Few sights exude more larger-than-life glamour than a burlesque bombshell in full flight. Roy Robinson’s new photographic exhibition I Am Burlesque traces the glitter and the comedy of 24 up-and-coming bump-and-grinders to the flesh-and-blood people who dare to toil on and off stage to become the medium for their dreams.
Two decades of press photography have taken Roy Robinson from Belfast to Chernobyl. For his first solo show, the artist took his time in the confines of the studio to examine budding perfomers of London’s burlesque scene.
His interest in the genre far predates its current boom: “It started in childhood, when I was watching the entertainment at a holiday camp, totally fascinated by the tall leggy dancers onstage with sequinned costumes and feather headdresses.”
I Am Burlesque arose from a chance meeting with burlesquer Missy Maybe. Robinson photographed her in his studio and watched her star in A Glimpse Of Stocking, a play that depicts the history of burlesque. Other dancers he met through Maybe opened his eyes to the diverse community who keep the engines of the scene in motion: “they came from a wide variety of backgrounds, from NHS worker to tailor and stay-at-home mother.”
Scroll forward to October and that interest has been transformed into an exhibition that surveys what performers are like on and off stage. One of the models, Canadian burlesquer Vivacity Bliss, found the experience revealed graphically two different sides of herself. “My vision when I first started burlesque was to transform into some sultry, mysterious glamour goddess; instead, my alter ego rapidly settled into the me that exists beneath my self-consciousness: louder, sassier, stronger, more fearless, but still me.” In her own words, Robinson illustrates her transformation from awkward shyness to confident presence, taking up as much visual space as possible. “I’m a bit like Clark Kent,” says Bliss, “all I need to do to turn into ‘Viva’ is to take off my glasses.”
Belgian artist BonBon Le Bum, who combines narrative satire and physical comedy in her routines, sees an active jump in her double portrait: “In real life, I am more of an observer. On the stage, I feel freer. It is mine, and I get to do whatever I want.”
Other performers depicted by Roy Robinson include Burlesque Idol finalist Violet Blaze, circus artist Imogen Hoops and Pavabotti the Naked Tenor. All photos are accompanied by a personal statement from the model, talking about their experience and what burlesque means to them.
Roy Robinson’s photo exhibition I Am Burlesque is open to the public from October 24th to November 24th at the Cockpit Theatre in Maylebone. Entry is free. See thecockpit.org.uk for opening times and other details.