After two sold-out tours, the festival now saunters into its third year with a line-up of shows and performers that are set to woo and wow the crowds. Follow the links below to see our interviews with this year's famously fascinating headline stars and check out our chit-chat with the ladies who bring the frills and thrills to the Australian stage.
You've made quite a name for yourself over the last few years and across several continents. What inspired the sobriquet of Anna Fur Laxis?
I'm a total bookworm and I love language for its own sake, and with Mr Fur Laxis being a medical man, over the years I've developed a fondness for the crisp phonetics of medical terminology. Anna Fur Laxis was a product of this really, spawned when my language fetish collided with my medical fetish. I like that you don't need to be familiar with what anaphylaxis is for the name Anna Fur Laxis to sound appropriate for a performer. It's lovely that quite often people will excitedly tell me about the time they suddenly 'got' my name after having heard the term in a different context; I never expected that and they've all been really cool about it. During a run in a Helsinki dinner show last year, the show was halted one night due to a diner experiencing anaphylaxis. I'd just come off stage. Obviously it's not funny but (once I knew the guest was safe and hadn't died) I thought it was hilarious!
You're renowned as an original and particularly cheeky performer, even within a genre that is by essence creative and diverse. You've modelled clothes, you've taken them off (and flung your bra onto a chandelier, we hear!), you've shimmied, danced, teased and thrown sharp objects at people while blindfolded. Have you always been a bit of a dare-devil?
I don't consider myself a life-long dare-devil, but looking back I have tried my hand at a few things over the years. I think I've always had crazy ideas but it wasn't until the security and confidence of my thirties that I actually considered putting those ideas into practice. Performing has now become the perfect justification for exploring all of my crackpot ideas, more often than not transforming them into viable career moves.
What do you have up your sleeve (or down your glove) for your Australian audiences this year?
Well! I'm thrilled to be bringing two of my favourite acts to Australia. They've always gone down well in my hemisphere and I can't wait to debut them in yours!
To find out more about Anna Fur Laxis, check out her website.
You're known as the 'Fastest Tassel-Twirler from East to West'. Did you have to practice a lot in order to get such pace from your pasties, or did the skill come naturally?
I practiced a lot to get the accuracy of my twirling, but as far as the speed, that just came naturally… I don't even know if I could slow them down!
You've performed for some of Hollywood's biggest names and you've appeared on several TV shows, including CW's Gossip Girl. Have you ever been tempted to swap the stage for the screen?
No. I enjoy television work and, as a true workaholic, I would never turn it down, but I love live audiences! There's nothing like the energy that you get from a room full of people excited to see you perform. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I am a stage performer in my heart and soul.
Are you excited about performing in Australia again this year?
I am! I didn't think I'd be going back to Australia so soon and I'm so happy that I am.
How do you think burlesque is received by Australian audiences compared to those in New York?
Audiences in Australia are great. I remember the audiences in Australia got way more dressed up than New York audiences, and since the venues are so small in NYC, the audiences tend to be smaller… You guys have bigger venues and bigger crowds, which then means big fun!
To find out more about Peekaboo Pointe, check out her website.
You're one of the most curvaceous and sultry-eyed performers in the industry. Do you feel sexy even when doing the dishes?
I just got a new dishwasher and must admit, I do feel rather sexy watching him wash the dishes.
As well as being an entertainer and co-producer of the Toronto Burlesque Festival, you also have your own school of burlesque. Your students admire your flair for fun as much as your skill. How important to you think humour is to burlesque?
Humour is a hallmark of burlesque. It could be slapstick physical humour, an out of scale prop like a giant candy apple (my signature piece), a silly song or simply a wink and a smile. I do adore a classic glamorous striptease in an incredible costume, but I love it even more if it doesn't take itself completely seriously. Cleverness is my favourite kind of sexy, so the combination of bawdy and brainy is irresistible to me.
What can your audiences look forward to when you perform at the ABF this year? Do you think Canadian burlesque has a unique style of its own?
Audiences can expect big drama and tiny underthings. Canada is a very diverse place and that's reflected in the style of burlesque we present. It is common to see classic burlesque, performance art, boylesque, gender bending and sideshow striptease all in the same show. As burlesque continues to boom across Canada, it will be very exciting to see how the performance style evolves over time.
To find out more about Coco Framboise, check out her website.
You have a unique style that is very bold, edgy and almost ferocious at times, making you an intriguing and captivating performer. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Thank you! I have always admired old-school burlesque legends like Tempest Storm, Dixie Evans and Blaze Starr. They, amongst many others, have been a great inspiration for me. I get inspiration from so many different things; it can be a book I'm reading, an old movie, nature, some music, beautiful fabric, etc. I'm always keeping my eyes open.
How did it feel to win Best Debut at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas last year? Will you be returning in future to compete for the title of Miss Exotic World?
I just couldn't believe it at first! I didn't even realise that they announced my name and just continued to drink my sparkling. It was my boyfriend who told me: 'You won! Get up there!' That was one of the best moments of my life. I will compete in June at BHoF in the Reigning Queen category and couldn't be more thrilled.
Will your performance at this year's festival be your first in Australia? What do you hope to experience during your time here?
This will be my first time in Australia and I'm very excited. I want to see the beautiful nature and some exotic animals. I have a good feeling that this festival is going to be much fun!
To find out more about LouLou D'Vil, check out her website.
You have quite a few years experience as a burlesque entertainer; what is your most memorable performance to date?
I would have to say performing in Las Vegas for the 10th Burlesque Hall of Fame Pageant. To perform on a world stage and receive the admiration of performers that I have admired for so long was a dream come true for me.
As well as being a sure footed performer on stage, you're also a dab hand behind the scenes. Have you always had a passion for choreography and styling? Did these skills lead you to the stage or was performing always your first love?
Choreography – most definitely. Music moves me. I am constantly visualising routines. I don't think I can listen to a song without seeing some kind of movement behind it. Styling – I am a very visual person with a need to create alternate worlds. I think for these reasons I was drawn to burlesque, but I have always had a love of performing. There is nothing like the feeling of being on stage for me. Although seeing a troupe of dancers perform my work is a thrill I can't describe.
What do you think is the key to 'tease'?
Being able to hold the audience's attention and take them on a journey. You know what they want to see, but to show them something they never knew they wanted, and to make them want it, is a skill worth mastering.
To find out more about Tasia, check out her website.
You've been performing since the eighties and have had some incredibly intriguing experiences all about the world. Can you tell us a bit about your most outlandish exploits?
Well, let's just say my most memorable jobs have involved doing swinging trapeze in an old castle in England, being paid to flash Jeff Fenech on live TV, washing an elephant, being a human lolly, doing the splitz in a cream cake for the NSW Governor at an AIDS fundraiser, delivering condoms to all the brothels in Sydney, jelly wrestling with international champions in Amsterdam and being a human mini-golf course in Japan. By far my most outrageous job to date was to walk into a room with 15 politicians and laugh at them. It wasn't a hard job in the end – it was in a bondage parlour and the politicians were all dressed as babies.
You've fashioned a rather fascinating sort of notoriety for yourself within the industry, turning classic forms inside out and superimposing satire over satire. Has your aim always been to push the boundaries or did you develop your style as a way of working within the boundaries prior to the resurgence of burlesque?
When I started there was no burlesque striptease – just strip. It didn't matter how theatrical or glamorous we were or where we chose to perform, society judged us all on the same level and that was as the detritus of the world. So we were ostracized by society which suited me fine. I didn't ever want to be a part of the system – I always wanted to be beyond it all.
I am a performance artist and I was working as a striptease performer to support myself, so I started subverting striptease, parodying everything I was seeing and learning at work, and then taking it out of the context of a strip club. I'd place it in art galleries, cabarets and concert halls which at the time would cause an outrage. Eventually I worked my way to NIDA, the Opera House and into Arts Festivals.
It wasn't exactly an easy way to go, mind you. Converting an audience of staunch feminist and yobbo misogynists to accept that striptease was a form of entertainment rather than an act of prostitution took a long, long time. People forget that. That hard audience is probably the very thing that made me good at what I do.
I had no idea that what I did was considered burlesque and that a revival was on its way. My style was essentially forged as a form of feminine defiance in a patriarchal world that spent way too much of its time dictating how women should behave – as at the time the world still had very fixed ideas about such things. I loved striptease, its ability to charm and seduce are all key to its power, but predominantly I use it to challenge people's misconceptions about women – and about me. I'm also lots of fun! It was assumed that when I'd turn up for a booking that I was letting women down or pandering to the male gaze, so I'd work the routine that way for a few minutes until I had the audience hurling abuse at me, then I'd turn the whole thing on its head and leave them either screaming for joy or at least scratching their heads and questioning their initial response. I caused a fair few minor riots in my time and always enjoyed the picketers when they turned up to my shows.
Although I have a few surviving peers, there just wasn't anyone else doing what I was doing at that time – reworking old-styled strip into something new. There was no internet, no classes and the audiences were pretty harsh. Finding information on burlesque involved ordering illegal publications from underground printers in America and then waiting three months for your black and white photocopied booklet to arrive. Then I would spend hours poring over those photos trying to imagine what on earth those women did with their stage time. So my style, with all its glamour and all of its comedy, was forged in isolation. When I finally got my first glimpse of some genuine burlesque footage I laughed at what I had created – it was everything and nothing like what the original bump and grinders did.
What do you see as the major differences between burlesque today and burlesque twenty years ago?
To me they are two different worlds – there are positives and negatives on both sides. I feel so lucky to have been born in an era where the politics of individualism were such a defining force. When I think about it, the era that made my peers and me was post-punk, post-feminist, post-hippy, post-cold war; I may as well just call us 'the posties'. We were a really amazing generation. My aunt used to call us the 'guinea pig generation' as we were the result of so much social experimentation.
Most of all though, I would say the performers of my generation were coming from a point of fury and frustration because we were treated like anathema to a very yobbo world. The boys had drag; women had nothing. There was simply nowhere for women to perform at all and our sexuality was seen as our most detrimental aspect. It's a difficult thing to explain, but we really had to fight for our stages, our audience and our right to perform. I don't think the world had ever seen anything like us and I doubt it will again. Our 'burlesque' came into existence to challenge a world that was aggressively fearful of difference – and we were aggressively different.
Things are much safer and easier for today's performers, which is wonderful. They learn burlesque in affordable classes, creating stage names is a lark rather than a form of social protection and they are all pretty well-adjusted people. But I sometimes feel much of today's burlesque lacks any content or grit because things are too easy – there's no challenge. People without a lick of dance ability, no theatrical training and no streak of originality seem to think they have the right to the stage, which I don't think is very healthy for the art form.
There is also this obsession with self promotion which I find a bit ugly. If we caught someone filming or shooting our shows we'd jump off stage and smash their cameras – seriously. An ill-placed photo in a magazine could ruin your life. Our latest waves hurl themselves at the cameras, and promoters make sure that every event is meticulously documented and posted online. It's a very different ethic going down, as if the live experience is less important than the rushed images of random moments. There is also a hunger for the limelight whether performers are ready for it or not. They are very press hungry whereas we were all very suspect of the press.
The final difference is the venues and audiences. Gone are the hideous, violent strip clubs of yesteryear. Gone are the abhorrent yobbos. One can now perform burlesque in a variety of decent venues, in front of an educated, mixed-gender audience who don't really seem to expect too much. This is a welcome change on one hand, but on the other hand I think it makes performers lazy. There doesn't seem to be much to challenge performers of burlesque at the moment, and I think performers need to be challenged to be at their best. A good challenge certainly sorts the wheat from the chaff.
To find out more about Imogen Kelly, check out her website.
You've got quite a few impressive titles under your (garter) belt. What do you like most about competitive burlesque?
The thing I like most is how a competition can push you out of your comfort zone. It inspires me to create something I am proud of and gives me the confidence to say I am constantly working at being the best I can be as a performer. There is always something to learn, something to improve.
Who is your burlesque idol?
Gosh! I don't know if I have an idol, per se. I'm certainly influenced and inspired by many performers. If I had to narrow it down to just one though, it would definitely be Michelle L'amour (USA). Her sense of self confidence and her love of what she does are truly inspiring. I have never met anyone so amazingly comfortable with who they are as a person, nor so focussed on achieving their artistic goals.
You're a classic glamour-puss with a penchant for large props (like a five-foot high apple). Will you be taking anything interesting on stage during the ABF (apart from your lovely self)?
I'll be debuting a brand new act for the festival, but that's all I can tell you. It's very 'hush, hush, darlings'. But the audiences can certainly expect something spectacular. I'm very excited to be able to share the stage with such amazing performers – the line up for this year's festival is one not to be missed.
To find out more about Danica Lee, check out her website.
You're a photographer, film maker, and a burlesque performer with some big gigs to your name – and you're only in your early twenties. What do you hope to achieve in the next five years? And can you tell us something you're not good at? (It will make us feel better).
It only occurred to me the other day that I have such a large body of work to be proud of and I'm only 23. It's crazy. I feel like I've already led a thousand lifetimes. I've always had an enormous amount of passion for my creative work and was taught the value of chasing every opportunity and dream from an early age. Over the next five years I'd love to travel the world with my burlesque acts and productions. I've experimented by touring shows nationally, but after 2011 saw me in Europe and North America, I'm determined to pack up my show bags and camera and get on the road again. More productions, more film-making, and perhaps one day a shot at curating a Fringe Festival.
What I'm not good at? Having a holiday! Even if I'm lying on a Mexican beach, pina colada in hand, I'll still be envisioning new show structures or act numbers. I'm a workaholic, I can never switch my brain off. I live and breathe this world. I'm living my dream!
You have quite a repertoire of enigmatic dark burlesque. What draws you to the grittier side of the art?
I suppose the huge scope available for exploration – I've found the grittier side or more experimental side of performance art can really allow you to execute more original work. The freedom to express a taboo, 'dark' reality or perversity of any form is essential to my art. I try to stray from any kind of label. I don't necessarily identify as a neo-burlesque artist or a gore queen, I just do what I do with artistic intention, and if it strikes a particular vein (thematically speaking), then so be it.
You've performed in the ABF for the last two years and this year you're headlining. Do you have something extra special in store for this year?
Feels like only yesterday that the ABF was teething, and now it's this huge, mega-complex national show! I'm honoured to have been chosen as a headliner this year, and after three years of performing with this crew, it's definitely become a huge highlight on my annual calendar. This year, I'll be bringing a circuit and personal favourite to the Empress Erotique shows, an evolved version of Lucifer's Wrath, and a new (totally crazy, totally bizarre) reworking of the little plant, the Venus Fly Trap.
To find out more about Vesper White, check out her website.
After another sold-out tour last year, it must have taken a lot of work to develop even bigger and better shows for this year. How has the ABF upped the ante for 2012?
Oh my goodness, where do I start? This year is proving to be a massive production, with so many sensational events and performers hitting the stage across six cities. The festival will be touring four spectacular international and four local headliners across the country and we are so lucky to have these darlings on board with us. Included in each showcase is a myriad of outstanding and diverse burlesque artists who will bring another element to our events. We are certainly upping the ante this year! It's proving to be mind-blowingly good.
Amidst all your work as a producer and performer, you've also become a teacher, and will be launching your own burlesque classes. With your extensive experience as an entertainer, what is the best piece of advice you could give to someone wanting to become a burlesque performer?
I will actually be launching my workshops during the festival as my aim is to set up classes come mid-2012. Burlesque is not easy, despite it looking that way, and is not for everyone. The best performers that have staying power are those that have that something special, an inner glow. They can work the stage with finesse and know how to capture an audience with a flick of a glove or a slow reveal.
When new performers ask me for advice, I tell them this: get a gimmick, be unique, don't be a copycat, start out slow and develop your skill, watch as many diverse burlesque shows as possible, listen to your mentors and professionals who have been at this craft for a long time, and most importantly, leave your ego and diva attitude at the door. Oh, and sell yourself!
When we spoke last year, you were expecting your first child. How have you adjusted to life as a mother with a demanding career as a performer, producer and costumier?
It's definitely challenging! At first I struggled with the constant transformations required of me, being on stage and expressing my sensuality and seductive side, then running home to be nurturing and motherly! But I am getting the hang of it now. I have had to become a bit of a time management expert, and write endless to-do lists to combat 'baby-brain' but I am really so happy. Being a mother is simultaneously the hardest and most rewarding and love-filled adventure I have ever been on. I am so fortunate to be able to continue doing what I love and am passionate about at the same time, and am so lucky to have a supportive and wonderful husband.
What aspect of the festival are you most excited about this year?
Can I say all of it? Because it's true! Sometimes I can't get to sleep because I'm so giddy with the excitement of it all. We have some of my most admired international and local artists coming on tour (and workshops with them to learn all their tricks), and we are heading into new territory by adding Adelaide and Brisbane to the itinerary – and judging by the ticket sales they are pretty excited we are coming. We are also presenting the very first Australian Burlesque Community Awards, 'The Busties', co-produced by festival headliners Imogen Kelly and Danica Lee, to honour the incredible community we have built.
You've joined the ABF team as Stage Manager for the 2012 tour, but you're a girl who has shown she can strut her stuff on either side of the curtain. What are you most looking forward to about your new role?
It was quite an honour to be chosen by Dolores Daiquiri and Rosy Rabbit as the Stage Manager for the festival – as it's going to be quite a big job. I'm really looking forward to being able to meet and work with some of my idols and some huge names in the industry, as well as being part of the full tour and all the backstage shenanigans that will no doubt ensue. I think it's really helpful having both a performing and producing background in a stage managing role – it means being able to co-ordinate a smooth running show, while understanding the needs of the venue, organisers and performers, and being able to problem solve if any dramas arise. Plus I've got some crazy ideas up my sleeve for a pre-festival industry night. Yep, definitely looking forward to all of it!
As well as working as a performer and a managing mistress of entertainment, you've produced films, dabbled in acting and modelling and you make and sell your own brand of pasties. Is there one particular facet of the arts that you want to pursue in future, or do you enjoy the diversity of working on many and varied projects?
I think I'm at my best when I have lots of different things on the go; I just have to watch out for becoming overloaded. I love the energy, spontaneity and crowd interaction of performing, but deep down I'm a closet nerd who just loves to organise things and be involved behind the scenes, whether it be the Australian Burlesque Festival, Burlesque Bar or my own projects. It's been fantastic working across mediums (burlesque and film) and being able to see the two come together. My current baby is the 1940s feature film I'm working on with my partner, Dominic Deacon, Only the Young Die Good, which also features several well-known burlesque performers as actors in the film (Jasper Jewell, Strawberry Siren, Kelly Ann Doll, Becky Lou). I'm not sure what the future holds, but if the past few years are any indication, it's bound to be full of surprises!
What three words best describe the talent you'll be helping to showcase to Australia at this year's festival?
Extravagant, diverse, world-class.
The Australian Burlesque Festival will be touring Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Hobart from 7th to 24th June, 2012. See the website for specific show dates, locations and ticket prices and like the ABF on Facebook to keep up with all the latest news.