Iconic Perth burlesque academy Sugar Blue Burlesque is celebrating a decade of wowing Western Australian audiences, bringing some of the best in burlesque to our stages and beyond, and teaching countless numbers to shimmy, bump and grind. On August 5, Metro City will see an impressive ensemble of talent assemble their tassles and sequins for a grandiose birthday celebration. NATALIE GILES spoke with the founder of Sugar Blue, Melanie Piantoni, and was treated to a wander down a sparkly memory lane.
Can you tell us what inspired Sugar Blue’s inception a decade ago? A Sugar Blue history lesson, if you will.
With my roots firmly planted in the Lindy Hop scene, myself and swing dance friend (Sharon Davis – who then became Miss Bonnie Fox) went to a popular International Swing Camp in Sweden in 2006 called Herrang, where we saw our very first Burlesque show. We hadn’t seen anything like this in Perth, or even in real life! Completely inspired, we returned to Perth and teamed up with another swing dancing friend, who is now known as Scarlet O’Harlot, to create Sugar Blue Burlesque.
We started off with some small performances in front of swing dance friends at events, but we quickly got busy, and within a year, were being booked for performances in Perth nightclubs, doing our own regular shows at The Bakery , thanks to Artrage. We then started up our own academy due to a demand by women who wanted to learn how to do what we were doing.
How has modern burlesque changed over the last 10 years? Where do you see the future of burlesque, moving forward?
It’s been wonderful to see how burlesque has evolved since we started 10 years ago. Burlesque acts have grown bigger in terms of amazing costumes and choreography. I’m also always blown away by how creative artists are with their acts and that, even though burlesque has been around for so many years, there are still original ideas. Performers are also using modern, topical themes in their acts to make them unique and something that our audiences can relate too.
The popularity of burlesque is still going very strong and I don’t see that changing in future. I see new performers emerging regularly, which is really exciting. It keeps the scene fresh!
Can you tell us about some of the more memorable highlights in Sugar Blue history?
There are so many! All the Back to Burlesque shows at The Bakery in 2008 were hilarious and so raw, but the audience loved them. Opening our very own venue in 2009 – The Burlesque Lounge in Northbridge – was another big highlight.
Then in 2011, we got to perform our show Burly-q & Ballyhoo at the very first Fringe World Festival in Perth in the new Artrage Speigeltent. Performing for the first time in the Speigeltent was a moment I will always remember – it’s like no other venue. Another show highlight was definitely ‘Big Top Tease,’ our collaboration shows with Circus Joseph Ashton under their big top. Performing in a circus tent and also with this working circus family was just incredible and so inspirational.
But I think my proudest moment would be presenting the very first Perth International Burlesque Festival in 2012. It is such a great part of burlesque history in Perth.
What are some of your more unforgettable show moments from over the years?
The very first paid group performance we had in 2007 was a 21st birthday party at a private venue in Perth. It had a small stage and the lighting was very dim. We were wearing the new costumes I had made, but we hadn’t done a dress run. The bra part of the costume needed double sided clothing tape to keep it up, and unfortunately my tape failed, so I spent some of the performance with my boob out – with no pasties on. Now that was memorable!
At one of the Fly By Night shows, Demon Brides from the Forbidden Planet, I played a Fembot that was wrapped in bubble wrap. I was to keep a straight face throughout this whole section of the show, but one of our MC’s, Shigor, was popping the bubble wrap, and I just couldn’t maintain that poker face. I tried so desperately not to laugh. I broke character and the audience thought this was better than the dance we were just about to perform.
What are your thoughts on taking your clothes off as a feminist act?
I think that what’s so wonderful about burlesque is that the revival was always about being a performance art by women, for women. Obviously a lot has changed since its revival in the 1990s, as we now have an equal amount of men and women in the audiences and there are a lot of amazing boylesque performers, but I still feel that when performers start out they do it for themselves. They feel empowered and they learn to accept their body the way it is, outside of the media stereotype that we are presented on a daily basis. It’s refreshing for them. Performers feel great about being able to take their clothes off in front of audiences and not worried about being judged, they are cheered and encouraged by burlesque audiences and that is truly liberating.
What advice would you give reticent would-be performers?
Don’t be afraid to get yourself out there and have a go. Classes are a great way to meet like-minded individuals and mentors who can help you on your journey ahead. The Perth burlesque scene is really supportive and you will be embraced with open arms.
The burlesque community is a very tight knit family. Do you feel that this played a part in Sugar Blue’s success?
We are so lucky to have a really supportive and tight knit burlesque community in Perth. When we started, however, there was no scene in Perth, only on the east coast. We just did our own thing in Perth for years before we had external performers visiting us. I think this is one of the reasons we experienced great success. We had a very unique brand of entertainment, with little influence from external sources. Everyone grew together and inspired each other.
A Decade of Decadence – Sugar Blue Burlesque 10 Year Anniversary Party tickets available HERE.