Finding sensuality and humour in burlesque

 Burlesque is a form of tongue-in-cheek theatre that involves a keen sense of irony and a whole lot of sex appeal. According to Toronto starlet Coco Framboise, burlesque is – pardon the pun – cheeky. Framboise says the hallmarks of burlesque are a focus on character and costume, use of body humour, song, dance, sketchy comedy, physical comedy and striptease. The Charlatan’s Elise A. Milbradt spoke with the burlesque dancer about the sexy art form and it’s appeal. Below is an abridged version of their chat.

The Charlatan: What is it, do you think, that attracts people to burlesque?

Coco Framboise: Definitely the sense of theatre and the dress-up. And there’s always that risqué element that will always draw people. Sex is always going to intrigue people in pretty much any form. 

TC: And how big of an impact would you say the audience has on a burlesque performance, in terms of interaction?

CF: Personally, the audience has a big impact on what I do on stage because I’m always planning for the unexpected. The reason being that you just never know what the audience will need throughout the act.

TC: What do you mean by what the audience will need?

Every show is similar to a good ol’ mix tape. You need to have your highs and your lows so that things build overall to create a very dynamic experience for the audience, in order to coax them along. When I reveal my elbow, let’s say, from a glove tease, or when I go to show them the garters on my stocking, I need them to have a certain kind of reaction. I have these key moments in mind but I try to leave myself as much opportunity to choose my path from one story point to the next, because perhaps there are people chatting in the front row — and that just won’t do! Or perhaps there are some people who look like it’s their first show and I might just sit down on them, have a sip of their beverage, and then lie down across four of them, just because that is what it seems needs to happen.

TC: Have you ever had any strange reactions to anything you’ve done?

CF: Well, you try to always have somebody be a little bit scandalized, otherwise it’s not risqué. If there’s somebody who isn’t a little bit upset by it, then it’s really not as much fun.

TC: What’s the point, right?

CF: Exactly. You really need to rattle somebody’s cage. Sometime’s there’s a little game I play with myself, especially in more conservative venues, to make eye contact with the person who’s most scandalized by it. So I try to lock eyes with that person and give them a nice wink. 

TC: So how does this sexuality get channeled in burlesque?

CF: Burlesque is very cheeky, so even when the full intention isn’t a sexual one, it can be there even in the expression of a punch line, when I might thrust a hip or something in a slightly suggestive way. In the striptease, it often starts with the eyes. I certainly perform with my eyes quite a bit. It’s that glance that is sort of the first invitation to play, the first invitation to watch. 

TC: How would you describe the burlesque community?

CF: The community is absolutely madcap, it’s ridiculous, it’s an interesting blend of both grand and humble. We’re playing with scale; things aren’t as they should be. You know, people don’t generally walk down the street with giant headdresses, flaunting their incredible ways. It’s a joke we’re all in on. We’re putting rhinestones on our costumes as though that’s our status — as though somebody actually sewed diamonds into our dresses. We choose these names as though that’s what we are. And it’s not true, but it’s interesting because it kind of becomes true. There is this grandeur but then we’re also sitting backstage stitching things on by ourselves, we won’t have these handlers who make it all happen. We’re doing it. And we’re sitting there with wigs half on and with lipstick half on, or not. It’s this interesting irony always that these people who are decadent, and swanning and fawning on stage are standing backstage and hiking up fishnets, because there’s really no dainty way of putting them on. You know, a handful in each hand yanking them up over ample booties. There’s such a beauty in that humanity. And then to watch them on stage — finding the sexy in putting on an oven mitt or undoing a ribbon or sweeping something up is always fun. Finding both the sensuality, and the humour. 

TC: It’s a tricky pairing.

CF: It is a tricky pairing! But so beautiful when you get it right. Striptease is something that most people can learn to do well, but part of what makes burlesque is that comedy, that sense of irony, that little wink and that smile, and knowing it’s a dirty joke that we’re kind of all in on. Those are the performances that linger with me, where you cannot only see the person being sexy, but where you can see them being sexy and smart. And the smart makes the sexy even sexier: where there’s some witty twist, something unexpected, some interesting use of the music or movement.


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