A dancer, determined to push boundaries, has put together a burlesque production, starring women of colour.
Redress, which will take place at the Galloway Theatre on Friday January 31, was produced by Elana Bailey, better known by her stage name, Vita Nova.
Vita, who lives in Sea Point, was always attracted to the creative arts, but growing up with a single mother, the idea wasn’t always welcomed. “There was never an option to do extra-mural activities, and it wasn’t practical enough to pursue. I was encouraged to do something more corporate.”
When she was 8, she saved all her pocket money to pay for a ballroom class at school. “I would always say I’m going to netball or needlework – although in hindsight I wish I took needlework… it would help with costuming.”
She said she always had creative dreams, and would stay up late to watch music videos and copy the dance moves, or choreograph silly dances with her friends.
“I started working in retail part-time after school, and let go of any dream I had of becoming a performer – it didn’t seem like an option.”
After school, she studied health and skincare. While she enjoyed classes, working in a spa wasn’t a stimulating environment, so she started a beauty blog to share information about health and skincare. Thereafter she was commissioned to write beauty content for a magazine and applied for an editorial internship. Vita now works as a copy editor in the city centre.
Her dancing career started in 2014 after she compiled a list of things she would do if money wasn’t an issue and if no one cared. Among the activities on the list was Pilates, wearing a tank top and short-shorts outside, as she had body-image issues, and dancing. She had met someone who did a burlesque show, and contacted the Rouge Revue Burlesque Company.
“I didn’t know it was available here, but I joined just to tick something off my list. After my first class, I felt at home. I felt like this was what I should be doing.”
In less than a year, she joined the professional troupe of dancers at the Rouge Revue, and she felt that at the time, there was no one she could identify with performance wise, and no one that “looked like me”.
Joining the troupe provided a new perspective in her dance career.
“Things just opened up for me. I was surrounded by women who inspired me, and it was a great community to be part of. I had an influx of inspiration for performing, and I didn’t know where it fit in the burlesque realm.” During her dance journey, Vita said she had never seen a performance to hip hop music – a genre that always spoke to her. Her solo debut was to Christina Aguilera’s Walk Away, as she was greatly attracted to “sad songs” at the time.
“To me it felt amazing, but it challenged the scene, and I experienced some resistance about things I’d done with it. That led me to question myself, but whenever I was creating pieces for shows, there were elements that spoke to me that were louder than the resistance, and this was the first time I truly trusted myself and became bolder.”
Her second solo was to Salt-N-Pepa’s Push It. “It was something I’d never put on a stage – big jacket and baggy pants – but I had fun and let go of being pretty. I realised burlesque went beyond stereotypical feminine glamour. I got great feedback from marginalised groups – women of colour loved seeing a burlesque performance to music they’d loved growing up. Queer womxn appreciated more androgyny. I needed to keep listening to myself and not get discouraged by my conditioning and external expectations.”
She became an independent artist after four years with the Rouge Revue. “It wasn’t hard at first. I continued doing what I did, booked my own gigs and even co-created a show called Breakout Burlesque. For me I was doing the same thing – just without the sense of community, which I missed the most.”
During her solo career, Vita became the first artist to be crowned Queen of Tease (Miss Sheba Tease) and Most Classic (Miss Ritz) at the Baby Grand Burlesque Festival, chosen via a live audience vote.
Other performers of colour then reached out to her, which spurred conversations around representation and what people viewed as beautiful and more readily acceptable in a predominantly “white” community. It was also through mentoring other artists from different backgrounds that vulnerable conversations about identity started coming up – and Redress was born.
“Redress is giving a platform to performers who want to be part of a cast where they were not the ones who looked different from the majority. Now, there are slightly more performers of colour than when I started, so I keep telling myself that this is to start a conversation and creating a shift in perspective is ongoing. Burlesque is multi-faceted and we want to do what speaks to us.
“We just want to do what we love, expand on the space to be more reflective, inclusive, welcoming and encouraging.”
Visitors to the show can expect a full womxn of colour cast and crew, and all acts include music from previously marginalised groups, building on a cultural experience. Of the burlesque scene, Vita said that it has progressed since she started five years ago, however, venues are always a struggle when putting on shows.
“There are definitely more independent artists and more shows around the city, but mostly at the same few venues.”
Redress will show at the Galloway Theatre on Friday January 31 at 8.30pm. Tickets cost R250 and are available at Tixsa. For more details email firstname.lastname@example.org