Her undergarments are bejewelled, her routines are cheeky, but it is what Jepha Krieg does with her hands that sets her aside from other burlesque dancers.
Sign language is a pivotal communication tool for the hearing-impaired and for the 22-year-old Wellingtonian who incorporates it into burlesque, the language is another way to express her creativity.
By taking sign language a step further, she is not only making her mark in the Wellington burlesque community, but she also believes she is the country's first signing burlesque artist.
"Sign language is so expressive and is perfect for performance," says Krieg, whose first show involved signing to Katy Perry's song Peacock, and Born to Handjive by Johnny Otis.
"That was perfect, as deaf people are born to handjive," she says.
Signing is an official New Zealand language and, for Krieg, it is more than just a communication tool.
"My performances open up a new avenue to show the creative side of sign language. It's not just a novelty, or a way for handicapped people to talk."
Through her performances, Krieg hopes to make both the comedy of burlesque and the songs she uses more accessible to the deaf, and to expose sign language to people who would not otherwise experience it.
As well as her live performances, Krieg - who first learned signing after meeting deaf people at a cinema she worked at - is also raising money to buy a camera to record her performances and weekly song interpretation videos to upload on YouTube.
"A performance presented to you in a language you understand makes it that much more enjoyable," she says.
She was introduced to burlesque after interviewing burlesque performers on an Access Radio show, and has been immersed in the Wellington burlesque community for almost a year, appearing under stage name The Purple Rose. She has performed in several central city locations, and had her first paid gig recently at a Queen-themed burlesque show at Fringe Bar, where she did a signing performance of Bohemian Rhapsody.
Her burlesque career has also taken her around the country, helping backstage for visiting UK burlesque performers in Auckland, performing in the Fringe Festival show "Zomburlesque" in Dunedin, and she will be performing in Christchurch in October.
Krieg, who studies sign language at Victoria University and hopes to study interpreting in Auckland next year, praises the burlesque community for its "all-inclusive" nature.
"Burlesque is by women, for women. You can be a six-foot blonde bombshell or a five-foot size 16, and own the stage," she says.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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