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“Burlesque is supposed to be a comment on modern society”. An interview with Tempest Rose.
Image Credit: Derek Bremner

“Burlesque is supposed to be a comment on modern society”. An interview with Tempest Rose.

24 May 2017 Will Rathbone

Tempest Rose is an international Burlesque artist, and a leading figure in the industry. As well as being a performer, Tempest also produces work that tours internationally. Her ‘House of Burlesque’ returns to the new-look Underbelly Festival on the Southbank having featured for the last 5 years running, and we spoke to her about the show, the modern rise of burlesque and it’s roots as a form of political and social commentary.

London Calling: Morning Tempest, thank you very much for speaking to us. How’s your morning been so far?
 
Tempest Rose: Slow - I’m not a morning person!
 
LC: So, you’re back at the Southbank for an amazing sixth-successive year! What can the crowd expect from the House of Burlesque show this time around?
 
TR: We’ve moved into an area we’ve never done before - multi-media screens - which is really, really exciting for us. We’re also trying to take burlesque back to where it originally was when I started – more satirical, political and contemporary – and to combine that with the idea of moving toward the future by using modern technology. We’ve tried to be as imaginative as possible in how we interpret things and to take people by surprise. There’ll be neon, footage and technology – things not normally associated with burlesque.


Image Credit: retrophotostudio.co.uk
 
LC: Has the current political climate, and the public mood, affected your approach to this year’s show?
 
TR: Massively – especially when we created the first version. We started putting it together just as Trump won the election – we’d had the Brexit vote as well – so it was a very difficult time, and hard not to be overly pessimistic. At the same time it felt too light and floppy to say: “Hey guys - everything’s gonna be O.K.!”
So what we tried to go for was a vibe that said: “You know, things are difficult. We can enjoy laughing at the situation, but to change things people must act. Our finale was inspired by the Suffragette slogan ‘Deeds not Words’ – getting up and being part of the solution.
 
LC: Do you feel encouraged by the current wave of feminism? As someone at the forefront of what is an empowering, pre-dominantly female movement, what are your thoughts on how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go?
 
TR: I think it’s important to remember that we’ve come really, really far. The cast and I talk a lot about feminism, and other issues, and it can be easy to get really depressed. The more aware you become, the more problems you can see. So I think it’s important to reflect that we’ve come a long way in being more tolerant, and more open, as a society. That being said, we do still have to fight for the rights that we take for granted. When we become passive, and we think that politics don’t apply to us, that’s when we lose those rights.
 
LC: You’re a figurehead for burlesque as a movement in London and abroad. How do you feel the form has evolved over the last 10 years?
 
TR: I think the industry has changed massively and it’s been absolutely incredible to watch. Burlesque is genuinely a grassroots art form. It’s gone from being an underground movement to being able to perform at places like the Underbelly simply because people love watching it. Lots of artistic movements are kind of top-down, and it’s larger venues or companies saying: “you should watch this”. Burlesque is audiences saying: “listen up big venues. You need to take note of this art form because we love it.” That’s been incredible.

The danger is that as something becomes more commercial it becomes more watered down. It’s very easy to be fluffy in burlesque, because burlesque is escapism. So we’re really trying to bring burlesque back to its subversive roots. Burlesque is supposed to be a comment on modern society. Even at it’s most glamorous you’re still having a conversation with an audience about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be feminine.


Image Credit: Zoe Hunn
 
LC: Who are your greatest influences?
 
TR: I’m genuinely thrilled and honoured in this show to have created a modern version of Gypsy Rose Lee’s routine. She is my biggest burlesque influence. I admire the fact that she was so driven and saw burlesque as something genuinely relevant. She had a career on television, toured her own shows, created her own work and she was a great businesswoman – I’m incredibly inspired by her.
 
LC: You’ve travelled and toured extensively, all over the world. Do you have any good stories from specific performances?
 
TR: Performing in Vegas, for Burlesque Hall of Fame, was amazing. That was one of those real tick-box, ‘pinch yourself’ moments. The Slipper Room in New York was wonderful as well – to go somewhere that had such an important role in the revival of burlesque. My other fascination is watching how different countries interpret burlesque. It reminds me that burlesque is a comment on culture because each culture interprets it very differently.


Image Credit: Scott Chalmers
 
LC: Finally, what are your cultural highlights at the moment?
 
TR: I’m a real foodie – I love going out dinner – so I’m really excited to eat at Alaine DuCasse at The Dorchester. Cooking for me is art – my husband’s a chef – and I love watching how someone interprets ingredients and puts them on a plate. I’m reading The Handmaid’s Tale – it’s fascinating and very relevant – as well as Nick Clegg’s recent book. I don’t know that I agree with everything in it but it’s a really interesting take on how Westminster politics works.

I’m also looking forward to seeing Driftwood at the Underbelly, which is the main house show on before us. I hear it’s absolutely fantastic. I’m a huge fan of Luisa Omielan too – she’s doing a one-woman show at the festival so I’ll definitely catch that.
 
House of Burlesque: 2.0 runs at Underbelly Festival, Southbank, until September 15. Tickets start at £16.50.

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