Glory Box Paradise

“Art is fueled by passion, liquor and unrealistic expectations.” Welcome to Glory Box Paradise and the ninth year of Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith's subversive and celebratory burlesque where the passion is as potent as any cocktail and unrealistic expectations are turned into exquisite beauty.

Glory Box, Moira Finucane. Photo by Carla Gottgens
Glory Box, Moira Finucane. Photo by Carla Gottgens

Is there anything left to be said about Finucane and Smith's Burlesque Hour shows? I've run out of passionate adjectives to shout about how damn amazing this work continues to be.

Nine years ago, the first Burlesque Hour performed to an in-the-know audience at fortyfivedownstairs and later in the Speigeltent. I'd heard about it and bought a ticket for the tent. Here was something we hadn't seen before and so wanted to see so much more of.

Over 125,000 people have seen versions of The Burlesque Hour – that's more than a full MCG. Artists have come and gone and come back, it's had 50 sell-out seasons all over the world, won awards and collected multi-wordgasm reviews from critics who only disagree about the the degree of superlative.

There's a lot of burlesque in theatres and clubs, but no one is doing anything like this. So what makes this burlesque so different?

Rarely do naked women on display make other women feel good about themselves. Whether it's designed to attract a straight male gaze (that really doesn't attract all straight men) or simply because it's rare for women to publicly de-robe unless they fit an image that was created by applying good lighting, a flattering position and Photoshop.

In her current show, My Life in the Nude at La Mama (finishing this weekend), Maude Davey, who has appeared in many Burlesque Hour shows, talks about her realisation that burlesque is about declaring that you are beautiful are worthy of the audience's gaze.

“I am beautiful and worthy of your gaze” is a magnificent beginning for the many women (and men) doing weekend burlesque classes and sewing sequins on undies for their graduation show, but Glory Box Paradise leaps beyond this premise.

On a Finucane and Smith stage, nakedness has nothing to do with a boring flash of boob. With bodies that don't conform to young, spray-tanned, waxed, enhanced and starved images of female naked perfection, there's never doubt that the women performing know their own beauty – and they don't give a hoot if anyone thinks differently.

There are well over 20, 30 and 40. They have body fat and muscle and scars and marks that declare their bodies as so much more than something to gaze upon. (Moira even refuses to uses a hair straightener and goes frizzy!) And they perform work that's as sexy and powerful as it gets.

These are women who are sexual but are never sexualised. Women whose sexual power has nothing to do with control. Women whose sex live are shameless. Women who don't support any image or idea that going to repress, disapprove or hurt.  And this may be why every act is greeted with cheers.

The gaze of anyone is welcome, but this is performance that's not about earning the approval of the watcher, but about celebrating the performer and her view of the world. A view that's positive instead of critical and one that joyfully leans to the queer side of the spectrum while welcoming anyone who sits anywhere else.

Glory Box Sarah Ward. Photo by Carla Gottgens
Glory Box Sarah Ward. Photo by Carla Gottgens

And if you think you've seen it all before, this year is mostly new material, with a couple of old favourites.

Yumi Umiumare is back with genre re-defining punk Butoh, and dancer Holly Durant joined by new performer Lily Paskas. Melbourne favourite Jess Love (The Candy Butchers) is living in London these days, but is back home with some amazing and hilariously off-centre hoop and skipping routines. She also comes with Ursula Martinez. Ursula continues to treat with her disappearing red hanky and her sex change quick change number with Jess is pure joy (with a hint of raunchy goodness).

New to the Box is Sarah Ward and her alter ego Yana Alana. Yana's naked blue real-women-look-like-this gorgeousness thrilled audiences last week in her own show Between the Cracks, but Yana's lets Sarah out to play. In a mesmerising hologram silver corset, her duet of “Candy” with Moira's drag king is a highlight. The only one who nearly overshadows Sarah is Yana, whose cat-suited song about cats has left me singing “pussy wussy wussy” to my cat.

And there's Moira. There's no one like her. As an artist she creates work that is so from her heart and self that no one will ever be able to recreate it. It's gutsy and lusty and masculine and feminine and  refuses to be anything that isn't Moira Finucane.


Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard