Tassel Club producer Sara Colohan takes time away from the feathered boas, corsets and all things satin to talk to Catherine Maguire about the burlesque scene
Cabaret and burlesque clubs have always been seen as shadowy, sensual places for those only brave enough to tread. However, Dublin has a sexy little number it wants to share coyly with the world. The Tassel Club, Ireland’s leading burlesque and cabaret troupe, is well on the road to becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
Ireland is now being taken by the hand and thrown into the world of cabaret and burlesque. Even in the 21st century, as a nation, Ireland is still typecast as notoriously prudish whenever a topic may turn to anything risqué or sensual. The Tassel Club is thus a glittery and feathered beacon for Dublin. It is a house of variety, inclusion and genuine fun. Having attended a show earlier on this year, otwo had the chance to experience what this troupe is all about. And boy were we in for a treat!
The audience was as diverse as the show itself; men and women of every age were enthralled by the antics on stage. Whether it was a shy strip tease or a hilarious drag act, the Tassel Club’s Cirque du Cabaret was a night that would likely not be forgotten. “We incorporate burlesque, strip tease in with cabaret and circus performances and live music,” explains the show’s producer, Sara Colohan, to otwo. “Once you incorporate all of that, it automatically becomes a form of entertainment.” It makes the whole notion of going to a burlesque show less threatening or daunting.” As Colohan says herself, “burlesque or strip tease can be really entertaining, and lovely to watch for everyone, so long as it’s done correctly.”
Cabaret is entertainment with a twist, whether it’s a juggling ballerina or a thrilling and enthralling aerial display, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats with their jaws wide open in awe. Put another way, cabaret pays homage to what makes us different. “I want people to leave the show having seen one thing they’ve never seen before”, elaborates Colohan.
The finale of the aforementioned event was Empress Star, an androgynous, bald, performer who pushes the boundaries of this genre with great style and performing spirit. “It was sexy, it was interesting and it was skilled. It was such a mix and a rollercoaster. It was an unusual combination of senses that were stimulated by the performance, and that to me is what the Tassel Club is all about,” explains Colohan, who says she scouts out talent by looking for performers with unique attributes and fusing them with burlesque.
In an age where lap-dancing and stripping are prominent, as well as being often perceived as degrading to women, one can understand any initial concerns that the neo-burlesque scene may bring. “There are a lot of bad burlesque performers out there. There are a lot of people who are not really burlesque performers, who just dress it up, or dress it down, because they are jumping on a bandwagon. They do certain moves that really don’t belong in strip tease. It is meant to be quite coy and demure.” All the former does, she argues, is actually destroy the female image rather than celebrate it for what it is.
Colohan argues strongly for the perception of burlesque as an art form entirely separate and far removed from mere striptease. Burlesque honours the female body at its most natural, offering an alternative to the ‘Hugh Hefner’ stereotype – not everyone, she is at pains to remind otwo, is Pamela Anderson or Beyoncé. Nevertheless there is much more to this genre than just that – even stars such as Immodesty Blaze are celebrated and revered for being different and even embodying the essential spirit that is this unique genre.
There is an amusing comparison that can be drawn from all of this. Burlesque really took off (excuse the pun) when there was little money and when the economy was down. Maybe this is the circle of life, in the proverbial nipple tassel-twirling sense: that when the standard type of well-beaten entertainment becomes dull and mind-numbingly boring, people explore what is different, strange and oddly pleasurable. That is the epitome of cabaret and burlesque: it is three minute slices of variety.
If you don’t like one act there is always another one on the way. While there are other troupes out there notably La Clique and The Pony Girls, The Tassel Club stands out from the crowd. Colohan concludes, “what we try to do is incorporate the audience, having usherettes and rockettes, what some people see as extra. But for me it is a really important part of who we are and what we do.”
The Tassel Club makes the whole experience of burlesque less threatening; they make it all the more exhilarating and addictive. otwo has been officially seduced.
The Tassel Club will be returning to the Button Factory, Temple Bar, on 31st October.