Juliette Dragon is a fantastic performer and a female powerhouse with multiple talents. She has her own school of burlesque, L’Ecole des Filles de Joie and for this Easter season’s show, the students at her burlesque school will perform alongside 2 guest artists. I’m thrilled to say that I’m one of them and I’ll be co-starring with another burlesque sensation and bestie, Trixi Tassels.
The theme for this revue show is Goddess as Easter is also the Ishtar/Inanna/Astarte original pagan celebration. She was the almighty goddess of Love, Fertility, Sex and also War.
This got me thinking about my inner goddess and what acts could best represent this…
I’ll be performing my Dragon Lady / Anna May Wong tribute act and Berrylicious.
My Dragon Lady act represents inner and outer power, beauty, serenity and grace; whereas Berrylicious represents a youthful femininity that is more playful and fun. These berries, representing abundance and curves, should be something to be proud of and show off!
Thinking about femininity and the inner goddess, I am still reflecting on my trip to Berlin back in February where I had the opportunity to work with 2 fine photographers who brought out the inner goddess within me.
Anatol Kotte is a Hamburg-based photographer who also has a close connection with Berlin (we shot at his studio, Capitis Studios). Best known for his cinematic portraiture, and having shot many famous people including Ewan McGregor, I am very pleased we got a chance to work together. He really helped bring to life my Berrylicious act – see the moving GIF below. We also collaborated with Tilda Knopf – a luxurious vintage dress company specialising in 1920s style dresses and robes. Also see below a sneak peak of me modelling their Ruth dress!
Natalia Illing (aka. Pixelgnom) is a Berlin-based photographer and high end retoucher who really is an artist at heart. Her passion for pin-up and vintage can be seen in every image she creates – and this woman sure has a bubbly personality. She treated me like a goddess from start to finish! Here is the first image she retouched for me… and I was like, WOW! Her work is mind-blowing and breathtaking at the same time. Make sure you’re sitting down when you visit her page!
I love working with character and developing one’s persona. For me, it’s about working from the inside out (and then having great faith that everything else will come together). The additional embellishment can come later. It’s incredibly important to first work on your inner self so you can unleash your inner goddess!
Other than that I shall have some time to treat myself by visiting local patisseries and a fancy champagne tour. For updates please follow my Instagram @mariannecheesecake.
“A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance.” – Dario Fo
2019 started with a bang!
Over the last few months, I have spent much time reconnecting and remembering my Asian roots through my performance work and feel inspired to share some thought-provoking personal, political and cultural revelations.
In the UK right now, things are particularly unstable with Brexit uncertainties, although the country is not alone in this feeling. It seems like we are living in a time of deep divisions of ideology and diversity, where people are more and more entrenched in their differences. I feel the way forward is to push back against this, to embrace our differences and make a conscious effort to create and promote inclusion and a stronger sense of community.
Where can I fit into all of this in a meaningful way? Perhaps by returning to my roots and utilising the Chinese part of my identity, reflecting this outward in all my creative projects moving forward, and sharing my own unique background so that more people are aware of my personal history.
In order to unify this experience, I have been collaborating with artists from both similar and different cultural backgrounds. In our differences and experiences, we can discover common threads and shine a stronger light upon our diversity and uniqueness. It has been an eye-opening, heart warming and soulful experience so far…
In the earlier days of my burlesque career, I found fellow performers from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities few and far between. Finding people from a similar Asian background to myself was similarly difficult. I found that I could count the number of common threads in fellow performers on one hand!
From a production perspective, I found myself hired for ‘Asian’ themed performances. I often heard questions such as “Do you have a geisha act?” or “We’d love to have you but maybe for our Shanghai themed show later on in the year.” It felt frustrating that I would be narrowly classified in traditional or classic themed shows of this manner. I was forced to fit into other people’s expectations of what ‘Asian Authenticity’ was – from the clichéd, clouded lenses of popular Asian cultural tropes. However, from a personal perspective, my own diverse acts and thematic looks are not constricted to this traditional window, which puts myself at odds for the ‘popular’ perspective of Asian artists of this nature.
I was reminded of two brilliantly written articles that I was featured in; I want to share this again because it reminds us of the history and I want to amplify the voices of performers of colour who have made many waves in our contemporary burlesque communities:
It’s interesting to re-read what was quoted from me in 2013 –
“It’s not like we don’t exist but I guess it’s more about lack of visibility. East Asian performers are out there but maybe we don’t get booked for the major shows and are less likely to be booked as the headliner. Maybe there are more East Asian performers in the UK but I don’t actually know any outside of London. If they do exist that’s awesome, but I can’t think of who they are as they’re not in the public’s eye.”
Well, thank goodness this has changed and is continuing to change on a larger scale.
As a performer and model who chooses to be seen in high profile/exposure events, I think it is important to represent and give voice to fellow community members that may not share the same platform and show that it is okay to express yourself and embrace your authenticity outside of the framework of how other people might expect you to be.
There should be no limitations or expectations about how Asian performers choose to reveal their cultural or ethnic backgrounds through their art.
I believe this feeds into my earlier message as this platform potentially offers a new avenue of wide visibility, whilst being created by a powerful team of inspirational women whose mission is to promote diversity, inclusivity and intersectionality.
It was around this time that I noticed that many of my images had also been re-posted by the ever growing popular Instagram accounts: @pinupsofcolour and @asianpinupgirls which has now become @asianpinupgirls2. These accounts are reflecting and remembering vintage pin-up beauties of the past to ensure their legacy continues whilst promoting and sharing the talents of up and coming contemporary artists.
Within the same month, I was also asked to join The Bitten Peach, London’s Pan Asian Cabaret Collective made up of burlesque, cabaret and drag artists. Created by Lilly Snatchdragon, Shay Shay and Evelyn Carnate, this collective is about representing the diversity and talents within the Asian community and bringing everyone together because we are stronger together. Yes, we have been taking London by storm!
During this period, The Bitten Peach produced a handful of sold-out shows showcasing the diversity of Asian talent. The shows that featured in the launch of this collective over the Lunar New Year period showcased the unique narratives, new creative expressions and multi-faceted identities within Asian culture.
This enabled me to connect and collaborate with new people from our growing creative community, which in turn, gave us a platform to create and expand in the public forum.
I find it important to create new and stimulating concepts that allow me to push the boundaries away from those restrictive realms, in the hope that Asian performers can be seen in diverse communities and environments where a fresh take can be absorbed and thought about in different spaces – both in one’s mindset and performance arenas.
All this is to say that things are moving forward from my early experiences in the creative arts. I see common threads and a growing community of like-minded individuals moving the narrative forward and breaking the mould of what is acceptable for ‘traditional’ Asian themed acts. From my own dessert-themed acts that I have been working on since my debut of this last year, to new creative projects and photo shoots that will come to fruition in 2019, and more upcoming shows with this refreshing collective known as The Bitten Peach – my hope is that we are creating empowerment and a sense of creative excitement within the Asian community for many years to come!
As the year draws to a close, I want to look back and reflect on an eventful past 12 months.
It has been a wonderful opportunity to connect and collaborate with different people from all over the world. This past year has been a year of expansion and reinvention; my new direction in dessert-inspired burlesque creations, culminating in the performances “Berrylicious” and “Chocolate Raspberry“.
This new direction has led to travel, shows, shoots and workshops in a plethora of exciting places, working with a diverse range of talent from different cultural creative areas than I had previously experienced.
Most of all, this was a year of challenging myself; pushing myself in new creative directions, and being open to “saying yes” and embracing the next steps that came with positive affirmation.
In no particular order of preference, here are my top ten highlights from this year!
My dream of meeting and collaborating with Nina Jordan finally came true! Not only that, but I am fortunate to have collaborated with her on several wonderful projects. What a fabulous merging of delicious ideas! Combining the best of Chocolate and Burlesque at this year’s Brighton Chocolate Festival, presented and introduced by Discover Cacao.
I had the luxury of really getting to know the work and process of the talented Lia Parravicini; an all-round artist with a big heart for Burlesque! I love her unique and intricate designs, and precise attention to detail. She was very open to work in a close-knit conceptual collaboration for the dessert-themed ideas which led to the costumes used in my “Berrylicious” and “Chocolate Raspberry” routines. I also got to model her showgirl skinwear sets which just added to our fantastic collaboration.
3. Burlesquing and Teaching Abroad
I was lucky to reconnect with old friends, such as Miss Diamond aka. The Fabulous Mrs Murphy aka. The Fab Coach from Stockholm & Betty Q, powerhouse and pioneer of Madame Q in Warsaw.
2018 was a year of travel! Great productive trips to Europe and reconnecting with fellow performers I had crossed paths with many years ago. It was eye-opening to see them flourish in their businesses and creative endeavours, leading to magnificent progress. In Stockholm, I was able to work with The Fabulous Mrs Murphy, not only on shows, but also teaching Burlesque to her students….then came Warsaw performing at Madame Q and teaching a character workshop.
Near the beginning of the year, I was invited to perform at The Courtesan in Brixton, London. Since then, I have been able to return and perform there regularly, and now I feel a part of the venue’s creative family. On a side note, who doesn’t like the delicious combination of Dim Sum and Cocktails?
More travel opportunities! Going to the Big Apple, NYC and working with the wonderful Calamity Chang and Jen Gapay, and their wonderful creative team. I got to meet a fantastic multicultural cast of performers spanning the globe; in particular, meeting and performing alongside Midnite Martini, voted Miss Exotic World 2014. The event was a celebration of Asian culture in Burlesque and Cabaret. A rich, powerful, and diverse well of talent.
Live music and Burlesque is a match made in heaven, and one of the most authentic ways to enjoy these art forms together on stage. Dr. Schwamp brings rich, multisensory events across the capital. It was a great experience to be a part of a delicious show where cheesecake and cocktails were served, adding to the experience. With 52 Skidoo, I was able to once more work with this 1920s live band from Manchester. In my performing past, our paths had crossed many times before, so it was very rewarding to work with these talented musicians again.
7. Creating my Pop-up Pasties concept and stand
One of my long-term goals that came to fruition in 2018 was bringing a multisensory dimension to shows. This resulted in the addition of a cake stand with delicious treats and delectable pasties alongside my performance in venues. I first brought this to life when travelling to Eindhoven at the beginning of the year to perform at Blue Moon Cabaret. Since then, it has now become an established travelling trick of mine to bring a sweet feast when selling merchandise.
8. Working with a handful of ace photographers
Over the last year I managed to meet a whole host of photographers specialising in many different artistic areas, such as Vintage, Pin-Up, Fashion, and Beauty Photography. This resulted in exciting new projects and publications. This range of talent was able to capture my new creations and really visualise them to make me proud of these new creations!
Notte Bianca is a spectacular night, an annual all-night or night-time arts festival in Malta. This was particularly special because in 2018, Valletta was named European Capital of Culture! It was indeed a vibrant and immersive festival. For this year, we recreated the debauchery and naughtiness of Strait Street back in the 1930s where sailors used to hang out. As a part of the festivities, I was able to entertain the guests of a new private members’ establishment, 99 Strait Street, which opens out to the entire city on their balconies! I was lucky to share the performance experience with Maltese burlesque performer Undine LaVerve and my team of UK beauties, Tabitha Taboo and Natalya Umanska.
10. Becoming one of the top 100 Founding Members of Fiena
To top this year off, I became one of the top 100 Founding Members of Fiena – a private members club for female entrepreneurs and women in business. This enables me to become a part of a great network of diverse and talented women – leaders in their own right in many different fields. I am SO PROUD to represent a part of this organisation and to help build this female-first foundation moving forward. It’s all about Magic, Adventure and Soul!
I love being able to take my burlesque experiences around the world! The next stop for my new dessert burlesque experience, after the wonderful Chocolate Festival in Brighton, will be at a burlesque & cabaret club called Madame Q in Warsaw, Poland!
About Madame Q
Madame Q is a performance venue, vegan cocktail bar and burlesque academy headed by Warsaw’s top burlesque extraordinaire, Betty Q. Warsaw’s burlesque scene started to bloom in 2010 thanks to Betty Q and her crew who are known for organising the best events, shows, classes and workshops in the city. After generating so much interest and following, they opened their own venue dedicated to fine vintage entertainment where they can showcase the best local and international talent in burlesque and cabaret. They turned their dream into a reality on the 24th November 2017, and since opening this unique venue, their calendar has been bursting with a lot of ‘something for everyone.’
First Impressions of Warsaw
I was lucky enough to travel to Warsaw for the first time in 2013, where I met up with Betty Q. This beautiful local icon shared with me her passion for art, culture and history – and I could tell immediately that she had so many stories which she shared so wonderfully in her performances. I was instantly in love! Both with her great burlesque performances and the flavour of the city. Burlesque had already been established in the city for a few years, and I could see that the thriving local scene was in full effect!
In addition to the performance, if you would like to immerse yourself further into the delicious new world of Marianne Cheesecake, I’ll be selling merchandise including signed photographs and bringing over my pop-up pasties stand! If we manage to meet, perhaps you will find a delicious treat to satisfy your burlesque appetite? I hope to meet you in person during the weekend!