A Jigglewatts Jubilee
Produced by Jigglewatts Burlesque Co.
29th St. Ballroom, Austin
February 24, 2012
I have been wanting to write this blog for a long time. I have been a fan of members of the Jigglewatts burlesque troupe since before they were Jigglewatts. They tour nationally now, and occasionally overseas, So tonight’s show (actually two performances--at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.) was somewhat of a rarefying opportunity to see them in Austin. So I reserved a VIP table and showed up at the venue with time to spare.
OK, stop You. I didn’t go to a strip show or to a “gentlemen’s club.” The Jigglewatts perform a new and rising form of alternative performance that I call New Burlesque. It borrows from your grandmother’s vaudeville burlesque, yes, but it also adds to that certain new forms such as rock music, an emphasis on costuming, acting, dance and social networking. The short intro is that in New Burlesque they never fall out of their pasties and G-strings, although there have been legendary accidents. More on New Burlesque later. You’ll have to dig up the legendary accidents for yourself.
Looking around the 29th St. Ballroom I saw an alternative crowd of hipsters, street people, artists, retired go-go- girls, industrial workers, a few Goths (getting old and gray now), the leather crowd, in short, the demimonde. Jigglewatts aficionados all. The acreage of tattooed flesh was so great that it truly became urban camouflage. This is not mine, OK, I’ve heard it before, but it is certainly true. These are the people who have unfettered imaginations and are ruled by their dreams, not the boss’s punch-clock. They pay for having minds and talents by working behind retail counters and in repair shops their entire lives. Management does not like or promote them, and they scrape together a living in one postindustrial slough or another. Altogether they form a vast underground tribe
The Jigglewatts speak eloquently to them in their performances, and tonight was no exception. Emcee Jade Esteban Estrada held the crowd from first to last dressed all in black with black platform sneakers with polished steel toe shields. His pink feather boa accented everything and signaled his preferences—about which he was vocal throughout in a series of hilarious standup routines between the dancers’ performances. He also wisely pushed the Jigglewatts’ marketing strategy of advertising their shows by way of social media.
The Jigglewatts, with their guest Ruby Lamb, were polished and spectacular. They truly turn up the erotic heat in their dances. They chew off their gloves and stockings with expertness and seeming ease. They and all New Burlesque troupes place great emphasis on costume. The Jigglewatts invariably began their solo dances in floor-length gowns covered in brocades, feathers and lace and, I kid you not, precisely matching spike heels. All the gowns have strategically placed snaps and Velcro for timed-release exposure. But the gowns also have one emergency costume ejection zipper. One zip and the whole gown falls to the floor! How do they do it? Now we are at the lingerie layer, and it just goes on and on.
The Jigglewatts reputation is growing, and they have high rankings in the burlesque world to show for it. Coco Lectric is ranked seventh in the world currently, and Ruby Joule follows her at No. 27. The ranking organization is based in Britain and has a great time compiling its statistics. Pearl Luxe is an accomplished tap dancer and has choreographed a lengthy performance number complete with sequined top hat, cane and “Puttn’ on the Ritz.” Jolie Ampere Goodnight and Ruby Joule each sing melodic torch songs in their numbers. Ruby wrote hers, Jolie perhaps so, I am not sure. They each have beautiful, clear voices. Ruby, in particular, sings every phrase in her song of attraction and rejection as a line in a story, and keeps the audience in the palm of her hand. Her style reminds me of David Bowie, the Thin White Duke, and his performance style of living every line of his songs through his dance and gestures.
Goldie Candela and Ruby Lamb have erotic bodies and expert timing of every wink and wiggle. Ruby Lamb has a fascination with skin art and a certain almost-vulpine look that makes one want to submit to her bite.
The New Burlesque and its adherents in the underground are part of a social trend in my belief, but one far less overtly political than the Occupy movement. The Jigglewatts and New Burlesque make a multitude of symbolic displays to the diverse elements of the tribe. The eroticism is the carrier wave of the symbolic tide and serves to provide some unity within the group. This world of symbolic display is greatly akin to Victor Turner’s concept and book title The Forest of Symbols. Semiotics, verbal communication and visual communication fill up our everyday perceptions and minds in a sometimes-literal rainforest of symbols. Deep, deep within that forest the tribe gathers. There, the Jigglewatts are the silhouetted figures dancing around a great bonfire. The fire can be nothing more or less than desire, and with the dancers’ every gesture and glance the flames vault higher. Sparks drift from the fire and light upon the tribe’s fever dreams, hallucinations and unfulfilled longings. This is the Jigglewatts’ blessing on the tribe, that everyone’s imagination is unsullied by the gritty world in which they find themselves, that there is more. Go forward.