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The best and worst of Toronto’s Bestival

What is better than listening to music in a kitty costume and feeling completely accepted by everyone around you? Bestival, an annual festival in the United Kingdom, made its way over to Canada to fill people’s minds with great music and an opportunity to dress in style.

Upon entering the festival, I anticipated a fun and loud experience and was not disappointed. The venue was quite extensive —Cosmic Café was the first stage I could see (and it happened to be a moving stage) before seeing the massive main stage. There was an indoor tent that had a heavy dance crowd within. The heard of the electronic soul of Bestival  was of course Bollywood Stage.

There were food trucks spread out in the festival, but limited arts & crafts vendors on site. A knitting café was tucked way into the corner, which allowed people to sit on comfortable coaches covered in a knit canvas. There were several washrooms for guests, which is often an issue in festivals. That being said, the porta potties were gendered with female and male symbols and this struck me as odd.

The gendered porta potty. By Kaeleigh Phillips.
The gendered porta potty. By Kaeleigh Phillips.

I had been excited for Bestival because there were a number of LGBTQ-friendly events listed for Pride Month, including a drag queen costume party and same-sex “fake “ weddings on site. Instead, I was surprised to see gendered outdoor bathrooms and not one pride flag on site. When I checked the inflatable chapel to see if any weddings had occurred, the staff indicated that every “fake” wedding were heterosexual. Though this is no fault of the festival organizers, it was disappointing to see an apparent lack of support around Pride month.

The music itself was spectacular, with Grimes on Sunday night busting her butt on stage even though she reported she was sick. The entire crowd danced through her set. The Cure played a great set, nailing every song and attracting a surprisingly mixed crowd considering the age of the band. They had a two-and-a-half-hour set and ended slightly early, but were otherwise a great performance to watch. The Bollywood Stage was full the entire weekend and left its dancing fans exhausted when the festival concluded.

Overall, Bestival is a stellar new festival for Toronto and Woodbine Park is a spacious venue for the event. With more focus on inclusivity, including genderless washrooms, the party shall continue stronger than ever next year.

What was your favourite part of Bestival? Share in the comments below.

“League of Exotique Dancers” is a sexy film for bold women

“Power is sexy, confidence is sexy. When you have the years behind you, you’ve been hated, you’ve been loved, you’ve loved, you’ve lost, I think all that comes up to a summation of power. I think at a certain age, women really don’t give a shit and that’s sexy,” said Rama Rau, director of the Hot Doc film League of Exotique Dancers.

League of Exotique Dancers is an inspiring film that teaches women to take their lives and sexuality into their own hands. The documentary is being debuted at Hot Doc’s this year by Rau, who felt inspired to make a film about the dancers after seeing them perform at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, an annual festival celebrating legends of burlesque from the 1960-70s.

The film tells the personal stories of several burlesque dancers from that era and hopes to show how older women can still be sexy and confident performers. Rau demonstrates that each of these women has invaluable information to pass on to the next generation of women.

The two burlesque strippers featured in the film are 68-year-old Judith Stein and 69-year-old Camille 2000. Both have over 20 years of experience in the industry and continue to take part in burlesque performances across Canada and the United States to this day.

Judith Stein. Photo provided by League of Exotique Dancers.
Judith Stein. Photo provided by League of Exotique Dancers.

Stein, popularly named “The Grand Beaver of Canadian Burlesque”, is a classy woman. She was wearing a flowered scarf and had a open smile, as if she was always on the verge of laughing. Stein began dancing in the 1970’s after leaving her hometown in Woodbridge, Ont. to attend the University of Oregon. “I danced mostly in the states for six to seven years and I had a green card. I’m politically active and I got fed up with the Americans and burnt my green card,” said Stein. “I ended up in Vancouver as my home base, [but] I worked all over Canada. Mostly in B.C and in Whitehorse.” Stein also recalls receiving gold nuggets when working in Northern Canada and Alaska early on in her career.

Camille 2000,. Photo provided by League of Exotique Dancers.
Camille 2000,. Photo provided by League of Exotique Dancers.

Camille 2000 was a dancer in the southern United States and began her career in a carnival. When she was young, her successes at the tent show led her to Miami, Florida. “They wanted me to become a headliner because I was young and beautiful and tall,” said Camille 2000.  “I went down to the Gayety Theatre owned by Leroy Griffith, in Miami Florida. It was also the last theatre I ever worked in. I did a complete circuit around the States.”

In the early 1960-70’s, there were limited jobs for women and the documentary portrays burlesque as an attractive option for women looking for independence and an opportunity to travel. Stein became a dancer for the freedom, not wanting to “trade her soul and pussy for a wedding ring”. The trade was also quite lucrative. Camille 2000 noted that she became involved because “the money was good”.

The industry was not always enjoyable and could be competitive because of the money involved. Both strippers said that women would beat each other up, put cut-up glass in make-up, pee on costumes to ruin each other’s shows in an attempt to make more money. You had to be tough to survive in the business. “It was competitive but they also taught you everything. Older strippers would say “try this hunny or try on that”. There was always the odd one who is insecure, and wasn’t sure of themselves, but most weren’t like that,” said Stein.

The documentary followed the downfall of burlesque with the emergence of pole dancing and live nude performances. “I think burlesque dancers tell a story. They had 20 minute acts. They had these elaborate costumes and yes, they would peel, but I think today’s strippers go right to it,” said Rau.

“It was hard in a theatre to follow porn acts,” Camille 2000 said. “When I first started we had to wear G-strings and pantyhose, towards the end of my career you had to start taking everything off because you had pole dancing. Live nude dancing and pole dancing ruined burlesque.”

League of Exotique Dancers reflects on the strength, humour, and kindness of these burlesque legends and the fall of the industry they loved so much. The film is absolutely worth seeing.

 

League of Exotique Dancers premiered on Thursday, April 28th at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema at 9:45 p.m. and will be playing again on Friday, April 29 at 1:30 p.m at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. It will be screening after May 20.

“The clock so patiently waits on your song” – An ode to David Bowie

When I wrote the review of Blackstar last week and asked whether this was David Bowie’s ode to himself, an ode to his inevitable death, I did not expect such a literal response. Bowie passed away early on the morning of Jan. 10, merely two days after the release of his Blackstar album. I was devastated and couldn’t help but think that we’ve lost one of the greatest musicians of our time.

David Bowie was a musician, an artist, a film star, a performer, and a mime. He was an iconoclast and lastly, a self-proclaimed blackstar. The lyrics to the title song of his final album give his audience a final answer to his self-proclaimed public identity.

“I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar)
Just go with me (I’m not a filmstar)
I’m-a take you home (I’m a blackstar)
Take your passport and shoes (I’m not a popstar)
And your sedatives, boo (I’m a blackstar)
You’re a flash in the pan (I’m not a marvel star)
I’m the Great I Am (I’m a blackstar)”

The beloved spaceman left fans an epic goodbye in Blackstar, as we all should have expected. In a way, a concept album to help fans understand his death is so very “Bowie”, defining his entire ideology as a performer and as an iconic influence of pop culture.

In 1995, Bowie’s notes on his album Outside said, “We don’t expect our audience to necessarily seek an explanation from ourselves. We assign that role to the listener and to culture. As both of these are in a state of permanent change there will be a constant “drift” in interpretation. All art is unstable. Its meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings”.

Bowie defined a cultural movement that allowed the fusion of art, performance, and music into a pop culture. Instead of creating a single public identity, he let the audience ascertain the meaning of his various works. His 27 studio album career began in 1967 with David Bowie and ended with  Blackstar in 2016.  Bowie was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

Bowie3-above arguably though

Arguably though, Bowie’s character was not completely absent from his role asThomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth or Ziggy Stardust, his spacey alter-ego. Instead, Bowie’s success is that he managed to maintain a sense of absolute humanity and personality in his work while cultivating an air of mystery as to which direction he would take next as a performance artist and musician.

But, what makes a timeless icon? Perhaps it was Bowie’s ability to keep fans guessing while using his power as a pop culture icon to spread messages of love and acceptance. V&A researcher Dr. Kathryn Johnson, author of “David Bowie Is”, says, “this creative tension between power and empowerment is central to Bowie’s lasting cultural impact and enduring popularity”.

Bowie was a master of allusion. He created subtle references to reflect important issues — such as the blurring boundaries of gender and authenticity in creativity — thus enhancing his power as a relevant artist and musician. Bowie’s various works over the past four decades also highlighted and challenged “normal” ideologies.  In the essay “Out of this World: Ziggy Stardust and the Spatial Interplay of Lyrics, Vocals and Performance” by Barish Ali and Heidi Wallace, they make references to the power of allusion. “Allusions…lead the curious almost anywhere and thus expose the curious to culture that they might not otherwise have stumbled upon. These paths can amount to novel cultural genealogies, revealing connections where none were previously perceived.”

bowie-when david bowie played

For example, when Bowie played Ziggy Stardust, his alter-ego space alien messenger, he began to explore the idea of the “other” — either as a space alien or a person who dressed and acted uniquely. His androgynous costume style choices and performance techniques gave way for marginalized groups such as transgendered individuals to find empowerment in Bowie as a fearless cultural icon.

Bowie did not want his fans to get comfortable though. He abandoned his role as Ziggy Stardust suddenly and without notice on July 3, 1973.  In 1980, Bowie came out with Scary Monsters, which moved from the physical exploration of space aliens to the exploration of the trans-human experience. He dressed in stylized androgynous outfits and helped to create an important discussion surrounding the feminine and masculine. In 1983, Bowie shocked fans again with his release of Let’s Dance, where he embraced a more masculinized role, solidifying the idea that Bowie desired to exist as an impermanent cultural phenomenon rather than one defining impression.

images-Bowie's final album

Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, follows similar themes. It brings in the chaotic jazz influences last seen in his Scary Monsters album and pushes boundaries through the performative exploration of death. The final song of the album, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” defines the idea that Bowie was dedicated to giving his fans everything he could, but in the end the meaning was the audience’s to discover.

“When we hear Bowie’s voice, we do not hear the authoritative “Bowie” message or project. We hear the dramatisation of performative identity and culture in the making; we hear the fluctuation. And ultimately, we hear ourselves—our own responses to the indefinable,” says Ali and Wallace.

Blackstar is ultimately about death; yet, potentially, it is about the eternal life of Bowie’s work as well. He left his fans with a final goodbye, and one that can be cherished for years to come.  As Bowie prophetically stated in his role as Thomas Jerome Newton , “Well I know I’m not a scientist. But I know all things begin and end in eternity”.

See you in eternity Starman.