Last night, together with a large number of The Tribe I headed over to Proud Cabaret for dinner and a show. I love the look and idea of this place: we all enjoyed ourselves getting ready into shimmying dresses, black tie and lots of corsetry. In the words of Ringmaster, we looked as if we were about to deliver the con of the century. Buoyed up on a wave of such group energy, I slunk along the streetlamp city streets, hearing my patent black heels clack on the pavement, swinging my hips and feeling good to be out after such a long break, it seemed.
On arrival, the Kit Kat Klub inspired stylings with plenty of candles and dark nooks (too dark as it turned out, to see what one was eating) were beautifully evocative and set the scene for what felt like a really good night out. The blonde compere sang beautifully, and whilst she lacked the devilish qualities of Alan Cumming, she had a good voice and a sense of showmanship. Sadly, she was pretty much the only one.
I am picky about my performance, I perform myself and I've seen quite a lot of cabaret and burlesque shows, so I like to think I have a reasonably well developed aesthetic but nothing here did anything for me, with the exception of the one male performer who gamely attempted to stand his own amidst a crowd of plastic barbie dolls. On a practical level, this was the most rushed set of performances I have ever seen. I am frankly surprised that the fan dancer didn't go up in flames given the speed she was twirling her feathers. There is nothing erotic about watching women, with fixed, painted monster grimaces fail to remove corsets in time, leaving themselves unco-ordinatedly undressed besides a pillar. The problem here is that part of the essence of the erotic is in giving people time to uncurl their imaginations. Like a well planned scene, you need to tease and tantalise - these things take time. The performance works because you hook the audience and reel them in slowly, letting them undress you in their minds before you have removed a single bit of clothing. Here, nothing was given any time to develop. From a pure performance point of view, the pacing was dreadful and mechanical. It felt like a production line of bras and pants strewn to the four corners of the room whilst the long suffering stage manager raced around collecting feather boas and piles of tulle. I'm not even going to discuss the "comedy" Russian ballerina. I left soon afterwards.
Then there was the pervert problem. As Ringmaster said, "it's for vanillas". And it was. The rest of the audience, including a large group of young men, seemed to be lapping it up. But for me, there was no sexuality present on stage that resonated with the things I find sexual. Take an obvious point first, I don't think that women taking off their corsets in front of people is particularly sexually arousing in and of itself. I'm probably a bit inured to it, frankly. The sight of a naked breast does not make me quiver or make me feel edgy or titillated. I've seen a lot of it. I've been a lot of it.
To go further, I'm a pervert. The naked human body does not automatically mean "sex" to me in the same way that a gas mask does. I find tears, humiliated blushes, screams of pain and drops of blood as hot as others might find stockings and suspenders. Don't get me wrong, I understand the appeal of stockings and suspenders and use them if I need to deliver that kind of look, but I also understand the appeal of army boots pressed against a naked back.
Now, I know that I was never going to get that kind of show from this kind of place. But I was hoping for a whisper of something sexual. Even just a hint that the performers were enjoying themselves would have been nice, or some indication that they were doing more than dancing whilst taking their clothes off. It takes more than a quick strip to make me wet, baby: you have to make me want you, to be you or to do awful, dreadful things to you.
You have to be erotic.
Eroticism is a story you are telling, a dirty little secret you are sharing with the audience. In many ways it's an intellectual pursuit, it's about the mind. It's often less about how you look or how many items of clothing you remove. Rather it's about how you do it and how you interact with the audience whilst you are doing it. You need to build a connection and play with the way you are being watched, controlling not just what you are doing but how people respond. You need to perform.
BDSM is similar in that it's a lot about context, the sexuality is about a shared agreement between the participants. Things are not quite what they seem, and the uncertainty, the things we don't know or can't see give us a thrill. We are enraptured by what is mysterious and crave to know more, see more, touch more. In a few week's time I'm going to be stage managing a show at the RVT with a group of burlesque performers who are mostly kinky and I'll be interested to see how they perform - I suspect that it will be quite different.