For some people, the term Burlesque is something that is associated with a exciting, stylish and perhaps also a little more innocent time. But as many things from the past it is being revived and has for the past years made a grand return with lush sets, glamorous costumes, swinging music, cool lighting and of course luscious women moving in rhythm to the crooners’ finger snaps.
Meet Gentry de Paris, Burlesque performer, fashionista, entrepreneur and director of the Gentry de Paris Revue in… yes you guessed it, Paris, France. Ultra Swank sits down to talk with her to find out more about how she is bringing back the style of times gone by.
Burlesque was at its height around and after World War II. What made you take interest in that and how did you first get into it?
My interest in Burlesque stems from my interest in all things vintage and glamorous. Who doesn’t love a Burlesque stripper? I started first dancing with a troupe of chorus girls who did enactments of Busby Berkeley choreographies. Then that evolved into solo Burlesque strip tease acts.
What are the differences between a Burlesque dance and a “modern strip tease”?
Modern strippers dance for clients, Burlesque strippers dance for an audience. There’s absolutely no physical contact with the public in Burlesque strip tease, and we’re never completely nude on stage. Burlesque is “strip tease light” by modern standards, but it was the real deal back in the day. Burlesque strippers also wear a lot more clothes and elaborate costumes than modern strippers. In Burlesque the emphasis is on the tease.
Do you have any major influences for the style of your acts?
I try to evoke the golden age of Hollywood in my on-stage persona. I really want over the top glamour and 100% historical accuracy. I never use modern music and I try to keep my choreography true to the period I’m portraying.
You are a American based in Paris, how did you end up there?
I moved to Paris just after graduate school. My master’s thesis was on the expatriate artistic community in Paris between the wars, so I had spent a lot of time here for school. I always joke that I came for academic reasons, but stayed for the Champagne.
I am assuming from your style that you are into vintage and retro, which classical movie is your favorite to watch on a Sunday afternoon?
I’ve probably seen Citizen Kane, The Women & Singing in the Rain 100 times. Kane I love for the cinematography and acting. The Women for the clothes and dialogue. And Singing in the Rain is just the best comedy musical ever made for a million different reasons.
Something that most people don’t know is that you are also a big Disneyland fan, is that only attributed to the fact that you grew up near the park in Anaheim, near Los Angeles?
There’s a name for Disneyland enthusiasts. They call us Disney Heads. I have a big collection of vintage Disney ephemera. It really is the most magical place on earth.
Your revue from last year put the Burlesque scene in Paris in the spotlight once again, what inspired you to put it on and how did it come about?
The Gentry de Paris Revue ran for two weeks in Paris last September. It wasn’t a Burlesque show, but a Zeigfeld Follies style theatre extravaganza… 18 tableaux, dancing chorus girls, dandy singing men, opulent sets and costumes… the whole shebang. And it was the first Grande Revue in Paris’ 40 years. There’s a terrible trend toward minimalism in theatre these days (likely due to the economic crisis). But conditions were the same in the 1930s and the Zeigfeld Follies ran for decades providing opulent escapism and dazzling scenic effects for the masses.
The imagery from the show is familiar to any old movie enthusiast, but there’s something magical even to this day about seeing so many feathers and rhinestones and high kicking gorgeous girls in real life. I’m proud and honoured to have been able to add to the rich history of Parisian grand revues.
I also produce traditional Burlesque shows here in Paris and I’m a stickler for the classic Burlesque format: 6 beautiful Burlesque dancers and one or two “attractions” (i.e. non stripping acts). My shows are an homage to the golden era of Burlesque: we only dance to bawdy jazz standards (no modern music allowed), no visible tattoos (because the original burlesque queens didn’t have them), and big gorgeous costumes.
Would you first and foremost say you are mainly a performer or a director?
Both! I’m invited to dance all over the world for private events and other Burlesque shows. But Paris is my home base and monthly shows are my “day job”.
I understand you are a teacher nowadays too?
That’s my other day job! I have a school of Burlesque where anyone (well, any woman) can come and learn the basics of Burlesque strip tease in 9 easy lessons. It’s fun and interesting and not necessarily geared toward turning one into professional performer. For those who are interested in Burlesque style and vintage culture, it’s a fun way to dip your toe in without any big commitment.
What are your immediate plans for the future and where can we expect to see the Gentry de Paris revue next?
I have two big shows coming up: Cinema Burlesque which is scheduled to run in Paris on April 9 and again during the Cannes Film Festival. And then in June I have a tour of Europe’s capitals with a The Gentry de Paris All Star Burlesque Revue. It’s a real traditional bump-and-grind Burlesque show featuring the best and dancers from the US & Europe. And I have about 8000 billion other projects and private bookings. The Gentry de Paris Revue – which is the big Zigfeild Follies style theatrical show will start up again in 2011.
Finally, Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly?
Totally Gene Kelly. I visited him in the hospital shortly before he died. My ex-boyfriend & I did a little tap dance for him. He’s an amazing man and incredible choreographer.
Photos by Aurélia Thevenin