What: Wheel Sexy Cabaret
Where: Bryant Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St.
When: 10 p.m., Thursday and Friday
Price: $10 pre-order, $13 at the door
Despite the fact that no one can define exactly what a “hipster” is, the trendy human genre seems to define Minneapolis at the moment. You can see people garbed in generally identifiable hipster apparel conducting all types of generally identifiable “hipster” activities throughout the city. Indeed, the movement is so prominent now that it has been deemed worthy of the greatest honor awarded in America: corporate exploitation and objectification.
Target commercials for skinny jeans and Faux-Ban glasses aside, local businesses have begun to cash in on the new trends, sometimes in classically devious ways. Thus the prevalence of “Hipster Hooters” such as the Birchwood Café, where every server has bangs, a faux-hawk, tattoos and pants that show off their biker calves. Oh yeah, and they’re all women in their mid-20s.
Upon viewing the flyer for the Wheel Sexy Cabaret at the Bryant Lake Bowl, I felt as though the hipness movement had finally succumbed to society at large. The act promised a burlesque, comedy and theater review featuring hordes of bicycle babes stripping down to panties and tassled pasties for the viewer’s entertainment. Was a formerly intellectual, underground movement offering its once empowered women up to the masses for cold, calculating consumption?
“We initially had the idea of combining burlesque and the bicycle community about six months ago,” co-organizer Retro Spectacle (identity hidden for day-job’s sake) told A&E during an interview. “And we knew that it had to be a true community event.”
“At first we just posted a flyer, asking people to come in and help us define ‘burlesque’ and ‘cycling,’” she continued.
Only in Minneapolis, could the word “cycling” be too politically charged, so they shifted to focus on the “bicycling” community.
Definitions rolled in, followed by ideas and finally volunteers —tons of volunteers.
“We had professional burlesque dancers, bike shop workers, theater people and playwrights ask to join in, and we made room for everyone we could,” Spectacle’s co-organizer Au NaturElle said. “Even the auditions were very supportive and community-based. We didn’t even call them auditions; that’s a scary word.”
As early as December, the Bryant Lake Bowl called the organizers asking if they could perform within the month. Spectacle laughed, “to which I replied ‘Absolutely not!’”
“At first we were planning on performing it randomly somewhere, in Hard Times [Café] in the corner or at the Minnehaha Free Space,” she added.
“Yeah, maybe just start stripping right on the Greenway!” quipped NaturElle.
After a few more months of rehearsing, they scheduled the show for early March, which is the end of the winter cycling season. The spectacle that resulted was as mindboggling as this year’s seasons.
With the experimental jazz duo Smoking w/ Baby laying bass and drum set grooves (accompanied by a bike-frame xylophone) in the background, a slew of performers took the stage and took off their jerseys. Acts explored the connection between people and their bikes as they blurred the lines between machine and human.
The simple action of fixing a flat tire became erotic when the performer eschewed tools for fingers and brought her weight to bear on the barely giving bike tube. Bikes were puppeteered to become objects of a distant love or reduced to pieces and used to hide very particular body parts.
The performers did their best to tease and appease, a balance that has long stood at the heart of burlesque. However, the final strip was never given freely — the audience had to wait for the performer’s bidding and take what they were given. Indeed, the self-referential air of control that the performers exuded kept the balance of power squarely on stage. There was no objectification here because the performers were agents and not objects — they controlled the field.
After the first few acts I was worried that the premise would soon become stale, but the Cabaret kept things moving at an impressive rate of change. Yogi acrobats, original poetry, juggling, clown shows — a veritable variety show and a variety show with pasties at that!
In the end, the whole audience was loath to leave, smiling as deeply as they were. The men and women of Wheel Sexy had managed to make a community in a single night and drew the cramped Bryant Lake Bowl audience into their incredibly personal world.
The crowd that evening — the Mar. 1 performance — might have had just as many bangs, faux-hawks and tattoos as an Urban Outfitters catalogue. But they were not there to oogle or be oogeld: They were there to participate.
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