Festival producers and tease aficionados Dolores Daiquiri, Rosy Rabbit and Sapphira took some time out of their thrill-building schedules to answer a few questions about their lives as stage temptresses and organisers of an event that will have the city a-shimmying.
Rosy, the Australian Burlesque Festival is a medium of entertainment; do you also see it as something that inspires audiences as an art form?
I don't think it should ever be forgotten that first and foremost, burlesque is a form of adult entertainment. We tend to shy away from using that phrase only because of the stigma attached to it, which I think is a pity because sexuality and freedom of expression are things we are lucky enough to be able to indulge in without fear of retribution in our society.
Burlesque is definitely unique as an art form, from a performer's point of view it can be incredibly satisfying, having complete creative control over every part of your act from concept to delivery and I think this energy and passion translates to something which can be wonderfully artistic and inspiring to an audience. One of the most fantastic feelings is when audience members approach you after a show to tell you they want to start burlesque, which happens a lot! There is something very infectious about it!
Sapphira, many people would say that on face value, burlesque is aimed at a male audience; would you disagree with that? How do you think it inspires women to embrace their sensuality and individuality, and perhaps their creativity?
As a teacher who has watched the transformation take place in my students around the globe, I believe burlesque is aimed at a female audience.
In modern times women have a unique position in society, many of us are self-supporting career women with financial independence. Burlesque gives us the chance to celebrate each other and reclaim our sensuality. For some women this is coming to a show and being inspired watching another woman performing with authority and grace, for others it is dressing up and adorning themselves, leaving behind the daily grind and reclaiming their elegance.
Men certainly enjoy quality entertainment and viewing talented artists but they are not part of this empowering experience that unites women together under the banner of burlesque.
Dolores, there are many misconceptions about burlesque; how would you describe your art?
It is interesting to me that throughout the ten years I have been on stage there have been many different interpretations of what 'burlesque' is. These range from singing, dancing, cabaret, circus, comedy, tease, vaudeville and more. For me, I feel they are a combination of all of those elements and it is important not to box in the term and to allow artists freedom of expression on stage.
Ultimately though, I feel burlesque is about the art of striptease - slowly removing garments for the final reveal! A performer can do this by choosing what sits naturally for them. Some artists choose classic (like me), or comedy, dancing, singing, etc. But there has to be some element of 'TEASE'!
How they get there is not important so long as it is entertaining, inspiring, fun, enjoyable and sensational. It's showbiz baby!
Sapphira, you sparked controversy overseas with Shimmy Shake; what do you think this opposition stemmed from, and have you come up against anything similar in Australia?
My show in London brought two forms of sensual dance together, belly dancing and burlesque. There was a lot of opposition from conservative belly dancers who thought burlesque would cheapen the image of a cultural dance and confuse the public who would expect belly dancers to perform striptease.
Miles Copeland, former manager of Sting and The Police was touring "Bellydance Superstars" and wrote an article online titled "Divorcing belly dancing from burlesque" because of my show.
Trends have changed and belly dancing and burlesque are now taught at places all over the world, and many belly dancers love performing burlesque. In Australia I have caused 'offence' stripping down to nipple tassels at function; unfortunately some people are uncomfortable witnessing a sensual performance however glamorous or playfully it is presented.
Dolores, you're famed for your 'Good Housekeeping' routine. The incongruity of this reverse striptease has made it a crowd favourite - will it feature at the festival?
Hee hee! The 'Good Housekeeping' act was actually my very first solo number I developed and I still enjoy performing it. The number doesn't come out very often these days but when it does it is a crowd pleaser!
I won't be featuring it at the festival, even though I love it, as I have come along way since that solo and will be developing a new sensational piece.
Sapphira, you're renowned for your lyrical talents [as Priscilla Tonkin]; what does singing and song-writing mean to you and how has it shaped your career in burlesque?
Song-writing is a beautiful way to translate my emotions, dancing is yet another, as is singing. They are all interlinked and I feel a special connection to my audience when I am singing using my own lyrics and music because it comes from a deep place within my soul.
I've also been able to use song-writing to rework some classic showtunes. Customising these old songs has proved popular and grown my fan base around the world.
Rosy, being a producer and costumier as well as a performer, with all the attendant responsibilities, must require some high-level organisational skills! How do you manage to find the balance?
Being involved in burlesque for me is all encompassing and I couldn't see myself doing one without the other. Now, whether I have mastered 'balancing' these aspects is a different story entirely!
I think that the main thing is that I truly love what I do and have passion to drive me, so it rarely feels like work! If I do ever feel I am overloaded I can usually take a step back and appreciate how lucky I am to be doing what inspires me. That is usually enough to get the job done! In saying that, I am about to have a baby, so I guess we will wait and see how the balancing act continues!
Dolores, you're a very busy lady too! What do you do to unwind?
When I get time to relax I love to sew and have classes every Saturday morning. It's my down time where I don't have to think about anything else. I enjoy gardening too and collecting vintage textiles, 1950s garments and mid-century furniture, and bric-a-brac.
Sapphira, burlesque has seen a huge revival in recent years; where do you think it will go from here?
I believe burlesque is here to stay as the scene is evolving all the time. People love to come to shows and this is because of the wide variety of entertainment that is not presented anywhere else. From circus to acrobats, singers, comedians and dancers, burlesque gives the opportunity to enjoy a great night and see amazing performers.
Dolores, have you had any embarrassing moments on stage?
Yes, a few, but touch wood I have been lucky for the most part. I once forgot to put my pasties (nipple tassels) on in a group number but I remembered just in time before I removed a garment.
My skirt fell off in another group act, which was an integral part, but I made the audience laugh and continued with the routine despite my skirt! Sometimes, I am sure it happens to the best of us, garments have stuck to my stockings or I can't get a garment off like I rehearsed but it all seems to work out and the crowd is very forgiving.
My most recent stage 'moment' was a charity event I did and the lovely stage hand kept picking up my garments as I was performing my number, which was fine except I needed the large feather boa I use at the beginning and end, so I had to politely yell at her not to grab my boa and I think the front audience members heard. Not embarrassing really but cringe factor plus!
Rosy, what is your favourite tattoo and what meaning does it have for you?
I have an almost-complete half sleeve which I am absolutely in love with, it is of a gypsy girl dancing to a rabbit playing the violin, so it is very much representative of my burlesque career. I am very fortunate to have a incredibly talented artist (Amy Duncan from Chapel Tattoo) working on it!
Dolores, which icon of vintage culture inspires you the most?
Oh gosh, there are so many that I admire but the standouts are the original Burlesque 'IT' Girls such as Evelyn West, Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, Dixie Evans, Lili St Cyr, Blaze Starr, and more. I am a 'traditionalist' so strongly value the girls who preceded the modern artists of today.
The number one Burly-Q performer I dig today is still Dita Von Teese! She is certainly a stand-out in her own right. However there are many of my colleagues today whom I highly respect and I feel cannot be matched on talent.
Rosy, as a costumier extraordinaire, which would you find harder: a life without sequins or a life without tassels?
Would life really be worth living without either?
Sapphira, are you always the epitome of glamour, or can we mere mortals console ourselves with knowing that you, too, wear trackie daks and cotton undies from time to time?
This makes me laugh as I am sitting at my desk in my PJs! I love taking off the false eyelashes and glitter and getting back to basics. It is the very essence of being authentic that helps me write songs, connect with my students and, indeed, the audience when I am up there in front of them.
Rosy, will there be an Australian Burlesque Festival next year? This year's catch phrase is 'More shows, more cities, more tease!' How do you plan to take it to the next level?
Well that would be telling! When we first began forming the festival our feeling was that we wanted to share our subculture with the wider community, give performers the opportunity to have a bigger audience and to travel, but also to build solidarity in an already very tight knit and supportive community.
The response we have received with both last year selling out every show, and the enthusiasm about this year, is overwhelming and incredibly heart-warming and I can guarantee that next year will be even more exciting!