天博官网登录 天博官网登录 天博官网登录 天博官网登录 天博官网登录 天博官网登录
Hana Li in an Eliza Cassan burlesque design, dancing on stage at Dallas Burlesque Festival 2017 at House of Blues Dallas (Night 1, Friday, March 24, 2017). Photo: Allan Hayslip

Filed under:

Deus Ex’s Eliza Cassan became my burlesque muse

And she’s the only AI I’ll use to create a nerdlesque act

Like the name implies, nerdlesque — a portmanteau of “nerd” and “burlesque” — combines fandom with the art of striptease. I compare it to fanfiction because we are doing more than stripping out of a cosplay. A nerdlesque act tells a story, which could be, as in some fanfics, simply a character getting ready for sexy times. I enjoy reframing the main narrative or casting a character in a different light, like giving Naked Snake the same sexed-up treatment that many female characters in the Metal Gear Solid games received.

With burlesque being a predominantly female industry, many of us nerdlesquers have experienced being questioned on our fandom devotion and knowledge. Therefore, we tend to shy away from using an unfamiliar character’s costume as inspiration. No one likes being accused of being a “fake fan.” Nevertheless, I decided to take that gamble in creating my Eliza Cassan act.

I had already executed a fashion-first approach to nerdlesque with my solo debut. I used the trope of taking the glasses off to make over the geeky girl as a starting point and created an homage to comic book fangirls. This time, I would be portraying a character rather than a fantasy version of me, but if I could build a whole burlesque routine from the act of removing my glasses (and then revealing that I could not see), then I could definitely learn enough about a character to portray her accurately without having to play the video game.

Another hesitation came with creating an act to suit a very specific theme. So much time and money gets put into an act that reusability is important. Most people avoid obscure characters for this reason, in addition to the fact that producers of non-nerdlesque shows mostly book nerdy acts with a wide appeal. However, Tuesday Tease was a weekly queer variety show I co-produced and often performed in, so the themes were creative, thereby encouraging performers to experiment. One of my co-producers proposed “robo Renaissance,” and we agreed to put it on the calendar. My determination to accurately represent the theme as a fan of steampunk and related genres drove me to embrace the inevitable specificity of my routine. I searched different terms for ideas: “robo Renaissance,” “clock punk,” “cyber Renaissance.” The last phrase led me to Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Four images of female characters in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, each decked out in “cyber-renaissance” costuming, as the accompanying blog post describes them (in reverse order, starting from the bottom right): “Zhao Yun Ru’s Elizabethan collar, Eliza Cassan’s fabulous outfits, Fedorova’s corset-like armor or Megan’s embroidered white coat...” Image: Eidos-Montréal

I first came across a Eidos-Montréal community post about Zhao Yun Ru’s character design that specifically mentioned Renaissance fashion and transhumanism — jackpot! However, the Elizabethan ruff, corset, and tight skirt seemed too restrictive to dance in, and I just wasn’t feeling the cream color palette. The next post I found, about Eliza Cassan’s design, elicited a different response.

Eliza’s collar had larger pleats than a traditional ruff, which made it more drag queen than Elizabethan aristocrat. The sci-fi elements were more obvious with the triangular shape of her coat and its tails. Underneath, she wore a slip dress with cutouts and stockings, which followed the fashion trend of lingerie as outerwear. She also had fetish-inspired strappy thigh-high boots. All these associations were inspirations for burlesque performers as well: drag’s exaggerated silhouettes, vintage lingerie’s softness, and fetish’s taboo sensuality. I could work that to my advantage when performing for a crowd who has never heard of any of the Deus Ex games.

Eliza Cassan (left) looking morose in her red-lined Elizabethan ruff and all-black apparel otherwise, with Adam Jensen in the foreground turning away from her Image: Eidos-Montréal/Square Enix Europe via ChristopherOdd/YouTube
Hana Li onstage dancing as Eliza Cassan in a black-and-white photograph taken at Dallas Burlesque Festvial 2017 at HOB Dallas Photo: Allan Hayslip
Hana Li onstage dancing as Eliza Cassan in a black-and-white photograph taken at Dallas Burlesque Festvial 2017 at HOB Dallas Photo: Allan Hayslip

I had a look and someone to make the coat (fellow performer Jessica Dahl), but I needed a story to tell. When I began researching Eliza’s character and the themes of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I hit the actual jackpot. Her celebrity persona was literal artifice: She was not a real person but an AI created to control the media. I found a delicious irony in me — a shy, nonbinary nerd — revealing a character’s true nature while still maintaining the fantasy of a sexy female-presenting star of the stage.

The hybrid styles in Eliza’s outfit reflect the hardness of an artificial construct and the soft projection of humanity. Her silhouette is severe and intimidating with the highly constructed coat and fetish boots, emblematic of an out-of-reach celebrity status. As she interacts more with Adam Jensen, her personality comes out, and we get to know the real Eliza. Take away the coat and boots, and there’s a delicate slip dress with lace and floral fishnet stockings, which I altered into thigh-highs to be able to peel them off. The twist is that beneath the trendy garments, she is just a string of ones and zeros. My reveal would reflect the one in the same, as I stripped to simple black panties with binary numbers painted on them. The final element was the pasties, which were inspired by Eliza’s character designer’s comments about the pink in her collar. The color didn’t exist in the world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, so its inclusion in Eliza’s outfit foreshadowed her artificial nature. I bought pink rhinestone pasties from Gothfox Designs with LED “nipples,” an additional nod to technology. Plus, if audience members missed the narrative, they could still be entertained by surprise light-up boobs.

In the world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Eliza Cassan was widely embraced as a fashionable celebrity figure, and she wound up having a similar star power in the real world of burlesque. Eliza’s beauty and high status allowed her true nature to remain hidden while manipulating public opinion in the stories she reported. Through my re-creation of her extravagant outfit, I hooked audience members who were not gamers or sci-fi fans into my retelling of her story. Maybe a few even became interested in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, just as I did when I saw Eliza Cassan for the first time.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon