, even if it’s your partner you are talking about. Especially if it’s your partner you are taking about. Most rape and sexual abuse in New Zealand is committed by someone the victim is in a relationship with. Even if you’ve oked the ‘joke’ with the performer first – the audience doesn’t know that – they aren’t privy. All they are getting from it is that rape is supposed to be funny, and a reinforcement of rape culture.
As a performer and an audience member, one of the reasons I perform burlesque, and why I go to shows, is because I enjoy seeing women (and men) perform with sexual agency. It’s exhilarating to see someone who thoroughly inhabits their own body, is aware and comfortable in front of an audience, is in command of their sexuality and able to use it in a way that both pleases them and entertains an audience. The best performers to me are those who are obviously having a blast and are truly engaging with their audience in a free and reciprocal exchange. Yes, we live in a culture that sexualizes and objectifies young women and burlesque is a performance style that intersects and plays with notions of sexuality, gender and objectification. This is why it’s a delicate balance and why burlesque is so interesting and so exhilarating to watch. Rape jokes shit all over this dynamic and take away your power as a performer and your humanity as a human being. At best, they are trite, at worst there’s a rapist in the audience (whether he considers himself one or not) who takes the nervous laughter as encouragement. Let's all not laugh next time. I want to be proud of burlesque audiences and the burlesque scene here in New Zealand. The audience takes it’s behavioral cues from MCs, please don’t let those cues be that it’s ok to rape.