REVIEW / CABARET
FOREIGN BODIES (R18)
Skin In SIN, M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, Esplanade Recital Studio Thursday
Some equate burlesque to a skin show that fuels prurient fantasies and has viewers feverishly stuff two-dollar bills into the performers' underwear. Not so.
Appreciate with your eyes, but not your hands, is a ground rule set during the debut of Skin In SIN, a new burlesque troupe. One of the most interesting commissions of this year's M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, the troupe was set up to celebrate the diverse ethnicities and body types crowding Singapore.
Yes, burlesque is striptease. By the end of their individual sets, the 10 performers are down to spangled pasties on top and glittering thongs - or less - below.
But burlesque is also dance, social commentary and a way for men and women to free their bodies from the expectations of others. It is raunchy, high-spirited good fun, neatly introduced by the night's host, Madge of Honor, an American performer who mentored the troupe along with Singaporean artist Becca D'Bus.
Much like the themes fuelling classical Graeco-Roman sculpture, in burlesque, nudity allows appreciation of the human body's athleticism and grace.
Just as Rubens painted dimpled stomachs and fleshy legs with flamboyant affection, the dance sets in Foreign Bodies allow performers to confidently display what their bodies can do. With each hip swivel or come-hither pose, they dare the audience to judge them by mere airbrushed magazine standards.
Belly pooches jiggle with abandon, love handles are affectionately stroked. Cellulite is part of the beauty of thighs strutting strongly and proudly in glittering high heels.
So, about those fantasies?
A performer's celebration of his or her sexuality should induce a viewer to feel equally comfortable with his own. Simply stripping would not be enough to retain audience attention for more than an hour.
All individual sets draw on dance, humour and the art of the reveal. The performer going by the stage name Toralina Purrverse strips down to fish-scale stockings, but never once takes off her fish-head mask. Steven Manja starts by singing Schubert and then dances to Britney Spears - he is a purveyor of classic hits.
Top marks also go to the performer known as Kitty Padi, costumed as a shopaholic draped in Dior bags. She divests herself of bags and feathered boas until she is down to the bare essentials: paper packets from Old Chang Kee taped over her chest and nether regions.
Foreign Bodies makes several points about the politics of gender and identity. The line-up includes a deliberately demure Filipina (Michelle Piper), a sarong-wearing socialite (Datin Coconut Muffin) and an ambiguously gendered Hank Spank. Performer Aloysius D - named for the nephew of TV comic hero Phua Chu Kang - uses his set to protest against the Infocomm Media Development Authority's refusal to allow two other shows programmed for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival without cuts. He strips to the iconic National Day song Home until the music is drowned out by a voice reading the authority's rationale for denying ratings to performance lecture Naked Ladies and interactive piece Undressing Room.
The sets are, as Madge Of Honor says, sometimes sexy, sometimes sensual, sometimes sensitive. Long-limbed, graceful Aura Hahn performs a dance with two feather fans that requires all limbs to co- ordinate perfectly. Patch Dogwood does athletic press-ups and a jaw-dropping handstand. Then the two reappear to simply mirror each other's motions in a dance about coming to terms with one's identity.
The duet is set to Reflection, the theme song of the Disney movie Mulan and is about removing a mask, not taking off clothes.
Be comfortable in your skin, this new troupe tells the audience time and again. We can all be ourselves and let one another be.
•The last show of Foreign Bodies today is sold out.