Femme Ferale burlesque acts
Lucrezia La Bomba and Chiquita Bonita have never done a fan dance in their lives, but as award-winning burlesque duo Femme Ferale they’ve taken the burlesque world by storm. And they like Frida Kahlo. And bingo.
We are under the impression that burlesque has been around awhile, but (okay, we like the film Cabaret) we’d always assumed this emancipated art-sleaze was direct rebellion against poverty and repression and false society. Why do you think burlesque is back?
Chiquita Bonita: Burlesque is many things to many people. It is empowerment for women because it shows that we can have control of our image and our bodies. The nude element is more comical than erotic in most cases, it offers up a celebration of female sexuality and seperates it from it’s usual context of an something designed purely for male objectification. This means that unlike a strip club, burlesque attracts a large female audience. But above all it is a good old fashioned form of light entertainment. I think what attracts people to Burlesque shows is the live element. It is less restrictive than a theatre show in that the audience is able to drink and talk and shout. And they get to watch a show which playfully lets them escape all the depression and seriousness of today’s world by parodying it through music and dance.
How do you two girls differ as Creativistas? Or are you like dark peas in a deliciously poisonous pod?
Lucrezia La Bomba: I think we differ quite a lot; both from other burlesque artists and each other! Chiquita is the actress and wordsmith and is very fluffy! I am always trying to encourage her that we need blood and horror in practically every routine that we make up; although she usually persuades me that a visceral display fest doesn’t really make sense in a colourful salsa routine! As for other performers, we really respect and admire the grace and delicateness of the traditional fan dance, but that’s just not us! We prefer to do upbeat, dance routines that get the crowd excited and we like to mix it up with different genres of music…from Punk to Calypso!
Chiquita Bonita:We are very different! Lucrezia is sharp witted and has quite a blaze approach to life whereas I am very sensitive and passionate. Together we make an almost ‘normal’ person! But what makes a double act work I think is that there are differences between the two people. No one wants to see two carbon copies onstage; if they do they can hire twins! Of course we have similar ideals though. We want to bring a rock n roll attitude to burlesque .There are no rules to what we do, we aren’t strictly 40’s or 60’s, we will do whichever era we feel like at the time and do it with our own touch. The only rules are to have fun onstage, get the party started and no fan dancing!
A burlesque act is frequently about one burlesque queen on the stage, eating up the applause as she lays her soul and sometimes body bare onstage (although, ever the artiste, there are things she will never show the public). Do you bare your body? If not, why not?
Lucrezia La Bomba: We never go further than tassels or pasties and pants; we don’t even go to the thong region! I think if you show your nipples it’s moving away from burlesque and into Spearmint Rhino (although nothing wrong with that!), if you show everything, then there is no tease, which is one of the main pants of burlesque.
Chiquita Bonita:It is strip ‘tease’. We are not here to seduce really, more to titillate. We want to make you laugh and be happy. It’s funny people often comment on how brave we are to go up there and lay bare our body to the public but really that is the last thing we are thinking about when we are choreographing a routine. When the bra comes off, it is always in the moment, when we are on stage and full of adrenalin and with tassels on we don’t feel so naked. I think when people start showing more than tassel adorned bubbies it can border more into performance art rather than burlesque, but each performer has their own boundaries and that is their decision.
Why did you choose a burlesque double-act? Does it help to have two people exploring the act? How does it work so you both get something out of it?
Lucrezia La Bomba: We just both decided to do it together! Chiquita comes from an acting background, but I have only done small parts in school plays so the thought of going up there on my own scared the hell out of me when we were starting out, and even now to be honest. It’s good being in a double act because you always have a friend with you wherever you go, and you know that you’re never going to be sat on your own in the dressing room with no one to talk to! It also means that we can react to each other in the dances which can be funny.
Chiquita Bonita:I agree with everything Lucrezia has said. It’s so cool to have someone sharing the ride with you. And because we are such different characters we each bring something different to the table and it helps make our act more colourful! Also there aren’t so many double acts out there so I think it can have a strong visual impact for an audience, I mean who’s gonna complain about seeing 2 girls on stage instead of 1? It does mean that we generally can’t wing it though, we are performing choreographed dance routines together so unlike a solo act we can’t just style out mistakes!
Do you sew costumes? How do you choose them?
Lucrezia La Bomba: We have tried, but that didn’t go too well, we have a good friend Stella Cecil who made our last costumes for us and they were amazing, our level is sticking on sequins! The costumes are very important to us. When we hear a song that we want to use for a new routine the first thing we think about is how our costumes and hair will be!
Chiquita Bonita:Yes we do a lot of sewing and sticking and we aren’t that professional at it! Which is why it was lovely when we had Stella on board! She’s fab!
Lucrezia La Bomba, you don’t like snakes – does that mean a snake act is out of the question?
Lucrezia La Bomba: Oh my god! No way in HELL would I be able to do an act with a snake! I didn’t used to mind them, but now when I watch them on TV it makes me scream! I’d love to do some kind of underwater one with a shark though… Unlikely!
Chiquita Bonita:Ha! You can do the underwater shark one on your own! I don’t mind snakes to much but I am afraid of pigeons. My dad is from near Venice and let loads of them go all over me in St Marks Square when I was 3! I’ve hated them ever since. But that’s o.k. coz unless you want to spread disease around the auditorium; I guess a pigeon act would be out of the question. Ugh… I hate them!
What sorts of places and events do you perform in? Do burlesque acts require a sparkling main club stage? A dark cellar with old gangsters crying in the corner?
Lucrezia La Bomba: we have performed in all sorts of places, from grotty clubs, to muddy fields to beautiful old clubs! I think it depends on the routines, for example it feels right doing our Career Opportunities routine in those dingy dives as we’re dancing to The Clash and it has a lot of attitude, but for out more showy ones it’s nice to do them on a big stage in lovely old venues. But to be honest if the crowd is enjoying it and behind you it doesn’t matter where you are, they are the most important aspect of performing I think.
Chiquita Bonita:I am not a snob but I do believe you will perform better if you are treated well. Nothing too fancy. Just room to change in, a mirror, some drinks and a clean, safe stage. But like Lucrezia said as long as the crowd are nice and loving it, then anywhere’s good!
What are your influences?
Lucrezia La Bomba: Too many to name! That’s why we always to different themed dances as we are trying to fit all these influences into our repertoire!
Chiquita Bonita:Latin, Rock, Dancehall, Animals, Beyonce, Bettie Paige, yeah exactly, the list is endless!
Do you push burlesque boundaries? Is it all vintage and fan dances, or do you try to broaden burlesque horizons and mix things up a bit?
Lucrezia La Bomba: I like to think we do, we like to mix the old and the new… Our name, Femme Ferale (Wild Woman) says it all, really! We are both lovely ladies, but we have a wild crazy streak which needs to be let out!
Chiquita Bonita:We have never done a fan dance in our lives. I can’t stand them! No offence coz a lot of our friends will do them for corporate and there are a few girls out there who can pull them off with the grace and beauty..but they are kind of against the Femme Ferale religion! We like shaking our behinds, and I believe that has been going on for years in Burlesque! We just don’t want to pin ourselves down to just one style.
How long does your act generally last of a performance? Does it tend to be one routine, or several?
Our acts are between 2 and 4 minutes long, we like to look very different in each of the routines so we wouldn’t be able to do them all back to back without some time to change our hair and makeup in between!
Chiquita Bonita:Yeah our acts are short and sweet! We just give you a few minutes of super high energy and then leave you wanting more you naughtys! But yeah we definitely need time to wipe the sweat off our brow and change our look !
Are there any clubs purely dedicated to burlesque around?
Chiquita Bonita:Not entirely but you have clubs like Madame Jo Jo’s that put on a hell of a lot of it , Camden used to be a hub for it with Proud Galleries hosting nights but unfortunately for some insane reason they have banned it there which is ridiculous. Maybe they should concentrate on eradicating the crack problem in the area before they ban a bit of harmless tassel twirling!
Darlings, one day you will be 50. 60. 70. These ages exist and are not simply the stuff of myth and legend. Will you still be treading absinthe-soaked boards?
Lucrezia La Bomba: Jesus, I hope not, I don’t think anyone wants to see that! By then we will have taken over the world and will be living with a string of beautiful toy boys… Naturally!
Yes, hopefully we will be experienced and knowledgeable enough to pass on some of what we have learnt to younger fledglings, perhaps. Maybe I’ll become an avid gardener, ha! Also write… In fact, that’s my true passion so I hope to find time to concentrate on that at some point!
Has your act ever had any terrible, terrible mishaps? Wardrobe malfunctions? Gunshots from jealous lovers zinging over the heads of the audience?
Lucrezia La Bomba: Chiquita’s nipple tassel flew off at the LBF last year, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind that much…apart from that we’ve been quite lucky…touch wood!
Chiquita Bonita:I styled that one out quite nicely though so, hmmm. Nothing to major to report…yet!
What are the most adorably wonderful things that have happened to Femme Ferale so far?
Lucrezia La Bomba: The best thing was probably winning ‘Best new troupe’ at the 08 London Burlesque Festival, we were very new to burlesque and weren’t’ expecting it at all! That opened up a lot of doors for us and it helped to think that other people thought we were as good as we thought we were! Getting to go to Glastonbury for free was pretty cool as well!
Chiquita Bonita:Well we literally just got back Rome Burlesque Festival, which we agreed was probably one of our funnest weekends ever! In fact I must give a shout out to the wonderfully nuts Amber Topaz and Trixie Malicious who were the most hilarious backstage buddies ever! Layla and Lady Katarina were lovely too. Oh and Mr Cassella, thanks for the oysters and champagne, mmmm!
If you could live in the world of any painter, artist or musician, who would it be? Who has influenced you so much that you would like to actually live in the world they have imagined?
Chiquita Bonita:Um can’t pick just one! So, Frida Kahlo, I’d pick her for remaining herself against all odds and being a complete individual. Carmen Miranda, coz she’s fruity, ha! Maya Angelou because she lived her life to the full, turning negatives into positives. Beyonce for full on Divaness and Madonna back in the day for experimentation!
What events do you have lined up? What will 2009 bring for you?
Lucrezia La Bomba: We’re going to do a lot of travelling over the summer, Venice, Las Vegas, New York, hopefully Tokyo and we also host a bingo night which we will start touring with in September
Chiquita Bonita:Yes, what she said.
Is there anything we should have asked Femme Ferale but were too selfish to realise?
Photo by Mark Desira
Photo by Gabriel Green