Part Two of the epic and exclusive interview with Kalani Kokonuts… (Click here to read Part One…)
H. This will probably embarrass you, but you have, and everyone says this, an incredible body, physical presence and unique beauty –
K. This is the one thing – I can teach anyone to do what I do, but it has to be a certain person, because an ounce of presence is worth a pound of performance. With presence, I can teach anything, without it, there’s nowhere to go. It’s all about the presence. Even if the raw talent is there, everything else can be taught, but without any of that, nothing can be taught. It’s that…
H. Je ne cest quoi?
K. Yeah – to be able to command a room – to command attention. So when you go out on stage, you command: ‘You’re going to look at me now, this is what we’re going to do, and this is where we are going to go, this is what you’re going to experience, this is what you’re going to see, this is what you’re going to hear…’ So it’s to be able to go out and take them with you. It doesn’t have to be me – I can teach someone else to do it…
H. Regarding that physicality and introversion – would you say you’ve always been comfortable physically with yourself and your own sensuality, or was there an inhibiton – something you had to work on?
K. No, not at all; we were all always very comfortable. My mum was always naked, wandering around, and in Hawaii we were raised not to be ashamed of nudity. I never had an issue with it at all.
H. It must aid your performance to have that natural and uninhibited presence and be willing to really put your physicality ‘out there’ as it were…
K. Yeah, even though I’m not naturally a trampy dresser during the day! *laughs* So I don’t need the attention or anything like that, because I’m a very modest dresser if im not on stage.
H. I guess it just removes that barrier that some people have – when we’re talking about commanding – having that presence. I guess that barrier of inhibition just isn’t there – and it helps you to take command.
K. Yes, exactly, because it’s another thing you don’t have to worry about the second you get on stage.
You’ve said that some classical burlesque and some common aspects of burlesque, such as fan dancing (your favourite!) …
K. I love a good fan dance, don’t get me wrong; I love a wonderful fan dance. It’s just –
H. When they become boring and uninspiring and they aren’t taking it anywhere… But what do you think a performer has to do then, and/or consider to make their performance truly exceptional and innovative – take it to that next level?
K. When a girl comes up to me (which is rare, because a lot of girls don’t actually come up and ask me anything; I don’t know if im intimidating or something, but a few of them do). What I like to tell them is: one, how much do you want it? And that’s really really important, because it is a labour of love – my costumes are 15 – 20,000 dollars and that money has to come from somewhere, when I could be using that money for something else. So, number one, how serious are you?
Number two – can you dance? And there are a lot of great dancers out there that have no passion on stage, and a lot of technically great dancers (well, not a lot, but there’s a few) are really boring to watch onstage. There are a few burlesque acts that I feel that about – that technically they’re beautiful, but there’s just nothing – there’s no spark there’s no passion… I don’t know how to explain it –
H. It’s funny you should say that because Michelle [L’Amour] and I were having a discussion about this very thing a couple of days ago. Because, obviously, she’s a trained dancer, and I was asking her if she thought that background training in dance was essential etc. And I think we came to the conclusion that both extremes were bad – if someones a brilliant technical dancer but there’s no tease element or anything else going on, or on the other hand, all the tease and everythig is there, but there’s no poise or structure or choreography going on.
K. I actually don’t like to watch the technically trained dancers, because I think they go on robot mode. I think when the routines are choreographed they again become almost automaton, and you can see them going through the motions –
H. Almost paint by numbers?
K. Yeah, see I don’t choreograph my shows; I loosely block them out, but I don’t always feel the same. Sometimes I feel like doing this, or I feel like doing that, so I never choreograph anything –
H. But you get to the same place in the end –
K. Yes, exactly. And then the next thing I tell them – some of the best burlesque dancers out there were strippers. Because it is the only way you will learn, in such a concentrated amount of time, how your body works, what you do and how it affects other people, and it’s the only way to learn sexuality.
H. Like a perfect training ground –
K. It’s the perfect place – you can’t get that from a dance class. It’s the only way, the best dancers out there are the ones that were strippers. I tell them, if you want to learn, go dance in a strip club. And then they can get over that whole, im shy about my body thing, and their confidence level, whether they can fake it or not it doesn’t matter; but they’ll get that confidence. You jump over so many hurdles by stripping in a strip club and then going to perform burlesque – it’s amazing what it does. Dita was a stripper, Catherine was a stripper –
H. Jo –
K. Jo, that’s right, and I was. Some of the better dancers, because they know more of the subtleties of sexuality – that’s the only place you can learn that…
H. You’ve been a centrefold in so many publications, and four times in Playboy, and you model now for some big brands, recently Bettie Page clothing and so on. And you’ve recently worked with 666 and produced some really stunning images that everyone is talking about –
K. Oh we did some other great ones – we did this ‘Napoleon’ – I really wanted to be Napoleon, and then we did a mermaid…
H. How does modelling compare to performing for you, if it can? Because it’s more the creation of a static image or aesthetic than a performance. Is it equally or similarly rewarding? Or do you regard them as completely separate?
K. Modelling is, uh… Absolutely miserable. I can’t stand modelling. I did all the 666 stuff because those were my ideas and we worked together on creating them, and I needed new pictures. But that was so much fun – if I do model now I’ll probably only go to 666 with my own ideas.
H. I suppose one is far more motivated when you’re coming to the table with your own things…
K. Exactly, and again, we’re creating together and giving birth to this wonderful thing thst everyone else can share in. But modelling modelling – I just can’t stand it.
H. That’s interesting, because you seem to take to it so naturally – on Bettie Page you’re very cheesecake and feminine, and then you do something really striking and a bit avant-garde and edgy as well…
K. All of my photos that you see that are really ‘out there’ and very avant-garde like you were talking about – those were all my ideas. I used to design national advertising campaigns and I would use my sisters or friends and do these fantastic ads on billboards everywhere – that was fun for me too…
H. So, back to burlesque; are you enjoying the opportunities to travel as an international perfomer? Do you see it as a benefit or would you rather just stay in residence?
K. It doesn’t matter what I say – if I say I would like to travel then somehow the universe will make it so im travelling. And then I hate it and don’t want to do it and I say I just want a regular gig, so then that happens and I’ll say, ‘Oh I can’t stand this same show every night!’ So I can’t ever seem to make up my mind! I think I prefer to travel – I go to places that I would normally never go to.
H. It’s nice to be working and see the world…
H. Do you enjoy the opportunities to work alongside your contempararies; for example, at The Tease Show where we’ve recently seen you in London? Is that something you’re conscious of – when you’re performing alongside other people?
K. I am so grateful to be able to be in a show where there is a real sense of family and I just look around and thin, wow, this is amazing; how did I get here? But I also like to be on stage with other people when I’m performing too. I used to perform Cleopatra with another girl – she did fire hoop and it was really amazing, and I did fire fans. It’s more fun for me to be onstage with somebody else, because then there’s a real… You’re just having a blast!
H. And I imagine it must get interesting backstage, say at The Tease Show – there’s you, Catherine D’Lish, Perle, Immodesty – there must be an interesting dynamic?
K. You know there is, but a lot of people go into a zone before they perform and need their private time –
H. Yes –
K. I have to, because I have to think about what I’m doing – I have so many shows – I have to get into the mindset of THAT show. Especially because for me there’s a lot that can go wrong; I’m dealing with fire, or fabric, and so I have to really pay attention. And I’m really spacey, so I’ll be on stage and just completely blank out and forget what I’m doing –
H. Go into autopilot –
K. Yeah, you can do a show so many times you just go blank –
H. Yeah I can understand that; I think I go into a kind of ‘leave me alone’ mode say twenty minutes before –
K. Yeah, sometimes when I was doing my flags i’d think, ‘Wow this looks amazing!’ And then I’ll go into that and I’ll forget! *laughs* Because I’m just looking at the colours and… So yes, I have finished a lot of shows without remembering to take my bra off!
H. Now, I know it’s always hard to pick specific people, but are there any particular performers who especially impress or excite you, or you approve of and enjoy what they do?
K. My all time favourite performer is Ernie von Schmaltz. I LOVE Ernie von Schmaltz. Everytime I see her i’m so happy; I could watch the same show a hundred times. I absolutely love Ernie … She gets onstage and ther girls go crazy – it’s just so much fun to watch Ernie.
I love to watch Immodesty’s show also, because it’s such a spectacle –
H. I think, like you, she likes the high drama and she thinks on a large scale –
K. Yes exactly.
Other performers I like to watch… (considers)
There are a lot of performers that you wouldn’t know because – most of my friends are Burning Man, we go every year –
H. Yes, I know that you like that –
K. That’s more my kind of scene – their art often moves off into performance art, and they just do some amazing things and then we all get together – it’s absolutely fantastic.
H. So you DO like performance art when it’s done well, and in its ‘proper place’…
K. Oh I love it – I love beautiful performance art; I don’t like ‘shock’ – shock acts when you’re just trying to shock –
H. Almost for the sake of being sensationalist –
K. Yeah, being contrary just to be contrary. So there is a lot of beautiful performance art out there…
H. Now this is a bit of trivia, but is it true you used to perform your Jessica Rabbit literally every night in Vegas; is that true?
K. Somehow somebody said it was every night, but I never performed that show every night.
H. *laughs* Somehow I could imagine it – gets to 9PM: ‘Ohh I gotta go -‘
K. It was at Club Paradise, there was a show there with a core of showgirls; there were two male adage acts, and then I would go up in between, or another fan or lace would go up in between – whoever was there. So I would do show a night, sometimes I’d do two. And the stage is perfect to do Jessica Rabbit there – the way the curtains open, it’s just perfect. So I rarely do Jessica because the stage has to be just right.
H. I remember Jessica Rabbit was the first time I ever saw you –
K. Ohh – at Teaseorama?
H. Yes, it was. And I know that a lot of people, maybe less informed people, will, when I say Kalani Kokonuts, say, ‘Oh, the Jessica Rabbit’. And I wondered , when every concept you have is so well thought out – does it bother you if has one traditional idea of you in their heads?
K. Oh no, but I have no idea what people think of me; I don’t read any articles or… I have no idea. I thought I was more known for the ‘geisha’ but I wasn’t sure.
H. I think you probably are now, now that more people have seen it. I just wondered if this notion would bother you –
K. I would love to never do The Geisha again –
H. Really? Ohh it’s just so fabulous – everyone’s jaws on the floor
K. It’s so like, ‘aghhhhhh’ *sighs and laughs* Sometimes you just get tired of the shows and you want to move on.
H. Well I know that you have a ‘fast recycle rate’ as it were – once you’ve done something you like to move on from it; but is there any one of your acts that takes you to a higher spiritual plaine; any of them that for more significant or enjoyable to you, that make you feel ‘at home’ when you do it…?
K. Honestly, I could do that purple and white showgirl – it’s probably my oldest costume, it’s about fifteen years old, and it’s falling apart. It’s probably my favourite show to do because I have the most fun; I’m really really happy when I do that show – it’s really fun for me to just move around fast and dance. So i’ll probably do another show like that one.
Kalani in Business…
H. And am I right in thinking you had your own club here?
K. Yes! My ex-husband and I – we designed and conceptualised nightclubs, and we had a reality show and everything, and it just became this gigantic disaster because my ex-husband was… a complete moron.
K. He was on the financial end; he would deal with all of those things, and I was on the creative end. I designed all of the costumes for my gogo dancers, I designed all the uniforms for our cocktail waitresses, I did all the advertising campaigns; things like that – I came up with all the concepts and the names. And like I said, it became this huge disaster and we ended up losing the business, because he was in partnership with some very, just very –
H. Unsavoury types?
K. Yes, very unsavoury characters. So we ended up losing it, and that’s when I started working at Club Paradise doing shows every night, and I said, ‘You know, maybe burlesque…’ And that’s when I googled ‘burlesque’. That’s what happened after we lost the business.
H. It’s good that something good came out of it!
K. Definately – it was definately a catalyst.
Kalani the Spiritualist…
H. You talk about your performance being a spiritual experience –
K. It is –
H. Can you maybe explain what this added level of awareness and feeling is that you experience – the spiritual experience?
K. Certain shows that I design now; it’s because… First it’s that I have a certain philosophy of how life is, and I have always been a very spritual person. And ever since I was a child I have been able to see certain energies around people, plants and animals and things like that. So what I can see when I perform certain shows or performing other shows is how it affects people en masse. And what you can do is you can, in a weird way, actually feed off that energy and give that energy. So it becomes like this give and take –
H. A reciprocal thing –
K. Yes. Because then everyone gets uplifted – to watch people go ‘WOW that was great!’ And they had a great time and feel better about things when they leave the show…
H. It’s really something shared –
K. Yeah – we had a moment pass between us. So I try to design shows to do that. But if I’m not reigned in I’ll go too far, so I have to really think about if it’s going too far off into leftfield because then nobody knows what you’re doing – and that can happen. So I really like to think about them, and I ask my friends, ‘well what would you think if I did this or did that’.
It’s just important because you evolve, and I want my shows to evolve to a point where it is an experience for someone to watch it, not just ‘Oh, there’s a girl taking her clothes off.’
H. ‘Oh. Wasn’t that nice.’ *laughs*
Kalani looking Forward…
H. What are your hopes and expectations for the future of burlesque in the 21st Century – you obviously have very definite ideas on what you think burlesque is – do you have any hopes as to what it will become, especially considering the things you consider to be bad about it…?
K. Burlesque is… It provides me with a wonderful forum to be able to express what I do. I would like to see the Burlesque Hall of Fame especially, have an actual space where people can go and see a lot of the legends’ things; not necessarily just photographs but their costumes, because when I was able to really see their costumes I said, ‘Oh, so that’s how that came off’ or ‘that’s how they did it’ or ‘that’s what they made that with,’ and the fabrics they used – and it’s really important for girls to be able to see that, because I think a lot of girls are confused as far as costuming is concerned. And then there should be a lot of neo-burlesque costume that maybe rotate in and out of there too, so you can see the difference…
I would like to see… Better performers. Honestly.
And I think there should be, kind of a… I don’t know if I would call it a scholarship or something like that, where perhaps money or funds can be –
H. Like a bursary –
K. Something like that, and then maybe a protege can be trained – we can actually train them –
H. Give them the resources they need –
K. Exactly – everything they need; not just teaching them how we do this and that but really grooming to perform the art of burlesque, because I feel like it’s kind of getting lost; only a handful of acts out there really understand burlesque –
H. There’s something in the UK we have been discussing – we call it ‘hobbysits’ –
K. Hobbyists! Exactly.
H. There’s a real ‘come and have a go’ culture about it, and I think it concerns a lot of people –
K. It’s like ‘open mic night’ for burlesque! *laughs*
H. I know it’s a point of concern and I think it’s something you appreciate.
H. I always end with the same few questions…One is fairly frivolous but it always interests people – what is a typical every day for you – what is your daily life like? What are your enjoyments – do you enjoy a good trashy movie at the end of the day, favourite cuisine, music etc.
K. Oh I love trashy movies! Well usually I wake up when the sun starts to go down and go to bed when the sun comes up. My boyfriend, he’s at work – we’re on night-schedule…
Our typical day is just peace. We just like quiet and peace, you know? We’ll go do yoga, we’ll take different meditation classes – things like that…
H. Again, there’s a real spiritual core running through everything…
K. Very very much so. All my friends are healers and psychics so that’s kind of our thing. It’s almost weird that I perform burlesque – it has almost nothing to do with my daily life –
H. Yes, I suppose if someone just saw you onstage performing one of your dramatic acts –
K. I’m sure they couldn’t imagine! Immodesty and I – we’re the best of friends but we are completely opposite in that regard. She loves to dress up and go out, and she’s all about fineries and being seen… And I would rather stay home. Honestly at times, there are days where I don’t take a shower or change my clothes – I just can’t be bothered! *laughs*
So we just love to be at home and just… Ultimately, I would like to live in the woods on sustainable property and grow our own food –
H. Your own little bohemian paradise!
K. Very bohemian –
H. All organic –
K. That would be wonderful. I’d like to have a place where people can come if they need to get away – you know, no questions asked; just come and be here…
H. I have to say, this whole house has a ‘haven’ feeling to it –
K. It does yeah, it does…
H. Just sitting here I feel very calm, it’s all very soothing.
K. We have a lot of people who seek refuge here –
H. Yes, you have created a beautiful place…
And so, to wrap up, my final questions are always:
What are the three greatest life lesson you’ve learnt?
K. The three greatest life lessons if learnt…
Patience. And grace. And I’d have to say just learning to be forgiving and tolerant. And that’s an every day battle for me… *laughs*
H. And is there anything in particular – any particular things you still want to achieve in your life? Any big goals you are waiting to tick off the list?
K. Definately. I envision myself just being a speaker and a healer, and becoming enlightened one day – just being able to offer that.
H. A ‘nirvana’ of sorts –
K. Yeah, but not for myself, but for other people – being able to help other people also, because a lot of people get lost, they get off their path… So that would be wonderful.
H. And finally, is there anything else you would like to say or add – anything you might want the world to know or understand about you; any final things you’d like to impart…?
K. Hmm, I don’t know… But I will tell you one thing I have always wanted to do: I’ve always wanted to have a show that was… a little burlesquey, but more performance art; where it was like a healing show.
H. Have a theraputic value. Cathartic –
K. Exactly. All the music would be frequency aligned so you could go and you could heal because of the frequencies and the chants that are happening, but you’re also being entertained at the same time. I’ve always wanted to do a show like that. I wouldn’t necessarily have to be in the show, but to have a little theatre where that would happen every night, that would be just… And people would come from everywhere to see that, which is a lot of the things you’ll find at Burning Man – there’s a lot of healing happening there. It’s amazing, and that’s what I want to bring into my burlesque acts – I don’t even know if that’s possible or if it’s completely contradictory, but… *laughs*
H. Well I think if anyone can achieve that, I think it’s probably you.
K. We’ll try!
H. I don’t think you’ve been defeated yet.
Well, you’ve shared so much, just in this short time, so thank you very much – it’s been lovely to spend time with you again.
K. You too!
H. And congratulations again –
K. Thank you!
H. I know everyone is just so delighted for you just now…
K. Yes it’s really nice. It had to happen that way though.
H. It felt like the right time – your time…
K. Yes, it was the right time. Exactly…
For more stunning images and latest news on Kalani, click here…
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.