Christopher Jones, Victoria Hardie and Brian Matthews are certainly fans of the art of the tease. Together they have put together Burlesque Beauty, a book of their top burlesque performers and the impact these women have had on the current British burlesque scene. From ex-RAF beauty Khandie Khisses to Dita von Teese homage act Carrie-Ann, the authors have chosen an octet which they consider to be a snapshot of the current British burlesque scene.
Undeniably, picking just eight UK-based artists is a difficult task, especially given the wealth of fantastically talented acts currently around. This book does take in a wide vista; the experienced Amber Topaz is featured alongside the emerging artist Ally Katte from Bristol and magician Domino Barbeau. Burlesque Beauty focuses on what they call “traditionally feminine” burlesque, which doesn’t help to define a style as all the girls have varied acts and are not just the ‘cheesecake burlesque’ that the book deals with in the opening chapter.
Burlesque Beauty didn’t take more than an hour to read due to its informal ‘magazine’ format; a little blurb about each girl is followed by an all-too-brief interview. In these, the girls are asked for their top burlesque tips, career highlights and which of their costumes and acts they love the most. Each interview is interesting and sheds light onto each performer’s outlook and practices, including how their costumes come together and why they feel the desire to get up onstage to air their views in a satirical, sexy, amusing and intelligent way. Having said that, there are few clues on core areas like how each girl approaches burlesque and why they are so fascinated by this artform. A little more insight would not have gone amiss.
The introduction to the book skims over a brief history of burlesque and primarily focuses on American stars like Gypsy Rose Lee, with a few facts about the Moulin Rouge thrown in. The history of UK burlesque and the origins of this artform are not more widely explored in this section but it does give us a background in which to place the girls and their performances in the context of the wider world of burlesque.
The featured girls are all stunning yet the photographs used in the book don’t flatter them. Burlesque really comes alive onstage and the book lacks finesse and gloss for not having some live images. Anna Fur Laxis, Mysti Vine and Amber Topaz have come off well but even they struggle under bad lighting and odd poses that didn’t seem natural to them.
The writing style is chatty and cheerful but the use of exclamation marks to finish most sentences makes reading harder than it should be, as do the grammatical errors that have slipped past the editing stage.
The book is beautifully made with thick and shiny pages decorated with a pretty pink motif. Unfortunately Burlesque Beauty is only just touching on its potential. The initial chapters set this book up to be a well thought-out, sophisticated book that brings together a wide range of many performers within the context of historical and modern burlesque, an artform that has traditionally gone beyond sparkly feathers and a beautiful corset. Regrettably, it leaves this reader wanting more.
Burlesque Beauty by Christopher Jones, Victoria Hardie and Brain Matthews. Tomahawk Films, Hampshire, 2012. ISBN 978-0-9542812-1-2. 64pp. £16.95 from http://www.burlesque-beauty.com/