The Tits for Toys for Tots benefit not only will bring out a bevy of the best local burlesque beauties but also marks the return to the stage of legendary international performer Gabriella Maze Sat. Dec. 17 at the Five Spot in Little Five Points. Born in London, Gabriella first danced in Spainin the early 1970s, embracing a 20-year glamorous career that took her across Europe and the Middle East, even sharing a hookah with the Shah of Iran. “Would I change anything in my life?” she says. “No way! I am a lucky gal!”
Gabriella now lives inSouth Carolina and says she had no idea until recently about the burlesque revival. ATLRetro caught up with her earlier this week to find out more about what the international burlesque scene was like in the 1970s, as well as see if we could coax out a little tease at what she has planned for her Saturday night grande finale appearance—the first time she has performed live since 1989.
Tits for Toys for Tots Details: Doors open at 7 p.m., a Tease U Student Showcase at 8 p.m. and sintastional main show at 9 p.m. which also features last week’s Kool Kat Fonda Lingue, Katherine Lashe, Lola LeSoleil, Ruby Redmayne, Talloolah Love, Kisa von Teasa of Knoxville’s Salome Cabaret and more. Produced by Syrens of the South. Admission is either $20 or just $10 with a new unwrapped toy worth at least $5. Purchase advance tickets here.
ATLRetro: You grew up in England and began dancing in the early 1970s. How old were you, what made you decide to embrace burlesque, and how did you end up performing in Spain?
Gabriella: I always wanted to dance. I guess I’m just artistic in nature. I began going to different auditions and trying to get into the London dance scene, but it was pretty tough. A girlfriend brought to my attention an ad in the local Variety newspaper. I had that audition in somebody’s kitchen for a lady named Jackie Harris and her husband Luciano Migliorini, after whom the troupe was named. I started as a showgirl at the end of line and worked my way to the front of the line. Then I began doing solo acts which were burlesque acts. In between the quick changes of numbers, they did burlesque acts. The show was an hour, and it was a troupe that worked at a regular nightclub. There were probably five to six different numbers and maybe four to five dancers that danced in between the acts. I never worked inLondon. I worked in Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Dubai, lot of places in the Middle East. I mainly did six-month tours and then come back
In America, it seemed like the art of burlesque was losing its sheen in the 1970s, but you talk about the burlesque way of life, glamour and travel across Europe and the Middle East. Were things different on the other side of the Atlantic?
InLondonat the time, I don’t think there was much burlesque going on. If it was, it was very underground and kind of seedy. A lot of dancers started out as showgirls and you were offered more money if you were willing to do topless. I was like, feathers and rhinestone, why not? It was more money—more money does motivate a lot of people—but also a lot of fun. The clubs in the Middle East were extremely opulent, but there were very tight rules. You weren’t allowed to date waiters or musicians in the band. For instance, I worked in Baghdad at the Embassy Club, and most of nightclub performers were all housed in places that were kind of like a pensione. The doors were locked, but you had young boys who slept on the ground floor, usually with no blankets, and if you needed anything—food, groceries—they’d run and get it for you. We were transported from the pensione to the nightclub every evening and back, and at night there were guards on the door. It was like being in a gilded cage in the Middle East. I got spat on a few times going from rehearsals or from the pensione to the nightclub in Tehran which was called La Boheme and was right next door. Even though we wore jeans over our leotards, we were spat upon. You couldn’t go into a coffee shop unless you were escorted by a man.
I was there four times when Shah in power, and Tehranwas one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to as far as opulence. Everything was very European with a French flavor, but if you turn the corner, you’d see people living on the sidewalks, lots of beggars. You’d only see two classes—the rich or the poor. It was almost like being in a very unreal place, seeing all this opulence as a dancer, and you’re meeting some of the most rich and famous people—sheikhs and princes. It was a very, very crazy world.
Can you talk a little bit about the types of routines you performed and do you have any favorite performances?
One of my favorite performances which I will be performing at Tits for Toys for Tots is a classical piece to Ravel’s Bolero. It’s just a beautiful piece. The music tells the story. The costume is feathers and rhinestones and very elegant, more in a showgirls 1920s time style. Then I also like a lot of modern stuff, and I hope to be doing a second performance called Bedtime Story. It’s basically a story of a young girl’s transition from child to sex symbol to princess and then a little humor at the end. I’m kind of an eclectic person so there’s a mixture of styles and I’d go so far to say even a hint of the Muppets. It’s a very cute show and one of my favorites.
At the beginning, I was told what to do. All costumes were provided by the troupe. But once I was comfortable in what I was doing and I showed that to the choreographer—who always traveled with us—he let me put my own artistic marks into what I wanted to do. There are people who can freestyle to music, but to me, choreographed numbers are best. When I started traveling by myself once I left the troupe, I had total control over what my dancing and costumes. But my experience with that troupe gave me everything I needed to know.
I spent in some time in Germany, where I met one of my friends whom I’m actually staying with when I’m in Atlanta. I’ve known her for 40 yrs. Her father was American and her mother was European. One day I came and visited her and met my husband and got married.
When and why did you stop dancing? And what have you been up to?
Age could be one factor. It was in 1989. I was dancing at one club in Charleston, SC, which was still doing a burlesque style, though mot exactly. That then died out in about a year. I remember the first pole coming into the club and how it changed the nightclub as I knew them. Of course, when the poles came, then the age factor came. I told myself, you had to wean yourself off. My days are up.
What made you decide to start dancing burlesque again after 20 years away from the stage?
My daughter said you need to get on Facebook. I did, and I put in word “burlesque,” and it’s like my computer just lit up. There was all this amazing stuff. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Burlesque is still alive?!”
What I’ve noticed with neoburlesque is that it doesn’t seem to have that age criteria. It’s really refreshg. All ages, all types, shapes and forms performing. I contacted Angel Walker (Satan’s Angel) and said I want to perform again, I miss the life, this is fantastic. I said, tell me the truth, how do I get back into this? I said, don’t I have to attend these competitions and win prizes and crowns? She laughed at me [and said], no, you don’t need to enter any competitions, we just need to find you some work. So here I am. I guess you’d call it my grand coming out. I’m feeling that hard to describe feeling of nervousness to excitement to pure pleasure. You know what I’m talking about if you’re any kind of performer, whether a singer, magician, actress or a burlesque dancer.
How did you get involved with Tits for Toys for Tots?
I contacted Angel, and she has taken me under her wing. She is my angel. She contacted Katherine [Lashe] and Ursula [Undress] and told them about me and asked if I could still get into the show. Lucky for me, Katherine and Ursula contacted me, and I will be there on Dec. 17, and I am absolutely honored to be doing it. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the wonderful neoburlesque performers.
Did you ever think that you’d be dancing burlesque for a children’s charity like Toys For Tots, or is that another way the scene has changed?
I think it’s fantastic, but no, I don’t think it would ever happen in the ‘70s. Burlesque in the ‘70s or before was kind of taboo and risqué. In today’s world, risqué is what you see over dinner when you turn on the TV looking at the commercials. In the past, you wouldn’t have a fundraiser unless maybe it was something personal in the burlesque community or a troupe maybe would raise money for another girl. I think it’s wonderful.
What’s next for Gabriella Maze?
I’m not sure. I’m just so excited. Once people see me on Dec. 17 and see what do, my style and the way I perform, I hope I get bombarded with “come join us” emails. That’s be fantastic. I’m hoping it comes to that, and if it doesn’t, I’m just going to enjoy the embrace offered from Atlanta and from the burlesque community. I’m also thinking about teaching. If there is a request for me to, by all means I’d be more than happy to teach or talk with people in the burlesque community and give them my experiences.
I feel like I’m Sleeping Beauty. I’ve been asleep for a long time and suddenly the endorphins have been triggered in my head. I’m still kind of nervous as to what to expect from the community, but what I’m seeing so far is really loving and very outreaching. I never thought I’d have a second opportunity at this life at age 60. I thought it would be something I’d look back on and have my fond memories and that would be it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just a big thank you to Angel Walker, to my costume maker Karma Blake Originals, and to Delorean Chase for my sound mixes.