A burlesque tribute to a pop culture meme is de rigueur in New York, from Nerdlesque’s esoteric minutiae to the long-running David Lynch Burlesque. But Bushwick Burlesque wanted to do something different. Really different. Hence Limitless: A Marina Abramovic Tribute.
Scary Ben, the troupe’s co-founder and the show’s clown-faced producer and MC, admitted it started as a joke. But as noted in our preview, the experimental “site-specific installation,” as he called it, wasn’t intended to be silly.
So stifle your laughter when you hear that the first piece performed at Bizarre last night was titled The Stripper is Present. As it began, Zoe Ziegfeld sat still in a black bikini and waited for the audience of young hipsters — seated stage-side like kindergartners at story time — to approach her and interact. Some gave her money — this was a burlesque show, after all — but even a look caused her to tug a bikini string a little. Once there was nothing left to remove, interaction made her widen her stance. To an invisible cue, she folded her money and left.
The idea was for Ziegfeld and her fellow burlesque dancers, all of whom have performance art backgrounds, to re-perform Abramovic’s pieces, “adding their signature to it, similar to something she did in Seven Easy Pieces,” Ben said (in that seminal 2005 Guggenheim work, Abramovic re-performed five other artists in addition to her own work).
“I’m fascinated by her history in revolutionizing a kind of art and stepping into ‘being the art,’” Ben said.
The rest of the show ran the gamut of Abramovic’s oeuvre, from Breathing In/Breathing Out (Death Itself) — no, they didn’t actually pass out — to Kitty KaBoom’s recreation of The Onion — yes, she ate a raw onion, while stripping, as the voiceover intoned, “I am tired of more career decisions.” This was certainly performance art. Other pieces ran steadfastly cabaret, such as a take on Balkan Erotic Epic.
In a perfect collusion of the two forms, Gin Minsky and Poppy Tart re-created Relation in Time. In the original, Abramovic and her collaborator, Ulay, sat back to back with their hair braided together for 17 hours. Minsky and Tart entered in only pasties and panties, back to back, hair braided together, and stepped into tap shoes, standing on one foot to buckle in. As one began to tap away she was pulled back, beginning a Pushmi-pullyu pas de deux. Skilled dancers both, they gracefully worked the stage and then squirmed into back-to-back chairs, continuing a seated tap routine with austere faces.
The performance art high point was Melody Jane’s re-creation of Lips of Thomas. It began with a standard strip to “Harlem Nocturne,” the music then overwhelmed by a chaotic mix of sound effects. Jane stripped further, removing her wig and wedding ring, lit candles, and took up the tool for what anyone familiar with the original would have seen coming: a razor blade. She then cut into the flesh above her left breast, which took a second to bleed, revealing the shape of a heart. It was hard to say what was more alarming — the collective intake of breath when the crowd realized what she was about to do, or the passing shock once she’d done it.
Jane told me via e-mail, “I test my physical and psychological boundaries by challenging the need for self-preservation, at the cost of artistic expression.” In true durational form, Jane stood through the final act. As Darlinda Just Darlinda was interviewed about her life by Karl Giant (their take on The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic) Jane stood in the crowd, heart on her chest, blood trailing down to her crotch.
J.D. Oxblood (@jdoxblood) is the co-founder of BurlesqueBeat.com.