Dark Matter Cult would love to introduce fellow cult member J Simpson. He is an artist, tarot reader, writer and guest blogger of our Cult. Today he gives us a beautiful, in depth look at the history of burlesque and serpentine dancing.
The history of burlesque is more than simply risqué ribaldry. More than a trail of silk and satin opera gloves slinking through time. More than the rustle of petticoats, the snap-crackle of popping garters. Burlesque is also responsible for innovating serpentine dancing, a form of skirt dancing that would go on to influence early cinema.
Burlesque's evolution throughout the years has resulted in numerous cultural innovations still in use today. Burlesque is responsible for popularizing tights, via Ms. Lydia Thompson of The British Blondes. Soldiers were shooting themselves over the hint and possibility of flesh. Burlesque has also been responsible for producing some of the finest actresses of their respective generation, as well as numerous talented musicians.
During the 1890s, a burlesque innovation would go on to color (literally) some of the earliest cinema ever laid to celluloid. Loie Fuller didn't have much of a background as a dancer. Fuller was a genius of theatrical dramatics and lighting, however, making her one of the finest performers in the history of burlesque. To compensate for her lack of technical ability, Fuller incorporated stage lighting and exuberant, ebullient folds of gauzy fabric to create a colorful kaleidoscopic approximation of the Natural World.
These dramatic movements, striking costumery, and dramatic, nearly psychedelic lighting would inspire some of the earliest filmmakers. Thus it could be said the history of burlesque and the history of cinema are intertwined.
While there are numerous filmed versions of serpentine dances throughout the history of burlesque, the first remains the most striking and iconic. Loie Fuller, the innovator of the serpentine dance, is a more accomplished, more dynamic performer than many of the subsequent performers who would twirl in front of the lenses of the early filmmakers. Fuller's dancing is full of spark, a perpetual motion dynamo of erupting colors and swirling shapes. The Lumiere's version features the most striking hand-tinting of all of the serpentine dances, making this one of the most beautiful sequences to come out of the history of burlesque, as well.
Annabelle Serpentine Dance out of Edison Studios beat the Lumiere Brothers to the punch by several years, however. Annabelle Moore's cinematic choreography for Thomas Edison and the Edison Company bears the distinction of being the first hand-tinted film. The history of burlesque has been coloring the history of cinema from the very start, it turns out. While Moore's performance may be more subdued and less technical than Loie Fuller's, Annabelle Serpentine Dance is still a particularly gorgeous moment of early cinema. Annabelle Moore is a riot of color and motion. At times, it's like watching an impressionistic painting brought to life. Others, her dancing seems to bring to mind strange scenes from the Natural World. The hand-tinting from the Edison Company make Moore look like an orchid caught in a windstorm, or a cloud of butterflies being buffeted by the breeze. It's almost like a Georgia O' Keefe painting brought to life, but a few decades ahead of her time.
Annabelle Serpentine Dance is one of the most beautiful moments in the history of cinema. It erases the so-called distinction between "high" and "low art" showing how the 'guttered' American striptease and the beery halls of Vaudeville would go on to influence some of the greatest art of all time, if it's not too soon to include film in those vaunted halls.
If you'd like to see some actual serpentine dancing, come out to our Valentine's Day Massacre on February 4, 2018 at Crush Bar. We will be joined by Dark Matter Cult mainstay Serpentina Charming and her snake Anata, as well as many more of Portland's most beautiful and talented burlesque performers including Velvet Booth and Rummy Rose If you're into distinctive, magickal, glamorous, sensual Portland burlesque, you'll not want to sleep on the Valentine's Day Massacre!
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