Meeting Undine LaVerne for the first time was a blast, and her dedication to the art of Burlesque is absolutely contagious! Just before jetting off on a nine-day German tour, Guide Me Malta had the chance to meet the star and have a chat about her imminent production, MalTease, now in its third edition!
The Variety Show, to take place on the 8th, 9th and 10th of November, is a star-studded shindig with a glittering cast of performers from far and wide, and we're talking the best in the biz! Undine is pulling out all the stops this year, and has roped in big-name international acts to dazzle the audience at Spazju Kreattiv in Valletta. And by the sounds of it, we're in for one hell of a ride.
Burlesque began as satire in England in its infant years, Undine tells Guide Me Malta. It was a way for the lower class to make fun of the upper classes, and morphed into vaudeville, cabaret and on-stage cross-dressing in the early 1900s. When it arrived in America, they made it sexy, and it became very popular indeed!
During the Great Depression, America suffered mass job-losses and burlesque shows in music halls showed many times a day, frequented by the newly enemployed male audiences. Burlesque entertainment took a big hit with the arrival of the television, and by the late 1950s, it was on its last (stockinged) legs. That is, of course, until the late 1990s where is benefitted from a massive revival which saw burlesque dancers including Dita Von Teese hoist it back into the public eye. From there came a newfound public interest in the form of theatre which Undine describes as "The art of tease, and the art of seduction". Interesting stuff!
Apart from its sex appeal, Burlesque has a very inclusive role in the performing arts. "The greatest thing, in my opinion, is the community aspect of Burlesque, which is run by women, queer women and men and their allies. The performers manage themselves completely. They produce their own shows, create their own roles, characters and styling. There's no one interfering with your artistic vision...I have managed myself for 9 years" Undine tells us. And boy has she managed herself well!
Undine discovered Burlesque at the age of 18 through a Canadian performer by the stage name of Pyra Teknix, who was living in Malta at the time. When she eventually moved back to Canada after a year, Undine was left without a mentor close-by and decided to make the brave leap to fly far beyond our shores, aged 19, to the Big Apple! New York was a huge eye-opener for the young dancer, and she was both awe-struck and amazed at the glamorous scene, practiced by the likes of Lady Gaga in her earlier years on the circuit. Sometimes, Undine had to sneak into shows as she was underage at some venues!
It was in New York that Undine was exposed to all that Burlesque can offer, as in the Big Apple, anything goes! From comedy burlesque to performers of different genders, alternative routines and of course, classical burlesque which is what most people think of when they picture burlesque....the oversized feather fans, sequins and nipple tassels. Cheeky!
Another great thing that is important about burlesque is that it features different body types, different genders, different ages, people of all sizes and colours. "Literally anything!" says Undine. "As long as you have something unique, beautiful or interesting to bring to the table. It's very inclusive art, which cannot be said about a lot of industries right now. I was a bigger girl growing up and I wanted to do ballet. And when I was in Russia as part of a dance troupe after New York I was told I didn't have the right body type to be a showgirl.... So when I teach burlesque to my dance students, one of the exercises I include is for them to face themselves and learn to love every part. Watching empowered, liberated bodies on stage really helps break that stigma" she continues. Sounds like we all might need a bit of burlesque!
This November's Variety Show will feature everything from magic, musical theatre, live singing, comedy, a bit of freak-show glam and of course, lots of dancing. Half of the performance's 10-strong cast are Malta-based, and the others will be descending on our island from all over the world to dazzle us! Without giving too much away, the cast is absolutely star-studded, and you're in for a banger of an evening at MalTease, where world famous performers will take you on a naughty but nice soiree to tickle the senses.
When asked what kind of crowd MalTease has pulled in in previous editions, Undine confirms it's not just for couples... although that's highly recommended too! "People think that it's just about arousal...but there's so much more too it. It's so refreshing because it's so different and there's something for everyone. Theatregoers leave feeling happy and empowered. Women love it as a girls' night out!" she continues, beaming. "We get all sorts. People from all walks of life! Serious people, fun loving people, the theatre crowd, lawyers, and of course the LGBTIQ+ crowd!".
The show will finish up, as it has done in previous editions, with a Q&A session which can get quite interesting, Undine tells us! One question that's often asked is "How do your parents view all this?" and the answer might come as a surprise, as Undine is fully supported by her mama and papa, with her dad even featuring in this year's cast and her mum acting as stage manager, and also her costume designer- we applaud that!
On a last note, we rounded up our chit chat on a reflective note. "Why is Burlesque relevant nearing the 2020s?" I ask Undine LaVerne. She doesn't miss a beat. "It's about finding femininity within yourself. We see a lot of skin nowadays, all the time and everywhere. With Burlesque, when you come out you are completely covered up. You make people wait to even take a single glove off. Then even something as mundane as a hand becomes something special. You give a bit, then you take it back. Nowadays, "sexiness" is thrown in our faces all the time, so with Burlesque, it's about taking the audience on a journey there." We're sold!
Don't miss out on this fab night out! You can book your tickets online here.