Interview: Beatrix Von Bourbon

Written by: Mat Ricardo


Mat Ricardo meets… Beatrix Von Bourbon

Beatrix Von Bourbon is a burlesque performer who has made a home for herself in the space between the glorified showgirl and the contemporary dancer.

She has performed extensively in Europe, including several seasons in German variety theatres, and on all the finest British burlesque stages.

Our writer (and performer in his own right) Mat Ricardo sat down for a chat with her and also took some lovely pictures.

Burlesque dancer Beatrix Von Bourbon's face

Beatrix Von Bourbon

Mat: Hello. Who are you and what do you do?

Beatrix: Hello! I am Beatrix Von Bourbon and… ahh… ok… well the problem is that I like to say I’m a stripper but recently when I say that, and there’s somebody around who knows what I do, they say “Oh come on now, don’t sell yourself short, you’re an artist, you’re a burlesque dancer”.

M: That would be my reaction too. You’re different to a stripper. There are similarities between a stripper and what you do – the Venn diagram is smushed together, for sure, but-

B: There’s a lot of weight on the word “stripper”,a lot of negatives.

M: So how did you get into it?

B: I was an angsty teenager listening to nu-metal music, which I grew out of, and then got into punk music, which I also grew out of as I went further back in the musical timeline and got into rockabilly and rock & roll, via psychobilly of course.

M: Of course.

Hot stripper Beatrix Von Bourbon with a gun

B: And when you shop for rockabilly records, it’s hard to avoid the pin-up culture, so I found pin-up culture, and I knew who Bettie Page was. Simultaneously since being a child and seeing some of my grandmother’s old clothes I’ve liked vintage styling. There’s something magical about old clothes that are still present now, that were once really fashionable, but aren’t anymore. They’ve got some kind of wonderful aura about them. I remember having a big dressing up box at home with my grandmothers great big red dance dress and a pair of knee-high go-go boots I found at a jumble sale that I wore at every opportunity until I sadly grew out of them. So – pair all that with the dance training I had as a child, and finally reaching 21 and wanting to explore my sexuality and find out more about that side of me, and to use it to make some art… put all those things together and while I was trying to find a way to express all that, I found burlesque, and it was a good fit! It’s a combination of lots of things that I love, so it came very naturally.

M: We’ve known each other for a few years, and we’ve shared a lot of bills, and one of the things that strikes me as interesting and different about your work – and you touched on it just now – is how you make art from your sexuality. Your work is more personal than many burlesque performers.

B: Yeah – I think it’s hard for me to avoid being personal. I’ve tried in the past making acts on request and they’ve always ended up weak because I’ve got no resonance with it.

I think the empowerment thing is just a media-constructed illusion and rubbish journalistic angle for people writing about burlesque.

M: The way I see burlesque – when it’s done well – is that it’s in between theatre and stripping. The reason that I react badly when you call yourself a stripper, isn’t because I’m thinking “Don’t do yourself down”, it’s because, frankly, your stuff wouldn’t work in a conventional strip joint.

B: No, it wouldn’t.

M: So, it’s not stripping.

B: I hear what you’re saying, but I guess what I’m interested in doing is adding another definition of the word. Stripping can be what I do on a theatre stage. A lot of American performers would get annoyed at people saying that burlesque isn’t stripping, because in America stripping came from burlesque, so burlesque should always honour striptease. So they’d get upset if there was no stripping in a burlesque act, but in the UK people get annoyed if you say that a burlesque act has to contain stripping. It’s all about the differing historical contexts.

M: When I’ve worked with some of the New York burlesque performers, I was surprised by how much raunchier the style there was.

B: I think there are a lot of British people in the audience wanting that extra bite.

Beatrix Von Bourbon in a black bra

M: A lot of bad burlesque gets by because it’s supposed to be empowering. So here’s a question: Is self-indulgence sometimes the same as empowerment, when it comes to burlesque?

B: Yes. (laughing) Moving on… No wait, you can’t just drop that in there! I think the empowerment thing is just a media-constructed illusion and rubbish journalistic angle for people writing about burlesque.

M: So when you perform, what do you want to do to your audience?

B: I want my audience to respond to my work the same way I respond to an Egon Schiele painting.

M: Dude…

B: I know. I want them to see that I’ve had a journey. That what I’m presenting is a significant aspect of what I am now. I want to spark little bits of empathy, or resonance, maybe give them a question for them to ask themselves.

M: Have you had any particularly surprising audience reactions?

B: I was surprised when my mother saw me perform for the first time, and said “I really liked that. There’s clearly some intelligence in that”. That was a surprise.

M: So she liked you, but who do you like? Influences and heroes?

B: Very few heroes who remained heroes for long. I think it’s important to keep my influences fresh, but there are three that have stayed with me from childhood: Penn & Teller, Kylie Minogue and Jean-Paul Gaultier. I really rate Penn & Teller for their presentational skills, their charisma and strength of character they have on stage.

M: They seem to have become massively successful and respected on their own terms, which I think is the absolute key to it.

B: Totally. Kylie I’ve always liked because she’s got this magical sexy charm that I don’t think anybody else has in quite the same way. She’s kind of a seductress but not in a femme fatale way… and Gautier – I first became aware of his work because of the iconic Madonna bra. It was so simple, and yet really striking because it said more than just being a piece of clothing. It had all these external references, and when it’s put on Madonna it becomes more that just a bra. Even now, I look at the runway collections and “right click, save as” into the inspirations folder.

Beatrix Von Bourbon in a corset

Incredibly hot burlesque star, Beatrix Von Bourbon

M: You know a lot about that stuff – last night we were tweeting at each other during The Apprentice, and you mentioned someone was wearing fake Fendi.

B: Yes!

M: Ok, let’s talk about your tattoos.

B: People always ask if they hurt. People tend to associate tattoos with pain so heavily that they miss the whole point. Like many people, I didn’t know much about tattoo culture when I started, I was young when I started getting tattooed. More and more I started spending time with people who knew about tattoos and eventually I learnt about conventions, and how you can get tattooed by somebody world class and awesome from America, at a convention in London. So that’s how my chest piece happened. You can find out about my individual tattoos and who did them on vonbourbon.com

M: What’s next, ideally?

B: I’d like to work in a German theatre again, because I love being in Germany and even more than that I love being on a theatre stage. And the money’s good!

 




Author: Mat Ricardo

Mat Ricardo is a veteran cabaret performer and photographer. He has spent the last 25 years touring the world, performing in variety theatres, at comedy festivals and in cabaret clubs. His critically acclaimed one man show Three Balls and a New Suit recently played in London and at the Edinburgh festival, where he became the first ever cabaret artiste to win the Herald Angel award for excellence in theatre. Follow him on Twitter.

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Responses to Interview: Beatrix Von Bourbon

  1. Beatrix Von BourbonNo Gravatar

    I hasten to add, I can conduct an entire debate upon the questions and debates surrounding burlesque and feminism. The flippant tone to my comment was mainly owing to some newspaper and magazine articles, at the time of the interview, that only covered burlesque in terms of its claims to empower women, or its potential to empower women. My, rather blunt, point was that I think there are many other, more interesting angles one can approach burlesque from, it’s just that the pairing of empowerment/burlesque is a nice, easy, accessible and controversial point for mainstream media to engage with burlesque at!

    Of course feminism is relevant to burlesque… flippin’ heck.

  2. Gwendoline LamourNo Gravatar

    I agree that the ’empowerment’ issue can be deeply tedious. Lot’s of things can be ’empowering’ but one wouldn’t immediately set out to do them for a living. I might find a spot of mountain climbing ’empowering’ but feeling empowered would not qualify me to head an expedition up the north face of the Eiger.

    Burlesque involves the removal of clothes in public, but it is a PERFORMANCE of the removal of clothes as part of an entertaining show. As such performance skills, talent and charisma are required. It is a discipline like any other performing art and requires a great deal of practice, learning and ability.

    It’s great if people find it empowering, but as a professional, one is seeking to entertain an audience not indulge in a therapy session. I do think that the ‘burlesque is taking your clothes off, we all take our clothes off, ergo we can all perform burlesque’ is a troublesome mantra. Certainly is has led to some appalling work which does the genre no good at all.

    Certainly there is a feminist discourse here concerning women, the body and how the body is presented and by whom. However, this is a debate quite aside from the fact that to be a professional performer one needs to train and be proficient and skilled at one’s craft.

    Feel empowered, that’s great, but learn your craft before you get on stage!


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