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Faena Follies

Arts, Live, Miami

Faena Theater spotlights a cast of powerhouse female performers who are redefining the art of burlesque for the modern era.


Article originally published in Faena Journal Issue #47 • Spring 2022

“Burlesque is a varied artform that fuses dance, striptease and self-expression where the promise of nudity is more powerful than the nudity itself,” says Elena Lee, a star performer in Tryst, a risqué revue presented by Alan Faena in collaboration with the performance art collective Quixotic. 

The term burlesque has enjoyed a long and sweeping lifespan since it was first used in the 16th century by the Italian poet Francesco Berni, whose work had an element of “burla” or mockery. In the Victorian era the definition was broadened to include musical theater parody, and in the Roaring 20’s the genre gave rise to stars like Josephine Baker and later Mae West and Bettie Page. 

“The culture of burlesque consistently celebrates and empowers female sexuality and body positivity in all shapes, ages and expressions,” explains Ariana Savalas, Tryst’s magnetic master of ceremonies.

“Burlesque performers, like fine wines, only get better with age, and their beauty continues to be hailed as they mature as artists.”

“Burlesque has always been a way for me to embrace my sexuality, using my body as a moving work of art,” adds Milena Straczynski, who draws on her classical ballet and contemporary modern dance training to perform an impossibly sensual aerial duet with her husband and riveting acts with Savalas. “To me, burlesque is more than just the art of the striptease and the glamour of glittering Swarovski costumes. Peeling off layers of 
my clothing offers a sense of freedom—like peeling back layers of the self to reveal a beautiful, confident being underneath.”

According to Savalas great burlesque must tell a story. The strip and the seduction are always secondary to the storytelling. “This is why I’ve always loved the Crazy Horse cabaret in Paris. Every performance number is basically a miniature play,” she says. “As a songwriter, I am always writing music imagining how best to tell the musical story visually.”

Those visuals typically include an extravagant wardrobe of sparkling gowns, corsets, feather boas, tassels, garters and very sexy lingerie. “Each costume establishes the identity of the act,” explains Lee. “I dedicate months and even years to each one of my burlesque ensembles.”

Not only do these women bring glitz, humor, depth and beauty to the stage, they deliver a caliber of entertainment that is paving the way for modern audiences to appreciate 21st century burlesque in all its glory. “I think viewers love to see something salacious in a glamorous, upscale environment,” comments Savalas. “The harmony between scandal and sophistication is what makes burlesque, and Tryst in particular, so special.”

"Burlesque is a varied artform that fuses dance, striptease and self-expression where the promise of nudity is more powerful than the nudity itself” - Elena Lee