Written by Kathryn Hightower
|Performer Vagina Jenkins in Sepia Showcase|
Photo by Zorn B. Taylor
On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2013, the Central District’s historic Washington Hall was filled with a diverse, vibrant crowd. The audience bubbled over with Friday night ebullience under the blazing lights that dotted the proscenium arch. Before host Amber Flame could properly introduce the show, she was interrupted: producer Ginger Snapz entered, stripped Flame down to her underwear, put her wrists into a harness, and covered her in Redi-Whip. Thus began the second annual Sepia Showcase: A Cabaret of Color.
Burlesque has become pervasive in the arts world, and it begs several questions: Is it demeaning to women? Does it reinforce gender stereotypes? Does it lower the standards for dance? Sepia Showcase provided a resounding “no” to these questions. The removal of clothing was illicit, explicit, creative, and funny. Shades of brown and beige on unapologetic curves illustrated the possibilities of the human body. Though the dancing was often subtle, the message was not: a brown woman’s body is beautiful, especially when she takes ownership over its display.
Neon Beige opened the show with her ingenious take on a hip hop/pop duet, dressed as half man/half woman. With a fluorescent wig and golden heels on one side, a beard and sneakers on the other, Beige brilliantly embodied each character, and sometimes both at the same time, with unmatched effortlessness. Her performance was authentic, understated, and poignant.
As the evening’s Guest Artist, Vagina Jenkins performed an elaborate number with sumptuous costume pieces in orchid purple and ivy green. Beginning in an evening gown, her eyes smoldered with the promise of reveal. Her chest and hip isolations were precise, almost reminiscent of belly dance. When she spun in a flowing robe, the satiny fabric cascaded from her arms like wings, revealing glimpses of her tan skin.
Cinnamon Maxine’s first act was unique in that she put clothes on, rather than taking them off. Her floor work was both deft and fresh. Tiger Bombshell aimed to prove that Korean pop music is more than all the stereotypes make it out to be. She removed complicated layers of black leather, perfectly in sync with the beat. Brick House’s acting was believable and enjoyable as she used a liquor bottle to symbolize a toxic relationship. At one point, she unexpectedly and gracefully laid herself out on a cheetah-striped trunk. Later, she re-emerged with Chocolate Saucy as the duet Cinnamon Swirl. Their cute act was most successful when Brick House tossed her flab back and forth then attempted pushups and situps to correct the problem. To the tune of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On,” Chocolate Saucy reminded her that she’s beautiful with or without the flab.
|Regine St. Dynasty in Sepia Showcase|
Photo by Zorn B. Taylor
Amber Flame was intriguing as a man in a sparkly beard and tuxedo top. After removing much of her clothing, she put her shoes and jacket back on, her bouncing breasts not distracting from her believably masculine gestures. Regine Dynasty, founder of the Nubian Pride Festival, was a feast for the eyes in sparkles, flowers, and feathers. Her sheer height was a sight to behold, and her rhythmic dancing in three-inch heels proved her an adept performer. Alexa Manila’s polished Whitney Houston lip-sync provided a well-timed break from the dance acts.
Seattle has Dr. Ginger Snapz to thank for this diverse night. And yes, she really is a doctor! She holds a PhD and teaches courses at UW Bothell about burlesque and feminism. Her knowledge is in large part why the evening succeeded in honoring black and brown women’s bodies so well. Snapz’s two pieces highlighted her own versatility as an artist. The first, set to Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughta Know” grew quieter as the music grew angrier. Though she never moved her mouth, Snapz’s facial expressions and well-controlled movements seemed to speak the lyrics. Her second act was inspired by legendary burlesque artist Rose Hardaway. An elaborate red costume, complete with bouncy, ruffled train and rose-studded bra top, was elegant and sexy, as were her smoky eyes and secretive smiles. Her understated spins and gestures created a sense of anticipation.
Dr. Ginger Snapz and her entire production embodied promise: the desire to see a little more flesh, the ambition of burlesque to keep progressing, and the hope that black and brown women of all shapes, sizes, and sexualities will be honored for their beauty and creativity. Sepia Showcase told Seattle that the promise will be fulfilled.