Ariana Savalas: it’s all about music!
Ariana Savalas is an all-around showgirl: singer with the Postmodern Jukebox, sophisticated jazz chanteuse, author and protagonist of musical cabaret performances, actress, dancer and burlesque performer.
She’s recently performed at the New Orleans Burlesque Festival and she’ll be on stage at the 15th New York Burlesque Festival, the great annual event produced by Angie Pontani and Jen Gapay.
Let’s talk with her about music, cabaret, fabulousness and sparkling things!
You are eclectic and your preparation as a performance artist is multidisciplinary: actress, singer, songwriter, dancer, burlesque performer, emcee. Which one of them do you feel more “yours”?
I will always be a singer and a songwriter first and foremost. The other art forms I use in my show… dancing, burlesque, comedy, etc. are how I love to tell stories. The reason I fell in love with cabaret is the glamour and the over-the-top fabulousness of it all. When it comes to telling the stories of my life, I guess I have a flair for the dramatic. Sitting and strumming a guitar is just not enough for me. For a dramatic woman, you need a dramatic show! And I am a very, very dramatic woman!
In your solo performances you often sing the songs of the Great American Songbook, as well as in your EP Sophisticated Lady. With Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox you sing retro versions of contemporary songs. In the Ménage at Tour you sing covers and original material written by you. Music seems to be the main thread of most of your work. When did you realize that this could be so important in your life? And how did you develop your talents?
I was singing before I could speak, and I came from a very artistic family. My mom is a painter, my father was an actor, my grandmother Gloria was a brilliant singer and piano player, and my uncle sang opera. My grandfather and grandmother both introduced me to standards, and it was because of them that I fell in love with jazz. I was performing from a very early age, I don’t think there was ever a light bulb that went off in my head telling me that I should be a performer. I think it was in my blood since I was born. I never made a conscious decision to perform, it was just always a part of my life. I also never went to school for singing or performing. I just learned by going out there and completely screwing up, making a total ass of myself, and doing that over and over again until I wasn’t terrible anymore!
Your costumes and props are sparkly and glamorous, very Las Vegas style. How did your passion for this style begin?
My love affair with sparkles started very early on. I think you could say I got it from my grandmother. She was the most fabulous woman you had ever met, her whole house was covered in leopard print, the carpets, the curtains, the bed sheets, everything! And that glamour gene was passed on to me. But it is about so much more than glamour for me. It is about taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. My favorite artists…everyone from Salvador Dali to Ertè, Baz Luhrmann to Bette Midler, they are artists who transported people out of their everyday lives and experience something surreal, something out of this world, something absolutely fabulous. And just like a bird with aluminum foil, what better distraction is there from your life than something shiny?! I make most of my costumes, and beading them myself gives me a very personal attachment to my costumes and my show!
Who are your sources of inspiration for your work?
Bob Fosse was and is one of my biggest inspirations. His choreography in Chicago and his directing in Cabaret changed my life. When I saw Velma Kelly and Sally Bowles for the first time, all I knew is that I wanted to be them. I wanted a show like that, I wanted to dress like that, I wanted to dance like that, I wanted to sing and play with my audience like that. When I saw Bette Midler for the first time I felt the same way. She is a true show-woman, one of the last of her kind.
As far as burlesque is concerned, the cabarets in Paris are a sacred source of inspiration. Crazy Horse is one of the most gorgeous shows I have ever seen in my life. The woman are so beautiful and talented, it is so far from just being a strip show. It is a work of art. The Moulin Rouge is also fantastic, the talent is mind-blowing and the show is so ridiculously over-the-top! Baz Luhrmann’s movies have also deeply touched and inspired me.
What’s burlesque for you? And how did your passion for it begin?
This is a lovely question, because burlesque can take on many meanings. In America especially, the word has become synonymous with striptease. Of course this is one very important element, but for me strip is only a very small part of what burlesque is. Our show is only a burlesque in the traditional sense of the word. In the 1930’s and 40’s, cabarets and burlesques were parody shows, with music, dance, comedy and fun, and they were used to make light of the terrible political and social climates of those dark times. And I love that idea, creating something glamorous and fabulous out of darkness. This is why I love burlesque. Because I can take stories from my life, sometimes not very pleasant and dark stories, and create a world for them that is beautiful, funny, and magical. And that makes every painful thing worth while.
Can you tell something about the act you’re going to perform at theYou are going to perform at the New York Burlesque Festival 2017?
I am going to be performing a song I wrote, it’s called Playboy Bunny!
On the stage, you talk to and often joke with the audience. It seems that you’re born to play the role of the emcee for the Postmodern Jukebox.
Thank you so much!
How’s your relationship with the audience?
There is nothing I love more in the world than making people smile, making them laugh, entertaining them and taking them our of their ordinary lives for a short while. I love my audiences so much, they come to my shows because they want to have fun. They want to be taken on a fabulous glittery journey! And their enthusiasm always makes what I do easy, and I love them for it.
A question that’s a bit personal: how much has being Telly Savalas’s daughter influenced your life and work?
Tremendously. My father was not only a beautiful and wonderful man, he was an incredible artist and left behind a legacy that will not be forgotten. In everything I do, personally or in my career, I am mindful that my name is also his name. And I want to carry on his legacy in a way that would make him proud.
Please, tell us about your last project Ménage a Tour.
The Ménage a Tour my latest burlesque vaudeville show that we are touring in the US right now! It is a sexy little tribute to traditional burlesque, but with many modern twists. We will be bringing our show to Europe soon, so stay tuned!!