Though there is no explicit nudity in the following images past anything you’d see at a public beach, a conservative NSFW warning for the following content
A hush crawled through the crowd as a familiar “hurm” growled from the speakers and Moe Cheezmo stepped on stage, an ink-blotted white stocking stretched across his face. He broke from his Rorschach grumblings and into the steady baritone of a disc jockey to welcome everyone to “Who Strips the Strippers?” Excelsior Burlesque’s tribute to Alan Moore. “I assume everybody’s here because you love the work of Alan Moore…” he announced.
While geek culture isn’t usually seen as sexy, nerdlesque aims to change that. “There’s a pop culture image of nerds as asexual nebishes,” said Moe, the show’s co-producer. “I don’t know if everyone knows the same nerds that I do, but that’s just not the case.” If traditional burlesque is known to make unexpected things sexy, then nerdlesque borders on alchemical — sexualizing anything from Daleks or Cthulhu, to Tron and zombies. But Moore’s body of work, perhaps more than most, lends itself easily to humorous, sultry re-imaginings. His blend of anarchy and eroticism seems made for burlesque’s subversive bent. The resulting show was a case study in how deeply nerdlesque performers understand, even love, their characters.
The characters embodied on the stage ranged from the hyper-sexualized to the anything-but. From the pages of Tomorrow Stories, Cobweb and her sister/lover/sidekick Clarice, were brought to life by a pair of burlesque newcomers, Helena Backseat and Roxanne St. John. Capturing the comic’s old-fashioned tone, their act smacked of classic show tunes. Just with less jazz hands and more nipple tassels. The only male performer, Brettzo, donned the mask that rallied a generation of protest in his portrayal of V (aptly set to Madonna’s “Vogue”). With a shrug of the shoulders, the famously mischievous smirk turned coquettish. Sharing Alan Moore’s distaste for Alan Moore movies, the dancer had walked out when he saw V for Vendetta in theaters back in 2005, but hoped to touch on a theme the movie missed: anarchy. “Vogue is about the idols of a foregone era, which V, in the book, epitomizes,” Brettzo said after the show, still in his cape. “But also throwing away idols and rulers.”
Co-producer Ruby Solitaire performed as Alice from Lost Girls — or a very, very adult Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — set to “Que Sera Sera.” Its opening line, “When I was just a little girl…” was made all the more haunting when taken in the context of the sexual horror show that is Lost Girls, Moore’s collection of childhood fiction translated into literary pornography depicting rape and incest. But, for Ruby, the story is less about the trauma than enduring it and overcoming. “I guess I have a subversive reading of it,” she said. “I find the choices that the girls make to be sort of empowering. It’s more of a story of how they survive these bad things, which is the way a lot of people read comics, as survival stories.” Channeling Wonderland through rainbow skirts and neon stockings, she topped it all off with looking-glass pasties.
The more difficult characters to translate came in the form of the Invisible Man from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and that loveable mass of rotting vegetative mush, Swamp Thing. Anja Keister didn’t grow up reading super hero comics, but she found a gritty weirdness in Alan Moore that spoke to her. Moore’s “lecherous, dirty, horrible” Invisible Man, she said, was “an absolute asshole, so it makes sense that he’d get on stage, take off his clothes and gyrate his junk in front of the audience.” In spite of that, Anja’s routine conspicuously lacked skin – the lingerie was layered over a black body suit. When the black lights snapped on, Anja vanished and the audience erupted as floating fishnets and gloves continued to dance. Tassels twirled in empty space, to hoots from the glowing crowd.
Afterward, she admitted that her invisibility, though successful, wasn’t assured. “It was a gamble,” she said, “I knew my pasties and fishnets would glow, but the wrap I took a chance on.” A burlesque routine showing no skin seems like an oxymoron, but as Anja likes to say, burlesque can be weird sometimes. “Swamp Thing was a beautiful version of that tonight,” she added.
It is unlikely that anyone knew what to expect when Dottie Riot introduced her Swamp Thing act. She emerged in a full ghillie suit while Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Alligator Wine” kicked into gear — a song so swampy Alec Holland may as well be blowing the horn. “I’ve always thought of monsters as a great metaphor for puberty, going from something gross to something amazing,” she explained. “So Swamp Thing is perfect, I can turn into a pretty flower.” She shed the mossy mass for a leafy bikini, ending in red flower pasties.
A storm of screams and whistles as dense as Moore’s beard rumbled and the performers took their final bows. And perhaps, in spite of all his animosity toward the appropriation of his characters, the man himself would have liked the show too. Burlesque does, after all, pop up occasionally in his zine, Dodgem Logic, and he did just run a Kickstarter campaign for a film project featuring burlesque. But more than anything, nerdlesque is a pure expression of fandom. “We’re not here to make millions off of Alan Moore’s name,” Dottie Riot said. “We’re just a bunch of sexy, foxy fans.”