What NOW | Spotlight: En Pointe with Feminist Burlesque Star
Spotlight: En Pointe with Feminist Burlesque Star | Martha Ivana Syryca
Martha Ivana Syryca is writing a series of spotlights on NYC feminists. The first is on feminist burlesque star Peekaboo Pointe.
The slow croon of a saxophone blares as Artie Shaw’s “Nightmare” begins, and slowly stepping from the staircase at the back of the supper club, Peekaboo Pointe appears in a dress sewn with strings of jewels. With movements deliberate yet fluid, she dances with a finesse that stirs the audience from silent reverie to resounding applause. Against a backdrop of blue light and haunting jazz, her commanding gaze and lithe physical progression to near-nudity create an intricate coalescence of sex and art.
A professionally trained dancer, burlesque artist, choreographer, producer, teacher, and most recently, entrepreneur, Peekaboo Pointe is a platinum-haired powerhouse of raw talent, a female performing artist who has flourished in New York City for nearly two decades. In the backstage dressing room of Lower East Side’s Duane Park supper club, a venue adorned with luxurious tapestries and an enormous vintage chandelier, Peekaboo speaks to me as a free-spirited maven with a soft tone and a wide-eyed smile.
“I’ve always wanted to be on stage. I’ve always felt more comfortable on stage than I do in regular life,” she says. “As an introvert, that’s my best way of communicating.”
A professional burlesque artist for almost 14 years, and an instructor at the New York School of Burlesque for over 10 years, Peekaboo began her artistic career as a classically trained modern dancer. Hailing from the Washington D.C. area, she earned a B.F.A. in choreography from George Mason University and studied modern dance with Bill T. Jones, an instrumental influence in her creative development, as well as Afro-Cuban dance in Cuba with the group Cutumba.
Initially, Peekaboo hadn’t anticipated performing burlesque more than once. Aside from its alliteration, her stage name, Peekaboo Pointe, was derived from the pointe work ballet shoes she utilized as a gimmick in her first performance.
Since her preliminary foray into burlesque, she has found herself finding inspiration for a variety of acts and characters. Her dance portfolio ranges from seductive jazz and classic pop numbers (Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Like You”) to a comedically absurd ‘lazy stripper’ to choreographically avant-garde instrumental pieces, including a poignant ode to Chopin. The imagery in her costumes and choreography is drawn from a fascination with the subtleties of daily life — sights, sounds, conversations — and when struggling to find the motivation to create, she simply practices patience.
“Every act has a voice. I might have a costume made, but it won’t tell me who she is for… years. And then one day she’s like, ‘Oh, here I am.’ We’re all working in our subconscious, so [art is] about tuning into your subconscious and making sure you’re talking to it.”
While reiterating the value of listening to one’s inner voice, Peekaboo ultimately considers her art a communal experience, a conversation playing upon her physical movement and the audience’s reaction.
Facing the debate of whether burlesque, a theatrical striptease with origins in circus variety, is a feminist art form, Peekaboo maintains her position as an unabashed advocate for gender equality.
“Just being a naked woman is a revolution in itself. Women enjoying themselves can be really scary [to some people],” she acknowledges.
By performing, Peekaboo aspires to provide her audience, the majority of whom are female, a vicarious experience of sexual acceptance and subsequent empowerment. The comfort and confidence she expresses on stage is something she strives to unleash in other women. Through her performance, she hopes to deter her audience, even if temporarily, from their preoccupations with age, physique, and other undermining fixations ingrained by the pressures of patriarchy.
“I want women to feel that they can enjoy watching me and let part of themselves go,” she explains.
Self-empowering sexual expression appears particularly pertinent with the latest political climate in this country, as even Peekaboo admits that she has become more sensitive to acts exemplifying sexual inequality. She recalls post-show moments wherein congratulatory peers and audience members assumed her male cohorts were responsible for her self-produced theatrical shows.
She finds an answer to adversity in remaining assertive and transforming fear into action. She feels confident that female artists will have louder voices in politics now that the progression towards gender equality has been so blatantly threatened.
“We have something so tangible to fight. That’s how I feel about it: ‘Thanks for giving me my motivation.’”
Regarding her latest endeavors, Peekaboo is one of the founding members of Brooklyn’s recently launched Central Arts, an artist incubator fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas. Returning to her riot grrrl roots, she considers the multi-use venue an inclusive, DIY home for new artists to explore their creativity — “a canvas,” in her words. The venue is equipped with multiple artist studios, spaces for performance and rehearsal, as well as a professional music recording studio.
She welcomes artists into her community who hope to cultivate new ideas and creations. Her additional ongoing projects include an upcoming musical collaboration with her partner, as well as the development of a full-length theatrical variety show.
With her unfaltering dedication to sexual empowerment and to the cultivation of new art, Peekaboo Pointe provides an inspiring and encouraging model for female performing artists in New York City. With a free-spirited yet determined demeanor, she ultimately signals a rallying cry for self-empowerment and continued visibility in the political sphere as she proclaims, “You know what? I enjoy my body, I am a sexual creature, I am smart, and I can take care of myself. Watch me.”
Martha Ivana is a theatre arts professional, born and raised as one of New York’s own. She finds fascination in eclectic art installations, unconventional communities, and the complexities of public health.
February 23, 2017