Sasha Velour in Berlin: “We use our imagination to expand gender norms”

Sasha Velour, American Queen and winner of the ninth season “RuPaul’s Drag Race” presents a mix of dance, singing and political statements. She also takes a critical look at the commercialization of the former subculture.

First a bang sounded, then “Wake up, bitch!” through the hall and with thunderous applause, Sasha Velour entered the stage. At first glance, the world-famous drag queen, who once won the ninth season of the US show RuPaul’s Drag Race, could hardly be recognized. Disguised as a light blue armchair, she staggered on stage and began to dance. Only her face looked out between the cushions. But on the canvas behind it was a gigantic picture of her face, with red-painted lips and darkly made-up eyes.

Sasha Velour had already toured through Europe in 2022, and now she returned to the Berlin stage. On Tuesday evening, she presented “The Big Reveal Live Show” in the Tempodrom, based on her recently published book “The Big Reveal”. In it, Sasha Velour deals with the story of drag and the revolutionary potential of the art form.

Also at the show on Tuesday evening, she brilliantly interwoven elements of comedy, dance and lip-syncing with political statements. Once she danced in a tight silver sequin dress to well-known songs by Beyoncé, Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga. Then she moved her lips to a ballad and threw herself on the floor in a dramatic way.

As a child, she experimented with dresses and skirts

Sasha Velour was also about showing the political and social significance of drag. “I used to think you just had to be funny and make people laugh,” she explained. However, it is about reflecting gender relations, questioning them in principle and breaking them off in this way. “We use our imagination and imagination to expand gender norms.”

She still remembers her first moments in drag. “In my heart, I have always been a little queen,” she said and took the viewers on a journey into their childhood. An important inspiration was her grandmother, who already went to cabaret regularly in the 1960s.

Long before she knew the term “drag”, Sasha Velour experimented with skirts and dresses or wrapped a bed sheet around her body and pretended it was a noble robe. While she told this on Tuesday evening, some moving scenes from her childhood were on the screen. Once she received standing ovations from her family when she gave a particularly dramatic scene from Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

In the process, however, she also repeatedly reached her limits, and was laughed at by schoolmates or neighbouring children. Nevertheless, she held on to her dream. “I’ve always been Sasha Velour and it was the queer community as well as other drag artists who finally freed me.”

As a guest of honour, Sasha received the Berlin Queen Barbie Breakout that evening, who has been campaigning for queer rights for many years and hosted the first season of “Drag Race Germany.” In a sparkling evening dress and long gloves, this “pirate Jenny” from Bertolt Brecht’s three-penny opera performed. The special thing: She not only moved her lips, as is usual with drag but also sang herself.

Sasha Velour, is also a visual artist. Here she was working on the The New Yorker cover for June 12, 2023.

A critical look at the commercialization of drag

It would have been difficult to imagine a few years ago that drag queens perform in a large location such as the Tempodorom and also fill them. But television shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have contributed enormously to visibility and mainstream popularization. Sasha Velour also took a critical look at the commercialization of the originally subversive art form: “There are now RuPaul’s Drag Race in 16 countries and at the same time queer people all over the world are fighting for fundamental human rights. Individual appearances are a glimmer of hope, but institutional barriers remain.”

During the evening, Sasha Velour repeatedly inspired the audience with her knowledge of German, incorporated individual phrases or referred to celebrities such as Marlene Dietrich. Her mother used to work as a German teacher, so she also learned the language “In addition, I fell in love with far too many German men,” Sasha once revealed at Drag Race Germany when she had an appearance as a guest juror.

At the end of the show, Sasha Velour finally turned into a kind of golden angel, who first floated over the starry sky and then through the entire galaxy until he finally went up in flames.

When the audience stood up and applauded loudly, she beamed. Perhaps the moment reminded her a little of the standing ovations she had received as a child during her first drag appearance in the midsummer night’s dream.

Article by Inga Hofmann written primarily for Tagesspiegel.

Translated from German with AI.

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