In March, I visited Dita Von Teese at The Crazy Horse Paris during her sold out return to the legendary erotic cabaret. As we shared a thrilling interval in Crazy founder Alain Bernardin’s backstage office as mutual superfans, I detected a noticeable glow of confidence in burlesque’s most famous and opulent star. Little did I know a new tour was waiting in the wings, and I caught up with Dita recently to discuss her plans for The Art of the Teese in 2017.
What has made you decide to take to the road again with a brand new show?
When I released my book Your Beauty Mark, I’d meet 300 to 400 fans at each signing and I couldn’t believe how many were totally new to burlesque and pinup culture. I’d hear things like “I’m finally old enough to see your show!” a lot.
At that time, I was thinking a bit about retirement, having toured all over the US with Strip, Strip, Hooray! for over five years. Around the same time that my book came out, The Crazy Horse Paris had been asking me to come back to do a new show there. I was apprehensive at first, as it had been ten years since I was their first guest star.
I decided that if I went back to the Crazy, I would also revive Strip, Strip, Hooray! back to back. I thought a lot about what I could do differently to feel a sense of renewal and challenge.
For The Crazy Horse, I created an act with Ali Mahdavi called ‘Undressed to Kill’ with state of the art projection technology used in a totally new and groundbreaking way, and the whole experience was fantastic. All my reservations about repeating the past went away, and after finishing a completely sold-out run of 40 shows in Paris, I became excited to perform again.
After the Strip, Strip Hooray! US tour, we also did a huge tour of Australia. Between The Crazy Horse Paris run and these tours, I just felt a whole sense of purpose again.
I was really enjoying being on tour again, so I started thinking about all these other acts I’ve made over the years that I haven’t ever toured with at all, and all these stage props and show concepts I have that could be staged in new ways. So I thought, why not a new show with a new name, one the retains the spirit of Strip, Strip Hooray! but with new acts to see?
“Fans are in for a glamorous but riotous two hours of show, and I am most proud that I have the means to bring together a cast of this caliber, with the biggest and most lavish production in the history of burlesque.”
What can we expect in terms of continuation and changes in this new tour? Was there anything about the SSH tours you want to avoid or approach differently this time, and what are the best aspects of the SSH tours you want to celebrate and preserve?
Well, originally Strip, Strip, Hooray! was meant to be the same show, all the time, with the same cast, but we’d sort of refine things and shift acts, my mission being to bring together a cast that represents various facets of burlesque, with each act an absolute showstopper.
I’m staying true to that format, and when casting I’m always looking for those performers that really bring the house down every single time; acts that are innovative and distinctive that inspire the audience. I like to have the freedom to try out new performers.
The Art of the Teese features some of the best-loved performers from my other tours doing new acts, along with some new dancers that haven’t been in the show before.
Who will be joining you on this tour; will there be new faces for audiences to enjoy? What qualities and traits does each cast member have that made you keen to involve them?
I really love my showbiz family. For this tour we have some new faces and, of course, some familiar ones performing different acts than they did in previous tours.
The cast will include Murray Hill as MC, Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish, Ginger Valentine, Alek Palinski, Elio Martinez, Jett Adore, and Violet Chachki appears in Chicago, Dallas and Houston.
I have one more act that I am very excited to confirm, but I can’t announce that person yet because I am working on getting visas in order.
The cast that continuously performs with me are consummate performers that are also a joy to be around, people whose generosity of spirit comes through both onstage and off.
With all the dramas that naturally occur in touring, the last thing we need is anyone who creates more. That’s not to say that any particular performer that isn’t on this tour isn’t part of our family; some of our favorite original cast members have gone on to do other projects.
There are many performers that I would love to have in the show, but the size of the traveling production required for this show doesn’t afford me to bring more than very, very select performers.
The performers that come on tour regularly are name-checked by fans over and over, and they get massive applause every single time. And they are true individuals. A lineup of pretty little pinup girls doesn’t work in this show; people love the high-energy, clever, unique performers that bring the house down every single time.
I look for performers I feel have a very distinctive sense of self onstage; this is very important. Burlesque has become so huge, but still, it’s not as easy as one would think to find performers who are right for this show. For instance, sometimes I will see an act that I personally like and it won’t hold up alongside a fantastic crowd-pleasing performer like our treasured Dirty Martini. Every single act has to bring it!
Which acts will you be performing on the tour, and how did you make decisions about which shows to present?
I am staging my act Lazy in a new way, with new set design and with new costumes by British designer Jenny Packham, with the support of Swarovski. I only ever did this act at The Crazy Horse, so this is the first time I’ve done it on tour.
Of course, I’m performing the martini glass, but in a new way, with my male Vontourage, two handsome guys who are brilliant dancers. They’ve really breathed new life into my numbers.
I’ve had pinup girls assisting me onstage since the 90s, and one morning this year I woke up and thought “why don’t I try using guys, like Mae West did in her shows?” It felt like a risk, and it was a lot of extra work and expense, but the response has been amazing and I just got so lucky in finding great dancers that are a joy to take on tour.
I did a casting in Los Angeles this year and saw about 900 of the best professional dancers. I worked with my friend, famed choreographer Fatima Robinson, and Catherine D’Lish to find the perfect guys, and let me tell you, what a fun couple of days that was, having 900 guys do choreography shirtless.
I really want there to be surprises in the show, so I don’t want to say much about the other acts I’m adding to the show just yet.
Dita Von Teese: Costume by Jenny Packham
“The gown features Crystal Blue Shade by Swarosvsi. The shoes are boudoir slippers in coordinated shades, a bespoke version of a style called ‘Nutria’ by Christian Louboutin. Secrets in Lace is also creating custom Dita Von Teese brand fully fashioned stockings with silvery blue seams.”
Can you describe your personal preparations and rehearsals as you approach a tour? What is your creative process when you revive or reprise a classic Dita show, and how do you keep yourself stimulated and challenged?
So many to-do lists! With every tour I’m modifying or adding things, but this time there’s much to do to with these news acts, from music to costumes to choreography.
My Vontourage are such talented dancers, and I really love it when they dance to their full potential, so I bring in a choreographer for them. The choreographer I use usually works with big pop stars and hip hop stars, and I really love his interpretation of burlesque; it adds a modern touch that I love.
Aside from rehearsals, the tour visuals are always a big thing. I shot images with Albert Sanchez for this tour. I had this idea of ‘multi-Ditas’ doing my signature look, but with platinum blonde and fiery red hair. I often think about going back to my natural blonde!
Adele Mildred, the illustrator that worked on my book Your Beauty Mark, did hand-lettered type for the poster, and my beau Adam Rajcevich did the design and layout. Creating the the visuals for a tour is always a big part of the process; it’s like putting together puzzle pieces.
The props are another big thing. I am creating new sets for Lazy, so that is a big undertaking as well because I am very hands-on in the process.
Who will be making magic behind the scenes for this tour and keeping the show on the road? Who are some of the creative talents involved in set and prop construction, lighting and music?
I’ve got my same production team, led by Justin Moyer with Albert Murcia, plus my amazing tour manager, Alicia Black, who actually used to work with my ex-husband back in the day on rock shows and also managed Lady Gaga’s tours. Having her on the team this year just really fixed so many issues we had with previous tours.
My lighting guy Alex Goldberg is incredibly talented; he’s an import from Berlin, a very valuable asset to the show. We have about six or seven crew with us because we always build out the stages and transform the room with our own stage curtains, and we even bring our own lights.
I also have my longtime friend of 25+ years, Eddie Debarr, backstage for wardrobe. I work with a few different people on props and sets, and my assistant Cali is a heck of a crystallizer and runs the merchandise tables.
Are there any plans to present a tour overseas in the future?
Yes, it’s always on the list of goals. I really want to bring the show to other countries, but unfortunately it’s not as simple as just deciding to do it.
For the economics to work, it takes a big investment of capital to get the props and sets and curtains shipped over, and then we always need really good partners on the ground. Sometimes promoters don’t really understand the workings of the show, so in the past, we’ve had to work through some dramas with touring overseas.
In all the years that I’ve been touring, even though we sell out, I have rarely turned a profit because the production costs are so high. I know that it’s easy to see a room full of 3500 people and do the math on ticket prices; but there is so much that goes into months of pre-production, touring overhead and payroll.
“It’s not even about me, it’s about the actual show and everyone else in it. I love it when fans discover new performers, when they laugh their asses off and when they feel inspired.”
I have to sell 95% of tickets just to break even in the United States, but I love doing shows and I want people to see what my life’s work is all about. I want them to see my first love and what sparked all the other projects I do.
Touring with a burlesque show of this size, with this caliber of performers, even when sold out, isn’t a big money maker. It could be, but I don’t want to compromise quality. Bringing the show to other countries makes it even more difficult, getting everything and everyone overseas. And then the taxes… so many taxes and so much insurance!
Why should seasoned burlesque performers and fans attend one of the new shows? What do you hope those experiencing burlesque for the first time will take away from this tour?
Oh gosh. I mean, we had a fantastic five years of sold out shows with Strip, Strip, Hooray! with fans attending again and again and again, so The Art of the Teese is simply the next incarnation of what people loved about the other shows.
Fans are in for a glamorous but riotous two hours of show, and I am most proud that I have the means to bring together a cast of this caliber, with the biggest and most lavish production in the history of burlesque.
I’d be happy for that to be my legacy. It’s not even about me, it’s about the actual show and everyone else in it. I love it when fans discover new performers, when they laugh their asses off and when they feel inspired.
Can you reveal any other plans or projects in the works for 2017?
My lingerie line is always a focus for me. My collection is at Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and various online retailers like Bare Necessities. I’ve been working on expanding the size ranges even further to accommodate fuller sizes, and the newest collections arrive in stores this spring.
This year I will begin work on a follow up book to my beauty bible Your Beauty Mark: the Guide to Ultimate Eccentric Glamour.
I have new colours coming out for my Wheels & Dollbaby cardigan collaboration. We’ve done 24 colours and counting – it’s become a phenomenon! I can spot gals wearing the cardigan in the audience and I love it!
I just finished recording an album with French music icon Sebastien Tellier, so that was something that put me outside of my comfort zone, but having been a huge fan of his for so long, I couldn’t refuse when he wrote a whole record for me to sing on.
My gloves collection is online at ditavonteesegloves.com, my stockings brand can be found at teese.us/ditastockings, and I’ve just done a collaboration for beautiful boudoir dressing gowns with Catherine D’Lish: teese.us/dlish.
My vinyl-only album Soundtrack for Seduction came out earlier this year, and on it there are never-before released songs I had made just for my burlesque shows, along with a B-side of curated seductive electronica. It’s at Barnes & Noble stores: http://teese.us/soundtrackbarnes.
Lastly, my official store at shop.dita.net has everything from signed photos, books, tour posters and programs and autographed bookplates to my perfumes.
The Art of the Tease tour visits Chicago, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Toronto, New York, Boston, Silver Spring, Atlanta, Houston and Dallas. Find out more and purchase tickets at www.artoftheteese.com.
Burlesque Hall of Fame / Miss Exotic World Judge, 2011 Holli Mae Johnson is the founder and editor of 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, a pioneering publication created twelve years ago to unite, document and celebrate the global burlesque community. Holli is actively involved in the burlesque community on a day to day basis and is privately consulted by performers and producers at every level for promotion, critique, recommendations and encouragement. As a documenter and critic, she has seen countless burlesque and variety performances from across the world and provides an intimate perspective and insight into the lives and careers of burlesque’s greatest pioneers, performers and personalities.