Art and Stage
What happens when a belly dancer turns the harem fantasy on its head? BRIGID KELLY finds out.
Sometimes it's hard to be a woman, giving all your love to just one man. But in these straitened economic times, the Ruby Lady - belly dancer extraordinaire and keeper of a fine harem of exciting menfolk - has had to downsize.
At the Pallet Pavilion next month, she will whittle down her harem to one. The harem boys must vie for her love with comedy, circus skills and all the masculine allure they can muster.
The Ruby Lady is professional belly dancer Rachael Lundy, 22, who is bringing her boylesque revue to the Garden City for the first time.
The gender studies graduate became interested in "boylesque" - a masculine take on burlesque - while completing her degree at the University of Otago. She held her first boylesque show in Dunedin last year.
"This show is quite different," she says. "The Dunedin one was really a classic variety show, so there was no common thread. For this one I wanted to keep that variety show element, but also have a narrative holding it together."
The harem model with a twist was an obvious choice for a young woman who has belly danced for half her life. Aged 11, Lundy attended her first bellydance class with her mother; they'd both secretly decided to go only to please the other. "It was the best miscommunication of my life.
"There is a huge link between belly dance and harems in popular mythology, and all sorts of interesting concepts of gender and race that come out of it," Lundy says. "By flipping from harem dancer to harem keeper I wanted to pull those myths apart - but in a way that is still fun."
The show will feature female burlesque artists Bonita Danger Doll and Ruby Ruin as well as harem men Dangerous Dan, Rockie Loads, Seymour Flesh and Shannon McGurgan. Lundy will not perform burlesque herself - in part as a response to the long- standing, and frequently frustrating, popular association between belly dance and striptease.
She will belly dance in the show, though. She admits she "shamelessly" piggy-backs on the burlesque trend as a way of creating new performance opportunities beyond restaurant gigs (she is a regular house dancer at Topkapi in Manchester St) and belly dance community shows.
"About a year ago I was just performing once a month if I was lucky, and usually within the bellydance community. That was very insular, and always for the same people," she says.
"I realised that I can't just wait for people to book me. I needed to make events myself and thrust belly dance on the centre stage. So I started creating shows that I wanted to be in. Then, one day, I thought why not make a show that I want to see? So that's how the boylesque grew."
A boylesque revue is less "in your face" and showcases a wider range of male types than the buffed and polished "policeman" or "firefighter" seen in male strip revues, she says. The movement grew out of the neo-burlesque trend in the mid-1990s, but is still a novelty.
"It's more common to have a burlesque show with one boylesque performer as variety - there are not many that are just men. It's unheard of in New Zealand. The nearest would be Queerlesque, in Auckland, which caters to the queer community, but they would have both male and female performers."
While she says "homophobic men" are unlikely to like the show, audiences can enjoy its political and social commentary elements, or simply have fun looking at beautiful men. Nervous would-be viewers can relax - there will be no genitalia on display at the R16 show.
"Burlesque is really about showcasing your skills in an erotic way, so for example if you are a contortionist you could do a contortion burlesque that incorporates elements of striptease," Lundy says.
"I like burlesque performances because I can see the performers' personalities, and that is what is arousing. You can see their sense of humour, their world view, and their approach to gender identity and that's what makes them attractive."
Lundy is keen to tour the show. It will be repeated in Dunedin during the Fringe Festival in March, and she would like to take it to the North Island later next year.
The Ruby Lady's Harem: a Boylesque Showcase. Pallet Pavilion, January 11, 2014, 7.30pm. Tickets available from Cosmic Ticketing $25 plus booking fee. Cash-only door sales $30. R16.
- The Press