Burlesque began as a type of comedic musical performance that poked fun at highbrow theatre in the 17th century. It became popular in Victorian England, and soon spread to the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike the European style, American Burlesque is more focused on female nudity. That – and burlesque’s association with alcohol when it stormed the US – explains its seedy reputation.
Not any longer. When the art form made a recent comeback as ‘neo-burlesque’, performances centred on nostalgic showgirl glamour. ‘Burlesque is not sleazy, and it’s not just someone prancing around on stage. There’s a real art behind it,’ Sukki insists.
In fact, a 5min act can take up to two years to wrought. That may sound excessive, but then again Sukki is a one-woman machine. She does everything from designing and hand-sewing all her gorgeous costumes to coming up with the full choreography and deciding how to light the show. Pretty astounding for someone who read geography at university and who used to work as a computer programmer.
Burlesque also requires a Sisyphian amount of physical stamina. Sukki hits the gym five days a week while trying her best to maintain a balanced diet – but she’s quick to point out that burlesque is not only for petite girls. ‘Anyone can do it,’ she shrugs. ‘It’s all about body confidence and loving the skin that you’re in. When you’re confident, you exude sexiness.’
Which might account for Sukki’s audience: it’s 80 percent female, not the leer-and-sneer frat boy affair you’d expect. ‘Burlesque is more sensual than outrageously sexy,’ she clarifies. ‘Striptease does play an important role, but it’s more about the tease than the strip.’
In the four years practising the craft, Sukki is already seeing her hard work bear fruit. She’s headlined shows around the world. She’s founded The Singapore Burlesque Society, attracting a flock of 600, including several guys who’re interested in ‘boy-lesque’. Hell, she was even invited to Buckingham Palace two years ago for her contributions to the global burlesque scene.
‘That was surreal!’ Sukki smiles, her eyes widening. ‘I was told that in the 312 years that Buckingham Palace has existed, I was the only burlesque artist to be invited for tea. It really helped put Singapore on the map.’
All that swayed her once-averse relatives – they thought it was a shameful profession – to her side. They’ve even started collecting magazine and newspaper clippings that feature her. But that pales in significance to Sukki’s biggest coup: convincing the Singapore government to legalise her art.
In January, with the ban only just lifted, Sukki made history by performing at an event at Clifford Pier. This debut of the dance on our shores was long in the making, she reveals, and involved a touch of subterfuge. That Singapore Burlesque Society? It ran burlesque workshops, disguised as yoga classes.
And now, she’s about to participate in the island’s largest fiesta – the Grand Prix. Sukki is strutting her stuff at the post-race party Boudoir Noire [see sidebar], co-organised by New York’s (in)famous ‘theatre of varieties’, The Box. She’ll be performing two of her favourite acts, including ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’, which features a huge sparkly ring with lights and a champagne bath.
‘I think that burlesque is going to explode after Boudoir
Noire. It might even be the next big thing to take over the fitness scene, like pole dancing did four years ago,’ she muses, and then giggles. ‘It’s called “burlexercise”. Really! Go google it!’