Kool Kat of the Week: Lola LeSoleil Talks Feathers, Fun and Frolic at Southern Fried Burlesque Festival 2014

Posted on: Mar 19th, 2014 By:

Lola LeSoleil. Photo credit: Your Mojo by Jojo.

The Southern Fried Burlesque Festival is back for its fourth sizzling year March 20-23, bringing the best performers from all over the world to Atlanta for a weekend full of burlesque classes, panels and performances  at the Wyndham Atlanta Galleria.  Founded and presented by Syrens of the South Productions, it’s not just bringing a high standard of burlesque entertainment to the city but also getting Southern performers noticed on the national scene.

One of these is Lola LeSoleil, who won the crown of Southern Fried Festival Queen 2013 in last year’s pageant competition. Lola will be giving a special farewell performance on Saturday night before this year’s queen receives her crown, but in the last year, she’s come a long way, baby. It’s our royal pleasure therefore to declare her Kool Kat of the Week and find out more about what she’s been up, her plans for the future and what she’s looking forward to the most about Southern Fried 2014!

How did you get started in burlesque? 

In 2001, my mom and I went to Las Vegas. While there we saw Gladys Knight, Charo– in all of her “Coochi-Coochi” glory – and the signature JUBILEE show at Bally’s. JUBILEE is the quintessential glamorous Las Vegas floor show  – huge feather headdresses; elegant, statuesque ladies dripping in rhinestones; and lighted staircases. I was in love and realized come hell or high water, I needed a big feathery headdress. And sequins. And rhinestones.

It took a few more years before I saw a few burlesque shows in Atlanta – Big City Burlesque, Dames Aflame – and realized this art was in my city! I just needed a way in. After detouring to pole dance class and a one-off burlesque choreography class, I attended a Blast Off Burlesque show with a friend who introduced me to Talloolah Love -at the time of Syrens of the South [Read our Kool Kat profile of Talloolah here]. They offered a burlesque class series. I couldn’t get my butt to class fast enough.

Lola LeSoieil. Photo credit: Derek Jackson

Is there a story behind the name Lola LeSoleil?

Burlesque names can be a challenge. I wanted a name to reflect my abundant energy and honored who I am, but also paid tribute to beauty icons I grew up with. LeSoleil is my heat, my sun. Lola was for Lola Falana who was a black actress and entertainer in the 1970s, and who also appeared on THE MUPPET SHOW.

Who are a few of your role models in burlesque, both classic and from the burlesque revival, and why?

To be honest, Carol Burnett was my first comedic variety role model. She was silly, endearing, dynamic and versatile. I didn’t really know conventional burlesque tease artists until I started taking classes and began  research. Toni Elling and Jean Idelle are two special ladies whom I’m delighted to have met, and their lives as entertainers resonate with me and I have immense respect for them. Contemporary artists share my Gen X/Y perspective on balancing art and work and creativity. It’d take more space than I have here to name them, but suffice to say I’m delighted to have perfomed with and for revivalists whose opinions mean a lot to me.

A few years ago, you were interviewed about being an African American performer in the burlesque revival. Traditionally there haven’t been as many but at least on Atlanta stages, I’ve been seeing more. Can you talk a little about why this has been so and do you see a change or not?

Having more faces that look like mine in the burlesque revival I believe comes down to exposure to the art, and a desire to participate. The burlesque community in Atlanta is welcoming and supportive of everyone’s artistic journey. The change is gradual, and what I’ve seen is encouraging!

Lola LeSoleil. Photo Credit: Marc Turnley

What did winning the Miss Southern Fried Burlesque crown mean to you, and how has it affected your career over the past year? 

The joke of my winning Southern Fried Burlesque Queen was that my third time was the charm. I competed in 2011 and 2012 winning awards, but not the BIG one. Turns out there were a lot of people who were excited to see a nerdy/fandom-inspired act win a burlesque pageant title. I had the opportunity to be invited to perform in cities I may otherwise not have. It’s been a damn fine year!

Without giving away any big spoilers, can you give us a little tease about your farewell performance?

If I told you, I’d have to exterminate you.

Are you teaching any classes at SFBF?

In year’s past I’ve taught, but this year at SFBF, you’ll see me volunteering and being a student because I heartily believe there’s always room to improve as an artist. And I like helping.

What else are you looking forward to personally about SFBF?

I am really excited to have my Beginning Burlesque Choreography class perform in the Newcomer’s Showcase on Thursday night! And of course, I’m abuzz to see friends I’ve met at other festivals and shows come in to town for a gigantic glittery weekend! It’s like the start of “Burlesque Summer Camp” season.

What’s next for you?

I’m fortunate to be performing at the first Nerdlesque Festival in New York in a few weeks, and I’m opening my travel horizons to other festivals and events outside the South. Windy City [Burlesque Fest], here I come! I’m really looking forward to teaching more at  The Atlanta School of Burlesque.

Anything else you’d like to tell ATLRetro readers about Lola LeSoleil?

Follow your strengths as a performer, but don’t limit yourself. Take all the classes. Learn anything/everything and don’t allow yourself to stagnate. As long as you have breath in your body, you can improve.

To read ATLRetro’s preview of the Fourth Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Festival, click here.

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Like a Burlesque Girl Should: Shaking, Rattlin’ and Rockin’ Out with Kitten DeVille on Neoburlesque’s Underground Roots, Lux Interior and Headlining Atlanta’s Southern Fried Burlesque Fest

Posted on: Mar 7th, 2012 By:

Kitten DeVille. Photo credit: Neil Kendall.

Anyone who’s spent any time watching Atlanta’s burlesque scene knows we have some amazing performers and troupes, but Southern Fried Burlesque Fest finally put Atlanta on the map as having its own weekender featuring nationally known stars, legends and local and regional performers. At last year’s premiere event, we had an amazing time watching some of the most creative acts ever to hit local stages and mixing and mingling over cocktails in between. So needless to say, ATLRetro can’t wait for the second annual festival this weekend (March 8-11) at the Courtyard Marriott/Decatur Conference Center.

Look out for a full preview soon, but in the true spirit of tease, we couldn’t wait to titillate you with an exclusive interview with headliner Kitten DeVille, Miss Exotic World 2002 and the Queen of the Quake. Kitten is the shake-rattle-and rock ‘n’ roll 3-D embodiment of the cat’s meow, the quintessential Kool Kat, and one of the key founders of the neo-burlesque revival. So listen up, kids, as she divulges some sexy secrets about the pioneer days of the early ’90s (to find out how Atlanta’s own burlesque revival began, check out Torchy Taboo‘s tale of the city’s first show here.), as well as what she’ll be up to this weekend. Oh, and we  just couldn’t resist asking her what it was like to shoot the “Ultra Twist” video with The CrampsLux Interior, Kitten and we miss you more than you could ever imagine!

ATLRetro: When you got started in burlesque, the art form was mostly dead. Yet around the country in the early-mid ‘90s, it seemed like there was almost a simultaneous energy to bring it back. Can you talk a little bit about the early days of the Burlesque revival and what inspired you to perform?

Kitten DeVille: At the time  I was go go dancing along with Michelle Carr at an underground gay club inLos Angeles called Club Fuck. I was collecting vintage men’s magazines and had always been inspired by the photos of burlesque dancers. Their photos seemed to capture  incredibly, fierce and glamourous women having  fun on their own terms. Their costumes inspired me to make all my go-go costumes in their style . When Michelle and Elvia ( the creators of [Los Angeles burlesque troupe] The Velvet Hammer) started talking about putting together a burlesque supper club I was sold on the idea. The first Velvet Hammer was held on Valentines Day 1995. Lux & [PoisonIvy (of The Cramps) were in the  sold-out audience. I was hooked from the very start – one-upping my costumes, always in search of the next song. Backstage was like a girls night out – champagne, laughter, catching up on the latest stories. (I still feel this way backstage today.)

Kitten DeVille Miss Exotic World 2002 Promo shot. Photo credit: Don Spiro.

Some things that were different in the start that maybe girls do not think about today [include]:

In the 1990s, there was really nowhere to go for  8x10s. There were no modern pin up photographers like there are today. We had to make it up as we went along, designing our shoots, telling them we wanted a certain mood and lighting. Most photographers did not ‘get it right off the bat.

There was no place to buy costumes. The lingerie industry was pretty boring, very plain compared to what is out there now (also pretty burlesque-inspired if you ask me). There are so many things that seem so common now that were really hard-to-find objects in the ’90s, from hair ornaments [to] shoes, clothing. Most things we could only obtain in vintage form; now there is so much off the rack .

At the 2000 Miss Exotic World & Tease-O-Rama in 2001 there were only a handful of neoburlesque girls. It was an exciting world to ourselves. Each year our numbers grew. We returned with new stories and adventures. Our world expanded. We helped each other along; we were inspired by the legends. We witnessed the burlesque explosion. It is pretty amazing to watch a scene grow, to be a part of it from the very beginnings. Because when you are in the midst of it, you do not understand that you are part of this history, that people will one day be inspired by you, that we were creating and forming this thing that has become modern burlesque. It is quite an honor.

What kinds of people came to those early Velvet Hammer shows?

Gays, straights, hipsters. We had an underground mixed crowd right from the start. It was its own scene. People dressed up. It was an event, a real night out on the town affair.

Today’s burlesque performers can learn their craft in classes through schools of burlesque such as yours. How did you develop your stage style and did you have any mentors/early inspirations/role models in the art of burlesque?

In 1994, when I started creating my first burlesque act, there was no YouTube and very little vintage burlesque easily available on video. I took what I saw in vintage burlesque  photos and blended it with what I believed they must have been doing on stage with their bodies and created my own style of burlesque. My main inspirations for my movements are Lilie Christine‘s photos and Lux Interior’s and Iggy Pop‘s no-holds-barred stage presence.

Kitten DeVille & Lux Interior.

What was it like working with the Cramps? 

Working and performing with the Cramps has been amazing and intimidating. I had been a huge fan of Lux and Ivy for years. At first, I felt so meek sitting in the same room with them. But they are such wonderful people, very friendly and funny.  At one point Lux was asking our opinion on which heels he should wear for the shoot and if we would mind doing an extra scene riding in a back of a convertible with them. Lux also liked to take 3D photos, and backstage at the Key Club, he was doing an impromptu photo shoot of Michelle and me when we opened for their show. Now that was a mix of horror and amazement because the event was over-sold so people were packed in standing room only from stage to exit and here we were opening for The Cramps!  Not really a burlesque show audience, people had only one thing on their minds and that was Lux & Poison or so it felt to me. I remember walking onto stage and looking into their faces. It seemed as if  half the audience was super into what I was doing  and half had that look of, “OK, now bring on The Cramps!  But the best thing from that night was what the DJ and some people in the booth overheard Lux saying to Ivy as they watched me perform. Lux had leaned over to Ivy and said  “now how are we going to follow that!”

What about being shot by Bunny Yeager and David LaChapelle?

Bunny Yeager is such a pro, such an eye and very easy to work with. I only wished I would have filmed the shoot so I could remember all the little tricks she was telling me, just an inch here or a hand held there. Her direction and photos came out flawless. I remember she kept wanting me to be naked and in the end I was. Ha ha, she has her ways of getting what she wants, and, well, it’s Bunny and who else should be the first photographer to shoot nude photos of me?!

David LaChapelle is so fun to work with. It is always a crazy party; you never know what to expect out of the day. I had first met him with a mutual friend  in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery watching movies being projected on the wall. He said that he liked the dress I was wearing and asked if he could put my number in his phone. I have done a few photos, videos and commercials with him. He is such an artist and very sweet.

What’s your favorite performance thus far and why? 

I cannot choose only one. Many of my performances have a special place in my heart for different reasons, but the one that shines is “The Casting Couch” that Dixie Evans personally taught to me back at the Ranch.  I love Dixie. She is the most enthusiastic, knowledgeable and kindest lady I have ever met in the field of burlesque. She is the glue that binds this whole scene from the beginnings to the modern day. When I was asked to perform a tribute number at the Burlesque Hall of Fame, I instantly chose Dixie.

I spent a couple  days with her teaching me her routine, filming her, taking down notes on what songs she had used. And in the end she was insistent that I finish the routine with something of myself, with my bumps and grinds, because she had said “no one can shake the way you shake and you have to make this your own.” So I added “The Man with the Golden Arm” song to the end and made her routine have a bit of myself mixed into it.  This is the only time I have ever performed someone else’s choreography and such a well-known routine.  Although it went off wonderfully, it was such a challenge of nerves to perform it in front of her and my peers at BHoF that I put the routine away for about five years. I brought it back out again for Viva Las Vegas and spent the next two years touring with it because I loved doing it so much. Funny how things go sometimes .

Kitten DeVille. Photo credit: Luca Rome.

For us East Coast Southerners, what’s the Rock & Roll StripShow, how did you get the idea and is that still happening?

The Rock & Roll StripShow is a joint effort of Joseph Brooks, Annie Sperling and myself. It came about because of a few different reasons. First, there are no large-venue burlesque shows in Los Angeles. Second I wanted to co-produce something with Joseph Brooks who is hugely responsible for the underground club scene in LA starting in the late 1980s which I loved dancing at. And thirdly I wanted to combine my two favorite worlds – rock  & roll and burlesque – something most people were not doing back in 2005. Rock & Roll StripShow features our own band and guest singers which have included David J of Bauhaus fame, Pearl Harbor, Kitten on the Keys and other wonderful  performers. We handpick a headliner roster of performers, and the night is filled with burlesque performances set to live Rock & Roll in a proper venue with amazing sound and lightin . It is a main event attracting everyone from Dita [Von Teese], David LaChapelle and a who’s who in LA  to attend. Right now we are looking to take StripShow on tour. We also want to attach it to larger burlesque or Rock & Roll festivals .

Kitten DeVille Onstage in New Orleans.

What will you be up to at Southern Fried Burlesque Fest?

I am performing on Friday night [at Free Range Burlesque] and judging the [Southern Fried Burlesque] Pageant on Saturday. I am also teaching two classes. I have a movement class [Sat. 3:15] that is guaranteed to have the students feeling their bodies,  and also a question/answer [Sat. 4:30 p.m.], ask-me-anything sort of a class that should be really fun because I never know what I will be asked and they maybe surprised by my answers.

What else, other than your own performance and classes, are you looking forward to the most at SFBF?

Watching the other performances. I love Perle [Perle Noire, the Black Pearl] and Angel [ Satan’s Angel]. They are both always so inspiring. I am excited to watch and meet all the wonderful  performers. My favorite things about festivals are meeting and making new friends. I have never been to Georgia before so I am also excited to be in a new place, to soak up my surrounding and sample the food.

You’re quite the multitalented Renaissance woman of burlesque. What else are you up to right now in movies, music, modeling?

I have been doing some interesting modeling work with Annie Sperling. I am in talks with a producer about doing  a TV show. I am thinking about doing some writing, and I am working on setting up another European tour for late summer early fall. I am also traveling the states doing festivals. I have Viva Las Vegas and the Texas Burlesque Festival in April and The Windy City Burlesque Festival in July .

What question does no one ever ask you that you wish someone did? And what’s the answer? 

Wow, what a great question! I think I am too much of a Scorpio to give away all my secrets, but now you have my mind spinning for the perfect question. I will have to get back to you on that one.

In addition to Kitten DeVille’s main Website, she invites you to enjoy more pics and clips at http://kittendeville.tumblr.com/.

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