When many people think of the term burlesque, they might picture the 2010 film starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. Or perhaps Dita von Teese, the model who re-popularized burlesque and is often dubbed the ‘Queen of Burlesque.’ But there is far more to the performance art than just those mainstream examples. Fortunately, a new documentary explores some of the people behind the clever stage names(even if their real names aren’t actually revealed). Just don’ expect it to offer any sort of history lessons about this particular style of exotic dance.
“Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe” follows a select group of burlesque performers, most of whom live and work in Portland, OR. They seem to be big names in the world of burlesque; many have earned titles at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend in Las Vegas. One of the dancers featured actually performed on the NBC competition series America’s Got Talent, in addition to working as a choreographer and dance instructor.
The doc also introduces the Stage Door Johnnies, the world’s only all-male burlesque group. The trio is based out of Chicago, but have headlined festivals across the world. At first glance it seems like the Stage Door Johnnies are part of the same Portland-based group; the quick jumps from performer to performer lead the viewer to assume they are from the same place.
The film opens with a sultry rendition of Hozier’s “Take Me To Church”; perhaps this is fitting since one of the performers occasionally incorporates a ventriloquist dummy modeled after Jesus into her act. But stepping into the world of burlesque certainly provides a good dose of enlightenment. These dancers seem to live their craft. From one dancer who develops all of the choreography for the stage shows to another who spends all her free time(and money) creating her elaborate costumes, “Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe” certainly found the embodiment of living for one’s art.
As much as a positive light is shone on the dancers in this particular group, many of them have had personal struggles. There is a runaway, a former drug addict; one who was sexually abused in his childhood years. While overcoming their struggles and finding an outlet through burlesque is ultimately a positive outcome, the stories only seem to give weight to the stigma already surrounding exotic dancing. This seems especially prevalent when there are a few among the rather small group of performers profiled in the film. Fortunately the Stage Door Johnnies seem to have a more lighthearted and humorous take on their profession, so any face time spent with the trio provides a little emotional equalizer to the film.
“Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe” can’t speak for the art form entirely, nor does it try to. It also doesn’t commentate on its history, nor offer up any anecdotes about its origins. It is content with focusing on this one particular group of performers. While doing so, it manages to capture the passion that these performers have for the American style of burlesque, which happens to feature far more nudity(and exotic undertones) than its Victorian roots. But the film doesn’t offer that little tidbit of knowledge. This documentary is a character portrait above all else. Those looking for a little more exposition won’t find it here. Those who like an extra dose of emotion with their documentary will find plenty to like in “Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe.”