Photo: Hans Wendland
Confession time: My limited knowledge of burlesque encompasses Dita Von Teese, Crazy Horse, and well, Christina Aguilera shimmying to Lady Marmalade.
As it turns out, I was partially right – at least on the last count, that is.
I was “schooled” by five members of new burlesque troupe Skin in SIN; three amateur performers from the troupe, mentor and producer Eugene Tan (whose drag alter ego is the fabulous Becca D’Bus) and American performance artist Madge of Honor.
Why Skin in SIN? The name is a nod to the performers’ expat experiences – either as Singaporeans returning from abroad, or expats have migrated here – and how their years abroad have influenced their perspectives on life. In short, this is entertainment with a social message.
Intrigued and want to check ‘em out for yourself? The new troupe will be baring (almost) all in their debut show at this month’s M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.
Here, the troupe gives a peek behind the velvet curtains with their stories of what goes on behind the glitz and glamour.
Burlesque is not just about stripping to your skivvies
Madge of Honor: Burlesque is a type of cabaret performance that’s often referred to as a striptease, but I like to think of it as a form of storytelling. The performer takes off layers to reveal something to the audience. In five words, it’s ingenious, creative, entertaining, sensual and humorous. It’s an art form that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Photo: Audi Khalid
Datin Coconut Muffin: Taking your clothes off is actually just one small aspect of our burlesque workshops [which everyone in the troupe had to attend to learn the basic moves].
Lykie Liquor: The workshops also involved a lot of reflection on how we feel about our
bodies and how society sees us. We spoke about gendered walking, and tried on different emotions, poses and faces. And we also learnt how to twirl nipple tassels.
Nipple tassel twirling is a beautiful thing
Eugene Tan: Madge and I spent the weekend making silver pasties with tassels for the troupe, even though I wasn’t sure if everyone would be comfortable with putting them on. I was away at a gig when the group met with their pasties for the first time, but when I came back the room was filled with people who were really excited to get twirling. It was incredible.
Madge: Our weekend rehearsal space didn’t have mirrors, so everyone was trying to look at their reflection in any glass surface in an attempt to witness the magic of twirling!
Nudity is powerful
Eugene: I’m hyper-aware of how my body is judged. I’m extremely fat. And I think there’s a certain power in insisting that this body has a right to be naked, and in enjoying the discomfort and pleasure that it is causing in the room. For me, that’s powerful. People who are close-minded actually feed the potency of our work.
Photo: Audi Khalid
Hank Spank: In one of the first workshops, we had to reveal a part of our body and tell a story about it – almost like a show and tell. I appreciate that nudity isn’t determined by sexuality; it can be so much more. This was really helpful to me in learning how to engage the flesh without feeling shamed.
Madge: The first time everyone in the troupe got down to their bra and panties, we played the song Lady Marmalade and had an underwear dance party!
There’s a story behind every stage name
Photo: Audi Khalid
Lykie: I took such a long time to think of a name before deciding on Lykie Liquor. I like it because when you think of being licked, it’s a very specific feeling. If a stranger comes up to you and licks you, it’s shocking and unexpected and bold. I felt like I identified with that.
Datin: I’ve always been called coconut because I’m brown on the outside and white on the inside. As for Datin and Muffin – they are references to the dual roles women have to play in Singapore. The Datin loves to cook and she also loves to drink. Her marriage status: She’s looking for her master baker!
It’s never just a costume
Lykie: Costumes are so important because they help to tell a story. How you take it off, what you do with it once you take it off and what you do with your body – all that is part of storytelling.
Eugene: The things that you wear on stage are not what you can get off the shelf, because no girl wants to look like a showgirl walking down the street. So a lot of things have to be made or built upon to make them show-worthy, to essentially blind you with the bling. A lot of costumes are also rigged so that they can be easily removed (gracefully) or offer surprises.
Madge: Some costumes to look out for in Foreign Bodies: A fishtail, a sexy apron, and an MIT hooded sweatshirt!
Makeup serves a purpose
Hank: Makeup really helps to get me into character. Having a different face helps me calibrate who the persona I’m playing is.
Madge: For my persona, there’s no such thing as too much – I like layers and layers of false eyelashes glued together, and my highlight is always on 11! I like to put on so much makeup because it pushes the boundaries of what is seen as attractive and acceptable in offstage life. So my goal is not to look like a pretty woman, but to be a larger-than-life character that defies the norm.
Foreign Bodies runs from 5–7 January 2017, 8pm at the Esplanade Recital Studio.