Dirty Martini: a burlesque cocktail with theater and cinema
Interview with Miss Dirty Martini, one of the most celebrated personalities in the world of the new burlesque. This interview has been done in 2010, in connection with her participation in a burlesque show in Rome.
So you are starring “La Dolce Diva”, a new burlesque show in Rome. It’s about a famous time in italian popoular culture: we were discovering a new way of living life, more glamorous and inspired by the star system; so it’ll be a show with echoes of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” and its actors, Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg. It’s a heavy legacy or just something to make fun of?
I’ve often been described as Fellini-esque even before I had ever seen any of his films. After watching my first Fellini film, Amacore, I knew exactly what people meant. I felt as if those women were long lost relatives. Italy has the most wonderful characters everywhere and when I was living for a month in Naples, I found that I went searching for Fellini’s Italy. I found it in the cashiers, the little convenience stores and the landlords sweeping the streets. It wasn’t out on the streets where I thought I would find it, but I found Fellini in the corners where I wasn’t looking. Burlesque is all about fun and the theme of La Dolce Vita and Fellini fits perfectly for Italy to find it’s fun kitsch and glamour again. I found an Italy that was far too influenced by American standards of beauty as dictated by our television and magazines and I am excited to see what will happen under the influence of New Burlesque as the scene grows.
This is the second show you perform in Italy, ins’t it?
Yes, I performed at Teatro Sannazaro in Naples with the Cabaret New Burlesque for the 1st Napoli Teatro Festival Italia. I enjoyed spending that time there. I did a lot of siteseeing in Capri, Procida and Ischia as well as around Naples. What an incredible city! Julie Atlas Muz, Kitten on the Keys and Mimi LeMeaux and I also took a fun side trip to Venice and Rome before returning to the states. Needless to say, we got a ton of attention on the streets!
We can’t wait to see you on stage, but we can’t wait to see you also on the silver screen: “On Tour” by Mathieu Amalric will be soon in italian cinemas. This is not your first movie, but it’s the first time your character is so important.
It actually isn’t the first time I’ve had roles in film playing myself, but it was certainly the most involved role I have had in a fictional film. I have done films before, but never with such an elite group of filmmakers. It was challenging and exciting and most of all, I felt very welcome in the world of art in France for that time. Working with Mathieu Amalric, certainly one of the best actors of this century, and the brilliant Christophe Beaucarne, the cinematographer, was like being welcomed into an exclusive club. They made us look beautiful on the stage and our performances are now preserved in the best way possible. The Cabaret New Burlesque was very lucky indeed for this opportunity. It was fun for us to travel in France and perform in some ornate and wonderful theaters that weren’t open to the public due to funding problems They made perfect locations for us and hopefully their renovations can continue with help from the film.
Some years ago I went to a cinema to see Shortbus. Suddenly, I recognized you on the screen! You were a little blurred, but I was sure it was you! What do you remember of that funny, audacious movie?
John Cameron Mitchell came several times to the VaVaVoom Room in New York where I performed and honed many of my acts. He was looking for the perfect setting and performers to pepper the club in the film “Shortbus”. I was asked to be in the film as were many of New York’s most notable nightlife characters including burlesque luminaries Murray Hill, the Wau Wau Sisters, Bradford Scobie and The World Famous *Bob*. A few of the characters in the film were good friends of mine and I felt that the film was very authentic as far as the feel of the club. Even though my part was very small in the film – I was also in the final scene, but the way it was edited, I was cut from those shots- I performed for the shows that accompanied it’s premieres in New York and Toronto and John made me feel so much a part of the cast. He’s a wonderful director, very patient and calm and affable. People all over the world expressed their love for the nightclub in the film and all wanted to go to a place like that. I would tell them to just come and live in NYC!! I loved that film and was proud to be a part of it even in a small way.
Now it’s time for a prickly question: what do you think about Steve Antin’s Burlesque?
Having had the opportunity to be one of the main instigators of this generation’s New Burlesque revolution, I feel that the movie Burlesque will be a huge disappointment to both hardcore burlesque fans and the merely curious. I love Cher and I’m both a friend and admirer of Allen Cumming who is also in the film. He is an old burlesque officianado and speaks candidly about interviewing Tempest Storm many years ago for a magazine article. Unfortunately, the director and the choreographer – who was the brains behind the Pussycat Dolls, another pseudo-burlesque attempt- seem to be trying to make a story with all the talking points of new burlesque but with a more modern look in order to do something”new”. I haven’t seen the film, but the trailer looks dreadful and not even as fun as the movie Showgirls which I’m still waiting for the sequel – Showgirls part 2 return of the hellbeast. Fun, right? I will see the film when it comes out in the US. I’ve already made a date with Murray Hill to see it when I return from my UK tour. I never like to comment on something I haven’t seen so I feel it’s pre mature to offer an opinion, but looking at the preview, I wish that they had a more stylish look for the costumes. I know how hard burlesque performers work on their costumes and concepts and it’s seems to me to be a bit of a slap in the face. We burlesque ladies and gents work extremely hard at preserving the history while bringing burlesque into the new generation for the modern eye and everyone I know who works actively in burlesque is groaning about the release of this film. It remains to be seen what will happen with it, but I certainly hope that people the see it will also have access to Tournée to see something a little more authentic.
There are a number of new burlesque documentaries coming out now. In the dressing room during Immodesty Blaize’s tour of the US with her film Burlesque Undressed all of the “Queens of burlesque” that were changing in the dressing room were sharing a laugh asking when each of our documentaries would premiere! Catherine D’Lish joked that she would never make one while others laughed about all the different competing cameras poised at each show as if we were reality TV stars. I love Indigo Blue’s A wink and a smile and I’m very proud that Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque is such a beautiful and touching document of the New York performance and burlesque scene. I think that they make a great little duo. Gary Beeber, the director of Dirty Martini and the New Burlesque, had no idea what burlesque was when he started making the film. He was working on a film about the Coney Island Sideshow when he first interviewed me and impressed by my knowledge of burlesque set out to make a short subject. The more he filmed interviews of people such as Tigger, Julie Atlas Muz, Bambi the Mermaid and Jo Boobs, the more his desire for a feature materialized. I’m merely the focal point that tells the story of New Burlesque and allows for these amazing performers to discuss their own journeys and artistic landscape.
Why the new burlesque is the new punk rock?
Of course, most of the promo for my film comes right from the horse’s mouth as we say in America. I often write copy for promotion and I can say that I do make that comparison of new burlesque to the DIY nature of punk rock in the early 70’s. The aesthetic is different obviously, but the feeling that what you are watching is the passionate outpouring of one person’s soul made exclusively by their hand. Burlesque isn’t always innovative, but at it’s best, it pushes societal boundaries of gender stereotyping and beauty standards in the same way that punk rockers did with contemporary concepts of suburban normality and anarchy. I have always believed in the potential for burlesque to change the way audiences go to see shows and, even more lofty, the way society sees women. I hope that venues for burlesque retain both the high and the low just as it was in the old days. I would love to see in the future little venues that innovate and larger venues that hold a high standard for burlesque performance that can compete on the same level with shows such as Cirque du Soliel. There has to be that range for burlesque to continue into the future and not be just a fad.
Many italian girls are training to face burlesque stages. To help the, we have to remind them that even the most important divas have made some small mistakes! Please, tell us a funny memory about your first days as a burlesque performer.
You have to realize that when I started performing burlesque, there was no one current to learn from. Burlesque didn’t exist as a genre, so innovation was not a luxury it was a necessity. I researched old burlesque reels and read about the 1930’s – 60’s performers to recreate burlesque for this generation for at least a year before creating my first burlesque number. I showed it to some other performers that I worked in a theater company with in order to get feedback and advice. The routine was completely choreographed and included a fan dance- not common at the time at all- a striptease and a tassel twirling finale. My only reference points were Vegas showgirls, drag queens and my dance training. My costumes weren’t great, but my concepts and dance training and stage presence made it all interesting enough to put it on a stage. Nowadays, there are many performers in classic burlesque and the internet to find them. There are schools to learn the tricks and people to ask advice along with many small shows to hone your skills. My main advice to new performers is to put love onto the stage. Love it more than anything else and love you audiences too. Listen to your audience and let them tell you where you need to tighten up your routines. Don’t make your number excrutiatingly long until you have the skills to hold the audience. Don’t be afraid to fail and don’t be afraid to not be the queen of burlesque on your first attempt. Dixie Evans, the founder of the burlesque museum and hall of fame in Las Vegas told me once that the problem with new burlesque is that everyone wants to be the queen and there aren’t any foot soldiers. Be a foot soldier for a while before you try for queen. Be original, be yourself and please don’t try to be Dita Von Teese or you are bound to fail. Wait to print up those tee shirts buttons and photos and just work on your act. There’s only one Dita, there’s only one Julie Atlas Muz, there’s only one Dirty Martini and there should be only one you too!