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Strutting in heels: A burlesque drag’s journey

The drag scene in Manila is far from dragging. Identity theft is a crime common around the world, but not when it’s done in bars. Behind the comforts of great company and comedic ambiance, impersonation has become a staple among the midnight stages of the metro. Places like Obar and Wicked have become breeding grounds for drag queens adept at transmogrifying into Beyonce, Mariah Carey, or Lady Gaga.

But while many of them have perfected the art of lip-syncing pop songs, there are those who don’t quite fit the mold. Take the case of international performing artist, The Star Ore, whose craft has gone ‘extra-terrestrial’ by enmeshing elements of space, drag, circus, and neo-burlesque into his performances.

“It’s really quite contradictory, in a way. Kasi for drag, you put a lot of things, to create the illusion. While in burlesque, you strip away.” Interior designer by day, burlesque drag at night, the 22-year-old artist manages to navigate through the antithetical worlds of corporate and theatre art.




Drag roots

Star Ore credits drag culture as the foundational art form integral to the success he never could have imagined in the past. Dating his roots back to around 2012, Star found utmost value in being able to diversely identify himself. “I am an artist in general. I got really fascinated with the transformations. Drag after all is an art form that exaggerates gender bending. It’s bigger than life,” Star says.

Indoctrinated in the way of the stage and true to life transformation, drag culture has in part become second nature to artists like Star Ore who regard performing in a different persona and defying gender stereotypes as an avenue for true artists to flourish.

Drawing aesthetic influences from the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race has skyrocketed her into performing live at corporate events or even travelling island to island where such artistic expression is most sought. “Pag summer, every weekend nasa Calaguas Island ako nagpe-perform,” Star shares.


The emergence of neo-burlesque

Performance artists like Star Ore see no limits in expanding and exploring the possibilities of their craft. Aside from specializing in drag, he has also mastered flow art, which includes hula hooping and fire act. What currently sets him apart from others, however, is his latest pursuit—burlesque shows.

“I like to get naked,” shares Star. With burlesque, he has found an avenue to channel this interest. Burlesque, the art of teasing the audience as one removes piece per piece of his or her clothes, is not about having a good body, but “about showing confidence.”

Gone are the days of traditional burlesque shows staged in Manila’s former major theaters such as Clover Theater and Manila Grand Opera House. In the 1920s, burlesque shows were conventionally performed by ladies with Coca Cola bottle bodies wearing dazzling corsets and skintight fishnet stockings.

Enter neo-burlesque shows, where performers are no longer limited to specific gender and waistline measures. “It’s not really about body type,” Star explains. “In our group, we have different kinds of people. We have big girls, skinny girls, it’s just a magic lang talaga on how you present or perform.”

Star Ore is one of the pioneer members of Burlesque PH, a group of diverse individuals dedicated to theatre art and the art of tease. Their shows are combinations of both traditional and neo-burlesque styles—Asian burlesque, BDSM-themed shows, and even tributes to cult classics such as the Rocky Horror Blue Show. Last November 22, the group’s pop-up show at Finders Keepers bedazzled their audience with their burlesque rendition of Filipino folk dance Pandanggo sa Ilaw.

While this eccentric, alternative genre of performance art has been well-received by the underground community of enthusiasts, the idea of half-naked performers on stage remains quiet taboo for some. Star Ore, however, explains, “I guess what differentiates burlesque performance from [typical] strip tease is the tease level. It’s not malaswa. In burlesque, we don’t take off clothes for the money. Burlesque is an art.”




Before the curtains unfurl

Widely known is the reality that so much time and effort is placed in performing a particular piece in front of the audience, drawing confidence and charisma from the ecstatic crowd while on stage. Behind the curtains, however, just as much effort is exerted in groundwork to make sure that every scene is executed perfectly. A staggering 2-3 hours of preparation is normal for performers like Star Ore.

To maintain his ‘quintessentially eccentric, intergalactic” brand, Star explains, “Ako talaga, I block my eyebrows. Very important sakin yun. It’s either may kilay ako pero sobrang nipis or wala akong kilay pag nag-peperform. Kasi mas alienness siya tignan.”

But what makes the preparation even more so taxing that sets him uniquely apart from typical drag queens is his constant practice of flattening the male organ. While most drag queens directly put on panties, Star Ore holds himself to a high standard of complete transformation—even to the point of making it appear that his pelvic area was completely flat using a duct tape, akin to that of a woman.

Kailangan talaga walang hair.” When asked if it hurts, he replies, “Sanay na ako eh.

What comes after the pasties and thongs and four-foot lace front wigs are the layers of costumes that may sometimes tend to burn a hole in their pockets. Star, however, explains, “Sa costume madali naman eh. Sobrang inventive naman kami dito. Diskarte talaga.” One of his do-it-yourself costumes include his Elephant routine, a bikini with a wiggly elephant head attached.

“Actually, kahit sa make-up. It’s not what brand you use. It’s how you apply it to your face kasi sometimes, pwede mo gamitin yung lipstick for eyeshadow.”


For the aspiring burlesque drag queens

As of the moment, Star Ore admits that the reaps of pursuing this industry might not come very quick, which is why quitting his corporate job right away might not be a practical thing to do. Their managers play a crucial role in the financial stability of this type of career.

He says, however, that he eyes going full-time in performing in the future, eventually quitting his day job. Auditions and competitions, aside from attending to his clients requests, occupy his time. Though it’s not that easy to get into Asia’s Got Talent auditions, or receive the Asia’s Hula Hooper of the Year, Star advises young aspiring drag queens to keep on pushing.

“Stay true to to yourself. Keep on learning. Always stay out of the box. Sabi nga nila, it doesn’t matter who comes first, but who can last the longest.”

Cirilo Cariga

By Cirilo Cariga

Lance Villarosa

By Lance Villarosa

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