BURLESQUE legend Dita Von Teese has released a DVD of an intimate and brilliantly staged live performance she did at legendary venue, The Crazy Horse, Paris. She talks to IndieLondon about what it was like to perform, the inspiration for her new number, Le Bain Noir (The Bath), and why burlesque is so popular…
Q. What was it like performing at the Crazy Horse in Paris?
Dita Von Teese: It’s completely different than any other show I’ve done… not only is the venue more intimate than most stages I dance on, the professionalism of both the dancers and the staff made it a pleasure for me to create acts just for that show. It’s nice to be bathed in that mythical Crazy Horse lighting and to be surrounded by those amazing girls! I know a lot about the history of the Crazy Horse, and so it’s really an honour for me to be there on that stage. It’s not like any other show in the world, and I’m very proud to have a place in it.
Part of my driving force in performing there is for people to discover this incredible and historic place, and for others to see why everyone who is anyone visited it from the 1950’s on…. Everyone from Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Salvador Dali to John F Kennedy saw the Crazy Horse show! There’s a reason it’s legendary, and I’m pleased to be able to be part of it.
Q. Where did you get the inspiration for Le Bain Noir?
Dita Von Teese: The bathtub act is one of the first burlesque acts I ever did in the mid ’90s, and clearly inspired by ’50’s burlesque queen Lily St. Cyr. My version has had several reinventions over the years. The first show I did was with a giant glass bathtub, and then a gilded one, and a canary yellow one, and now, finally, Le Bain Noir. The first time I guest starred at The Crazy Horse a few years ago, when I was the first guest star in the show’s history, I did my bath tub show because it was my only existing act that could fit on the intimate Crazy Horse stage, and it also was a sort of a tie-in to an act that was done there at the Crazy in the late 1950’s – and that was also originally inspired by Lili St. Cyr, because the founder Alain Bernadin had seen her act, and that IS what sparked his creation of The Crazy Horse Saloon in 1951! A nice tie-in to the history of The Crazy, I think!
So this time around, I wanted to bring back my bathtub act in a new way, and late one night while I was in bed I had the idea of making a sleek jet-black bathtub as a compliment to my pale skin, and doing a more “femme fatale” darker, more intense version of my bathtub show. I called up my prop builder and asked him to take an antique clawfoot tub and make it look like it had been entirely dipped in shiny black lacquer, like a vintage Cadillac! Designer Elie Saab made an incredible jet-black beaded dramatic evening suit for me, and I also recorded a Mae West song that I sing to before getting in the bath.
Q. Why does burlesque continue to capture people’s imaginations?
Dita Von Teese: I think that many people don’t realize that striptease has this incredible history in America, and that it was once far different than what you see in a modern strip club nowadays. I think people like to be elegantly and sensually inspired! With so much shock value these days, it’s nice to portray sexuality and nudity as something beautiful and elegant. That’s my intention, to make people think differently about striptease and to remind people of its history.
Q. When did you first become inspired by it? And when did you know you wanted to pursue it as a career?
Dita Von Teese: I was working in a lingerie store as a teenager, and at that time, I was looking at the history of lingerie, and began collecting vintage lingerie and magazines with pictures of pin-ups, and started noticing that many of the pin-ups in mens’ magazine of the 1940’s were also burlesque dancers. So, there I was, posing for pin-ups, working in a strip club and it was all very obvious that I should do this, because I already was dressing head-to-toe in vintage clothes… this was around 1991.
Basically, my love of the 1940’s just led me to it. I slowly built my shows up, and from around 1994, I became quite known amongst fetishists and Playboy fans, so I started touring in America and developed a bigger show as time went on. It was just basically a very slow climb from 1991 to now. I was no overnight success, that’s for sure!
Q. What is your most memorable burlesque performance and why? And your most pleasing reaction?
Dita Von Teese: Well, being at the Crazy Horse has definitely been a highlight. But I also love it when I can do my large-scale numbers like The Opium Den, and work on a grand stage with a live orchestra, and perform burlesque as it was meant to be! As far as audience reaction, well, I do a lot of fancy private events with lots of celebrities, and those are exciting in their own way… but really when it comes down to it, there is nothing like performing in front of a room full of true fans, people that bought tickets! That’s what I love best. The energy is amazing!!