Twenty-five years is a long time to spend naked on a stage. It’s also a sufficient amount of time to reflect on what it means and, more precisely, how it feels to perform naked in front of a crowd. My Life in the Nude is a wonderful celebration of Maude Davey’s ‘nude works’ and, to some degree, it’s a lamentation – though triumphant – on what it is to age as a woman, especially when your body is your livelihood.
I’ve been privy to Davey’s burlesque acts a number of times in Finucane & Smith’s The Burlesque Hour and, quite frankly, I would have left the show grinning from ear to ear if this was all the show comprised of. Nonetheless, what makes this show so powerful is Davey’s acute introspection on the naked form and our collective ideals around appearance.
Perhaps her introspection derives from the fact that, despite making a career out of it, Davey feels insecure about her naked body on stage, especially now that she’s turned 50. As a woman in her 40s, I certainly understand the scrutiny and grief that accompanies one’s declining physicality – and that’s without people seeing me naked.
Having said that, Davey wears her nakedness like a favourite garment, confident like a peacock with just the right amount of ‘fuck you I’ll do what I want to’ for good measure. So it’s this that makes me believe Davey when she’s says that for her burlesque is about: “I am beautiful and I am worthy of your regard.”
Eloquent monologues aside, Davey’s acts speak for themselves. While I admit to my fair share of scrutinising, burlesque would provide only shallow engagement if it was simply based on aesthetics. Thankfully Davey uses the naked form to entertain, mock, question and subvert ideology.
A perfect example, and one of my favourites, is Davey’s act where she parades around in a gorilla suit to Christina Aguilera’s “I am Beautiful”. As Davey removes the gorilla suit, what we don’t expect is for her to continue mimicking the mannerisms of a gorilla. While the absurdity of the act alone is hilarious, furthermore it’s a poignant statement that, even while the exterior changes, the inside remains the same.
I for one sure hope to see Maude Davey nude for a very long time to come, but you should definitely check out this show just in case she does decide to keep her clothes on. And don’t be surprised if, like me, you find yourself naked in the shower belting out “I am Beautiful” after seeing this gorgeous, gorgeous show.