It’s Halloween night and the streets of Hoxton are sprawling with screeching fantastical freaks, like escaped lunatics over-dosed on sugar they’re running through Old Street as if on one crazed mission. The bouncers look worried. The police are shaking their heads and rolling their eyes knowing of the carnage they will have to deal with in the hours to come. As I turn into a dimly lit side street a hush returns and I seem sure that my night will regain some sense of normality. How wrong could I be?
I am here at The Fox for an evening of tantalising and titillating burlesque with the sultry Emerald Fontaine and the vivacious Tallulah Tempest. As I climb the narrow steps to the dressing room I can hear the laughter before I even reach the top of the stairs. Tallulah is helping Emerald apply her nipple pasties and they just don’t seem to want to stick. Hence, the laughter.
As they make the final touches to their make-up, Emerald with her blood-red lips and smokey eyes and Tallulah with her theatrical Pierrot tears, I can already make out the two quite different styles and approach. I inquisitively ask both ladies what 5 people, dead or alive, they would most like to invite for dinner: Emerald answers “Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, Johnny Cash, Betty Boop and Pee Wee Herman” telling of her 50’s vintage roots and appreciation of old glamour; whilst Tallulah retorts “Evelyn Waugh, Simone de Beauvoir, Jim Morrison, Sergei Diaghilev and her own Great, Great Grandmother (She died giving birth to her Great Grandmother and remains somewhat of an enigma. It has been suggested that she was a dancer of possible German/Jewish descent.) which reveals her passion for ballet, literature and philosophy.
Definitely not shy or retiring as a child, Emerald claims she has too many ‘posing for the camera’ photos from her childhood. She grew up watching old movies, dressing up in her mum’s 50’s gowns and putting on plays for her mum and friends. After a stint training as an actress in New York she returned to London where she rediscovered her love of dressing up in vintage. It was at the Chaz Royals Burlesque Festival 3 years ago where she found her vocation. Emerald describes her style as “Old school, dirty and rockabilly with a twist”. Watching her slink amongst the audience, toying with them as she ever so slowly de-robes herself it’s obvious that she does not have many issues with stripping in front of strangers. She claims she feels very sexy, very excited and very, very naughty when she’s on stage. For the finale of her performance Emerald showers the audience with green glitter. While the audience is still trying to work out what just happened, she promptly curtseys and then is gone.
Tallulah, unperturbed by her antecedent, flutters on stage (“en pointe” naturally) in her playful and cheeky manner that is reminiscent of the age of vaudeville. The term burlesque literally means to ‘send up’ and was originally used to describe musical and theatrical parodies that used both serious and comic elements to achieve grotesque results. The strip-tease only became associated with burlesque in America during the early 20th century. It was then only deemed a lowly form of burlesque. It also went by the name of the ‘classic strip-tease’ or the ‘hootchy kootchy’ dance. Tallulah clearly embraces the funny side of burlesque, offering her style as artful, humourous, sassy, balletic and strategic. She graduated as a child from being an extroverted “performing monkey” to a classically trained ballet dancer who put exceedingly high expectations upon herself. She would push herself for perfection and would frequently end up flying into temper tantrums. She still today feels slight consternation if she notices the audience is failing to appreciate her genius. She finally came into herself, thankfully, around the age of 14. But by the age of 18 Tallulah had decided she’d had enough and stopped dancing altogether. It was only when Dita Von Teese appeared on the radar around 2003 with the emergence of neo-burlesque that a seed was planted within Tallulah. The misery of her job as a Marketing Manager at the Financial Times forced her to take Jo King’s burlesque buzz course. She’s been barely dressed since. The climax of her performance comes when she rather nakedly emerges from behind an umbrella and shimmies outrageously to the blushing crowd. The exit is also very swift, leaving the audience once again both exhilarated and confused as to what just took place. It is apparent that the art of the strip-tease is less about the ‘strip’ than it is about the ‘tease’ and both Emerald and Tallulah understand this well.
I ask them where they’d like to be in 5 years time. Unequivocally they both hint at mega stardom with all its obvious trappings, you know, the headline shows, the jetting around the world with international bookings, their own cabaret bar, and even might I add “a Hollywood star”. Whatever their future might hold lets hope both Emerald and Tallulah manage to keep their heads firmly screwed on but their clothes mostly off!
NEXT WEEK’S LONDON INSIGHT:
Discovering and de-mystifying the Freemason’s Grand Lodge (For those of you who may watch ‘Spooks’ I’m sorry to say that this is not the MI5 building.)