It’s odd to think that the ancient art form of burlesque has any place in our exhibitionist age. If Lady Gaga and legions of wannabes are willing to bare all, for free, on a red carpet, on Instagram or Facebook Live, who has time for striptease, fan dancing or pasties?
Fifteen years into the “Neo-Burlesque” revival of the old bump-and-grind, it’s obvious that we do have the time and that burlesque still has relevance — at least to its practitioners.
“Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe” isn’t a Hollywood take on the art form. That came out years ago, starred Christina Aguilera and Cher and was set in Los Angeles at the height of this “comeback.” This “Glitter Tribe” is in Portland, Oregon, where nobody gets rich, no dancer becomes famous and these people do what they do for “love” — or some reasonable facsimile.
When Babs Jamboree, Sandria Dore’, Zora von Pavonine or the Stage Door Johnnies take the stage at clubs like the Funhouse Lounge or Lovecraft Bar, they’re in a costume they’ve designed and hand-made, doing a routine they’ve dreamed up and maybe had a little help choreographing.
“It’s more than a hobby,” it’s a passion, Zora declares. Filmmaker Jon Manning follows Zora and her mom as she preps for an appearance, hand-bedazzles assorted parts of her costume and prances on stage to take it all off. Well, most of it.
One dancer has taken the “Gyspy” show-stopper “Ya Gotta Have a Gimmick” to heart, building her mostly-nude act around torches and fire.
Isaiah Esquire is a Portland institution — a black man whose dance act transcends drag and once took him all the way to “America’s Got Talent.”
And then there’s Babs Jamboree — got to love these stage names. She’s a pastie-pasted pixie straight out of “Portlandia” — a tree surgeon by day, stripper going for laughs as a burrito peeling away its ingredients (layers) during one of her routines.
It’s more an overview than an up-close-and-personal documentary, letting us sample acts (Ivizia Dakini works with a puppet and does a striptease based on “Jesus Christ: Superstar”) and watch dancers prepare and talk about their motivations and sense of rebellion.
They talk about sexuality, redefining masculinity and what’s “sexy,” but freely acknowledge the comic edge that strips titillation out of the equation. Sometimes.
Still, if you want to get the full backstory of Angelique DeVil, a Grand Forks, N.D. blonde good enough to dance professionally in Los Angeles would walk away from “the competitiveness” and take on the tattoos and piercings and invent “assles,” tassles for the bum, and gyrate them before an audience, that isn’t revealed. Not really.
There are hints of hidden hurt, coming out and finding “my tribe,” here. Nothing terribly revealing. Some parents might disapprove, but most seem to encourage their kids and indulge their exhibitionist passions.
But what, beyond that, what is the drive — personal, psychological , body image or otherwise — that they must have in common? “Glitter” never gets close to that.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with nudity, profanity
Cast: Zora von Pavonine, Babs Jamboree, Angelique Devil
Credits:Directed by Jon Manning. An XLrator Media release.
Running time: 1:17