By MIKE CHAIKEN
EDITIONS EDITORWomen artists are going to be in the spotlight in nearby Wolcott this Saturday as SWAN Day returns to Connecticut.
SWAN (Support Women Artists Now) Day, which locally is the brainchild of Bristol musician Jennifer Hill, will be setting up shop at Illusions in Wolcott. The event, which is part of a national movement, features women working in a variety of art forms including the visual arts, music, and classic burlesque performance.
Vivienne LaFlamme, a burlesque artist from Connecticut who has performed with the likes of Angie Pontani, returns to SWAN Day this year.
The Observer caught up with Vivienne via email to talk about her chosen artform—burlesque— and SWAN Day in general.
Observer: How did you get into the art of burlesque?
Vivienne: I just recently celebrated my third anniversary of performing burlesque. I was going to some shows and really liked it. After seeing one performance in particular, I thought, “I know I can do this.” I saw a performer that had cellulite on her thighs, eating a hamburger on stage. I loved that she was comfortable in her own skin and that she looked so darn confident and happy. After that, a friend of mine and I enrolled in the New York School of Burlesque and took their introductory series.
O: A lot of burlesque performances try to create a routine with a theme. Where do you get your inspirations?
V: I get my inspirations from all sorts of places. I don’t really have a set way where I start from, when I build my acts. For the very first act that I did, I had a general idea for the costume and choreography. But at that point, I started working on the costume. I had a couple of choices for songs for that act, but when I decided, that’s when I finalized the choreography. I’ve made a few changes to the act over the years, but it’s basically the same act. Other acts change to meet a venue or producer’s wants and needs. I have one act that I’ve performed to several different songs, and I have another costume that I can modify to use for different acts.
O: When you look at old movie reels of burlesque dancers, what do you find most intriguing about their performances decades ago?
V: When I watch the old reels of my foremothers, the first thing I see is that the acts are so long. Sometimes, the dancers would have a 10 to 15 minute act. Today, I’d say most performer’s acts come in around the five minute mark. I try to remember that these ladies were considered exotic. I love to look at their costumes and see if there are ways I can build a piece for myself like it. I’m also always looking for inspiration—I never want to copy, but if I can take something and put my own spin on it, and make it unique, that’s part of the fun. Those ladies defined what classic burlesque is, but it’s exciting to see all of the generations after, putting their own stamp on the art form. Now, there are so many “-esques” in burlesque, it can make your head spin—boylesque, nerdlesque—most of the newer forms fall into neo-burlesque. Neo takes a lot of its inspiration from pop culture, or certain genres. There’s probably an act out there by someone for just about every niche.
O: Are there any burlesque dancers—historic or contemporary— who you recommend people Google to see the best of the best?
V: I think it’s important to know where you come from, so watching videos of Dixie Evans or Sally Rand would be a good place to start. Those ladies were some heavy-hitters. Some more contemporary performers that I enjoy are Angie Pontani, Dirty Martini, Julie Atlas Muz, Miss Indigo Blue, Tigger!, and I’d be remiss in not mentioning one of the more well-known performers, Dita Von Teese. I think she’s done a lot to bring burlesque to the “masses.”
O: You’ll be performing at SWAN Day, and you’ve done it before. What do you like about this particular festival.
V: I like the general idea of SWAN—Support Women Artists Now. I like that Jen is curating a diverse group of artists to come together under one roof, whether it’s fine art, jewelry, food, music, dance. We’re all out there to help support each other, and she’s bringing it together for one night. I think that I can help celebrate her idea by bringing a piece of female creativity to the mix. After we all add our ingredients, it’s gonna be one fine cake that turns out.
SWAN Day features 25 plus female artists showing and selling theit work plus live onstage art; music by Sarah Lemieux, Post Modern Panic, Dress Ups, Farewood, Canyon, Dancy the Band, Nicki Mathis, Jennifer Hill and Co., Dina Brass, The Royal Din, Sarah Barrios, Them Damn Hamiltons, and aspecial set by Angie of 1974; and burlesque by Mistress Leona Star, Victoria Van Layer, Harley Fox, Mrs. Haggerty, Vivienna LaFlamme, and Anatolia Firegoddess. It will be held Saturday, April 5, at Illusions Night Club, 1639 Wolcott Rd., Wolcott. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission $15 at the door.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.