Virago Nation redefines burlesque with Indigenous artistry

September 14, 2023

Bodies are sacred and can be honoured without shame.

Virago Nation aims to convey this fundamental idea when it graces the stage in Courtenay on Saturday, September 23. The performance is being presented by the Sid Williams Theatre Society as part of the Blue Circle Series.

The award-winning, all-Indigenous burlesque troupe is set to captivate with its empowering message of body positivity. Infused with artistry, culture, sass and a certain amount of glitter, the evening show promises to both dazzle and inform.

“Our collective of performers from varying Nations across Canada have come together to do theatre, burlesque, spoken word and story telling in the hopes of rematriating Indigenous sexuality,” says Monday Blues, performer and member of the Secwepemc Nation.

Rematriation is a women-led movement particularly associated with Indigenous communities and signifies the process of reconnecting with one’s ancestral roots and recognizing the role of women in those societies. Like many art forms, burlesque’s history is steeped in colonial and patriarchal idealisms of sexuality and performance. Virago Nation’s mission is to reveal a new narrative – one of power, creativity and liberation.

“As the premiere all-Indigenous burlesque group in the world, we like to focus our themes on Indigenous joy. However, we do explore other areas of Indigenous life, such as resilience, community connection, being powerful, being matriarchs and being stewards of the land. You’ll see all those aspects come through our performances.”

Since its inception in 2016, the seven-member group has committed to that theme of focussing on joy, a commitment that holds even greater relevance these days.

“The past few years have been pretty challenging for many of our home communities. There has been a lot of grieving – with having lost people through the pandemic and the discovery of 215 [mass grave at a former residential school in Kamloops].”

Blues says that performing for others in communities offers a collective catharsis for the artists and audiences alike.

“There’s something that’s quite magic about it, honestly. It’s something we do for ourselves, because with this artform we’ve seen how healing and therapeutic it can be. But when we perform, that healing energy goes out and then comes back to us again. We all really appreciate being part of that kind of a cyclical, symbiotic relationship.”

In their ongoing effort to nurture this bond, the group frequently holds burlesque workshops along with their shows, especially in more remote communities.

“The support and reaction we get is always great,” says Blues. “And in the last few years, we’ve seen a real increase in the number of Indigenous burlesque performers and groups. We’d like to think we’ve had an influence.”

While a workshop is not being held this time, Blues says the show in Courtenay will deliver a powerful and entertaining experience for the audience.

“We’re really looking forward to being on the Island and sharing our stories and dances. We’ve been working hard to get the roster set and finetune our acts. It’ll be a very dynamic show that that brings all the sparkles and the glam.”

This event contains nudity and mature content; the recommended audience age is 19+.