A Body of Art

Alongside her almost 20-year body of work in dance, theatre, film and TV, Hannah Tasker-Poland has been creating and performing in the burlesque/fetish/cabaret/erotica spaces for well over a decade. Her latest work, The Most Naked, ran for a second season at Q Theatre from 13–17 June and here she discusses her journey to the cabaret-movement performance piece. 

I tend to think of ‘being naked’ as not having anything to do with how few clothes you’re wearing. I’m surrounded by so many people and places where nudity, nakedness and/or erotica are more commonplace and I am so often naked for jobs. Nudity comes in so many different forms, and they are multi-faceted. Just as we—as people—are multi-faceted, so are our bodies.

One of my most formative experiences with nudity was being body painted for the very first time as a teenager. I was turned into a literal walking work of art, and the wonder, awe and enchantment of people as they viewed me this way really imbued me with a sense that my body WAS a work of art.

It is a work of art, a thing that can be adorned, painted and shapeshifted into an entirely different thing. It is also a structure, a vessel for physical movement, a glorious mass that can propel across a stage or within the confines of a photograph to tell a story or evoke an emotion. It is a sensory playground of pain, pleasure and all in between. And, it is also this very ordinary, everyday, unremarkable thing. It’s a body. We all have one. In various shapes, sizes, colours and textures. This boring, perfunctory thing, a mass of bone, sinew, muscle, blood and flesh that we had loaded all this social conditioning onto.

My personal expression is constantly shapeshifting, but I’ve always been very drawn to archetypes of femininity and ways in which they can be exaggerated, manipulated or celebrated. I’m very drawn to strong femmes, and present very femme (which 100% means other women often think I’m just engaging in “friendly gal-talk” when really I’m attempting to flirt, ha!) but it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really understood how the era I grew up in shaped my queerness. 

In my formative years of the late-90s to mid-2000s, so much queer-femininity was very male-gaze-y—think the fetishisation of femme woman-on-woman in porn, “lipstick-lesbian” ideals etc. I was absolutely shaped by this. I never intended to be and never wanted to be, but was. 

I’d say most women have been shaped by patriarchal and misogynistic norms in some way. There is some incredible representation and education around queer identities these days, but even as recently as the 2000s it just wasn’t like that. I’ve had meaningful relationships with men and women, but had always felt a lot of my relationships and interactions with women were hindered by this internalised male-gaze perception of my queerness. There’s been a lot of conscious unlearning. It’s a complex realm I’m sure a lot of queer, particularly bi and pan, women can relate to. 

I’d never really had any deep reflections on my queer identity until I got older, and had greater language, understanding and experience to be able to view my journey and how I got where I am now more clearly. In many ways, The Most Naked is a culmination of that journey. I do not have any specialist education in history, feminist theory, or gender politics. All I know is my lived experience and the knowledge I have actively picked up over the years and by listening to others.

When The Most Naked was first commissioned to debut as part of the 2021 Auckland Live Cabaret Season, I found it was the perfect space to create something that leans more towards these burlesque-y, fetish-y realms I often occupy, while still very much employing the skills and styles from the more contemporary art forms that make up my career, such as contemporary dance and theatre. Existing in these multiple art forms has given me a really interesting, and at times frustrating, perspective. There are still lingering threads that run through the social conscience that likes to split art forms into very classist ranks. Highbrow and lowbrow. Yes, we are in much much more progressive, open-minded and accepting times, but I can tell you from someone who exists very firmly within both the more out-there erotica/burlesque/fetish/adult performance art realms and the professional dance/theatre/film realms, that ideas of the former being ‘lowbrow’, ‘not as skilled’ or using sex to ‘sell-out’ still very much exist. This is simply not the case. 

Sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s how it should be. How boring if we all enjoyed the same things. But with The Most Naked, and every other performance piece I’ve created over the years, there is an incredibly high level of thought and articulation that goes into shaping and presenting the more explicit content. I may be naked on stage, but employing strong, relentless physicality to present the nude body as a powerhouse, almost warrior or superhero-like. Or embodying the grotesque, the ugly, the animalistic—a combination of arousal and confusion. 

A signature fetish-performance-art piece of mine involves a slew of custom prosthetics that make it look as if I am completely naked – including mouth, spine, breasts and genitals—which are then removed throughout the piece, hung onto hooks above my head, before I release a mixture of gold paint from a rig above the hooks, and it showers down onto the hanging prosthetics and myself below. A literal golden shower. It’s visceral, mesmerising and very beautiful. There is very explicit, erotic and adult material there, while speaking to our fascination with these body parts we so desperately want to see. 

You want to see my body? You want me to strip? Ok, I’ll strip, and I’ll keep stripping. I’ll strip these body parts right off and hang them on display. How many layers of nudity, of flesh, does she have under her skin? Does she keep going and going? The vulnerability and beautiful intimacy of letting an audience witness a release of fluids – not for shock factor, but as something very special, real, raw, intimate.

Subversion is the name of the game. We’re pushing and pulling at the audience’s expectations about what they may be about to witness. I’m aiming to recontextualize the perceived suggestion of nudity.

Art forms like burlesque and cabaret are so steeped in those archetypes of women and femininity. For The Most Naked I very deliberately choose to present these archetypes—think femme-fatale, sex-siren songstress, glamorous showgirl—then cleverly stretch, twist and subvert these archetypes until they become something unrecognisable. Our character (yours truly) undergoes multiple metamorphoses before the audience’s eyes as the themes of the work devolve and reform through seduction, shame, pleasure, vulnerability, indecent and empowering exposure, body-policing and celebration. Glamour shapeshifts into brutal, animalistic fury; the music soars sonically from the sublime to the intense, with surging electronic rhythms and digital cacophonies; costuming transforms from the formidable to the flirtatious and special-effects surprise out of nowhere, adding a fantastical and wondrous quality to such a simple, familiar thing—the body.

The Most Naked, like most of my work, has some very dark, heavy moments. Moments that are unsettling, or confronting. But I try very hard not to make anything abrasive. To me, there is a big difference between something that is confronting or uncomfortable, and something that is abrasive or unsafe. Between myself and the incredibly skilled Lucien Johnson—our wonderful composer and live musician/performer—we know how to hold and look after an audience. And in this cabaret setting, it really worked to ours and the show’s advantage. 

The inclusion of Lucien as the cabaret-club-pianist trope helps create a known atmosphere for the audience before flipping it on its head. Playing live on typical cabaret instruments—piano, saxophone—his sound design surges from the gentle and sublime, to electro-industrial, harnessing jazz virtuosity and rebellious punk rock abandon. Collaborating with such a supremely talented artist as Lucien, who has such a deft and unique perspective on writing and show creation, has been an incredibly humbling and inspiring experience. Lucien is this steady, grounding presence throughout the work, whose demeanour, performance energy and composition matches my performance beautifully beat by beat and truly compliments the underlying feminist message of the show. A beautiful example of positive masculinity.

A real point has been made to lean into the comedy and clowning within the show, particularly as the audience is settling into the work. I love how we, our bodies and our personal sexuality or eroticism can exist in so many different ways, and that silliness is one of these. Wrapping this show up under the “guise” of a cabaret show allowed us to push those cabaret tropes and really connect with and look after the audience. I always want to look after the audience. 

Cabaret draws audiences in and gets them laughing. We give them the spectacle, the glitz. We make fun of ourselves and each other. They get to laugh with and at us, they get to get a bit flustered, hot under the collar, a bit wriggly and wet in their pants with all the playful prodding and teasing. And then, when their mouths are open from laughing you just geeeeeently place that little truth bomb in there. Bam. Magic. 

By the end of the show, I hope that audience members feel like they have been taken to another, otherworldly realm while having one foot placed firmly in our messy messy world below. Like they’re getting to see right into the absolute guts of the body they are witnessing on stage before them. To me, this is movement alchemy as opposed to just dance, cabaret or theatre, because of how potent it is. The whole experience has been incredibly cathartic for me, and it would appear for others as well. We have received so much deeply moving feedback from audience members, both in person after the show with some people crying while expressing their feelings over what they just experienced, to online messages and posts. The aim is to provoke thought and challenge perspectives, without alienating people. I really, really want to take care of people.

I have just completed my training and accreditation in Intimacy Coordination and Direction through IDC Intimacy Professionals USA, with support from Equity NZ. This is a relatively new role that has been gaining momentum over the past few years. Intimacy professionals are performer advocates, choreographers and liaisons between performers and productions to ensure that any and all intimate content—i.e. simulated sex, nudity, intimate physical contact—is safe, consensual and follows best practice guidelines. As soon as I heard about this role I was drawn to it. I’ve spent so long working and performing in intimate realms, and have had both really positive and really negative/harmful experiences of intimate performance. There are many times, especially when I was younger, that I wish I had an intimacy coordinator or director there to advocate for me during sex or nude scenes. The opportunity to be that person for others, and help facilitate safe working environments, while making sure the choreography of an intimate scene is *chefs kiss* is really exciting to me. 

I’m still very much still honing my craft, learning, listening, growing and adapting, but gah-damn I’m always doing my best to give it my absolute best shot: exploring and experimenting with how a work, an art piece, a performance, script, choreography, an aesthetic may present an idea, a feeling, a message. This is it, this is what art and expression and performance are for me. It is a privilege I take quite seriously.


In a dream, you saw a way to survive, and you were filled with joy.


Help keep the lights on.

find us on: