One of the shining lights at this year’s Burlesque Hall of Fame was the winner of Best Debut, Lada Redstar. Originally from Sarajevo, Lada’s title-winning debut was her very first American performance. Winner also at the 2012 World Burlesque Games in London, she has toured Europe and Asia regularly, and met up with Lily Verlaine on her recent Australian trip. Ms. Verlaine convinced her to come to the United States, where her “Insectavora” act would win her new fame and followers. And in a deeper connection to Seattle itself, the music for Lada’s act was written by Shmootzi the Clod (Drew Keriakedes), killed last year at Cafe Racer’s tragic shooting. I sat down with Lada to learn more about this fascinating woman.
Seattle Star: Are you enjoying some rest after your weekend in Las Vegas?
Lada Redstar: Oh, it was amazing. I’m just trying to recover today with this beautiful sun in Seattle. It’s so wonderful here.
Seattle Star: I haven’t seen you onstage in three years or so, not since London. Since then you’ve moved from Paris to Berlin, and last year you were at the World Burlesque Games in 2012.
Lada Redstar: Yes, that was my first pageant experience. Now it looks like i’m a pageant girl. (laughs)
Seattle Star: I appreciate your irony. How were things after your experience in Las Vegas? Did you learn anything you are going to bring back to the stage?
Lada Redstar: Ohmigod, I learned so much, especially from the legends. All their moves! Even though they’re old ladies now, they still have all their moves and faces. Perhaps a little slower but it was amazing to watch. That was an amazing experience. Some of them came to congratulate me after my show. I think that was the thing that made me happy the most.
Seattle Star: That must be a good ego boost, to have a legend come up to you and tell you how wonderful you are.
Lada Redstar: Not so much an ego boost as it is an honor. So many people come in to tell me how beautiful I was on stage. It does feel good. It just gives you the energy to go on performing, to go back to europe with ideas a little bigger and feel like an artist. As an artist, you know, we’re always worried about what we’re going to do with our lives and our careers. Things like that give you a lot of passion to go on and continue.
Seattle Star: So you’re making new friends in the united states?
Lada Redstar: So many! It’s been amazing. So many people come to the Burlesque Hall of Fame, it was a bit overwhelming. Maybe it seemed like a bit too many people! But it’s great. Today I’m just relaxing. I haven’t met too many people in Seattle yet, but tomorrow I’m going out with Armitage Shanks, whom you might know? We’ve been friends for a long time. He actually gave me the CD of the Circus Contraption Band, which was the song I used for “Insectavora,” when we were performing together in Italy in 2010. I love him. We’ve had many adventures together in Europe.
Seattle Star: I suppose I should introduce the readers of Seattle to your fascinating life.
Lada Redstar: My life is a bit of a mess! I’m not sure it’s a fascinating one!
Seattle Star: Oh no, it’s totally fascinating. You’re like a heroine of one of those 19th Century novels. (laughs) Let me see if I can convey some of the majesty of it to the readers. I’m here for you.
Lada Redstar: Oh, I like a man to say that. I should record that and play it back. “I’m here for you, baby.” (laughs)
Seattle Star: You are from Sarajevo originally?
Lada Redstar: Yes, I was born there. It is a beautiful city. Well, it was beautiful, now it is a bit different, but I had a beautiful childhood there.
Seattle Star: I have fond memories of it from the first time I visited there in 1988.
Lada Redstar: Yes, that’s when things were still normal. They’re not anymore! I think that’s the part of the Balkans that suffered most in the war, much more than Croatia or Slovenia. Everything was destroyed there. The kids really don’t have much of a future there. Often the first thing they have to give up is their culture. Even the museums are closing in Sarajevo. The government doesn’t even give them money for heating. Right after the war, when I came back, I saw a lot of passion in people’s eyes. We were hopeful to rebuild, you know, again and again, but the politicians did what they did. But for tourists, it’s a beautiful place to come. It has everything, with the beautiful lakes, the beautiful mountains in the snow, the pyramids. When you come from the outside, everything is normal, but if you live there things can be very hard, especially for artists.
Seattle Star: Artists are always the lowest on the totem pole.
Lada Redstar: Yes, everywhere. But that’s what we like as well. We have to struggle in order to excel, I guess.
Seattle Star: You’ve struggled pretty elegantly, I think.
Lada Redstar: Some things just make you stronger. You have a choice in life to get depressed about things or to become a stronger person. It’s a decision you have to make, and I made it. I’m a much better person than I’d be if that didn’t happen. It’s in my past but it doesn’t have to be in my present and my future.
Seattle Star: Very well put.
Lada Redstar: It teaches you the value of life, because you don’t know what you’re going to have, even from day to day. But when you realize that it’s much easier to live life. Much lighter and with more passion. You just take the best out of it.
Seattle Star: You are a graduate from the Sorbonne, right?
Lada Redstar: Yes, I have a master’s degree in archeology. I don’t know how that happened. When I received the paper in my hand I just looked back at the past five years of my life and it seemed stupid. I don’t know why I chose that degree. It just sits there in my house. But it was fun, it was enjoyable to study. I couldn’t have studied something useful. I would have had a normal job, and I never wanted to have a normal job!
Seattle Star: Well, it has some uses. Your study of art and archeology certainly have affected your burlesque acts, in terms of costume and ideas both.
Lada Redstar: Yeah, that’s for sure. I’ve been studying art since I was 14. I studied in a high school of art, learning painting, sculpture and architecture, from 14 to 19. Then I spent a year in Italy studying the discipline of art and music, which is supposed to make you more of a critic of art. Then I moved to Paris and started in on the history of art. The classes were shared in common with archeology, so I just decided to go in that direction. It’s helped a lot in my designing costumes and such. It’s not quite the same manual skills, but it’s given me the ability to imagine and see in my head what I want and then make it happen.
Seattle Star: You do an awful lot of character-based burlesque when you are onstage. Some of your characters come from a soap opera style, sometimes your characters are like in a French version of The Wild One, and they’re always very dramatic, archetypal figures, which you bring to life. And you have a great stage presence for it.
Lada Redstar: Oh, thanks. Since I was a kid I’ve always been fascinated with Woman with a capital W, especially the women in films from the 40s and the 50s, you know. For me, that’s a real woman. Even as a kid I was waking up quite early on Sunday mornings to turn on the television and watch Italian movies, in black and white, movies with Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren. From time to time they would put on American movies, too, and all that was very fascinating to me. They were all strong women, controlling the power of their sexuality. That’s who I wanted to be. As I grew up I spent more time learning about the showgirls and their costumes and all that. When the Internet came up, I could finally watch all these videos of the old burlesque performers. That’s where I always took my inspiration from. Not from modern performers but the showgirls of the 1950s with their beginnings of the modern style of burlesque.
Seattle Star: What pushed you into burlesque eight years ago?
Lada Redstar: I was living in London at that time, when I first started to get interested in burlesque. I was going to shows and everything, but I didn’t know I would become a performer at that time. I did a show in London in 2005, my very first one. When I think about it today, it was really bad. But the audience looked like they enjoyed it. Then I moved to Paris. I saw a friend of mine from Sarajevo and he insisted I get on Facebook, so we could keep in touch. I had always refused to get on Facebook, but he was insisting so much that finally I did. So the first thing I did when I got on Facebook was to look up and see if there were any vintage burlesque dancers in Paris and there were! There was a good community there so I started performing with them. So Facebook can do good things, I guess, not just damage. (laughs)
Seattle Star: Nice. It’s definitely brought you around the world. You’ve been to Japan since…
Lada Redstar: Yes, yes. And China, Australia, now here in the US, and all over Europe, of course.
Seattle Star: How do you experience the differences between European burlesque and, say, the United States? Obviously the United States is quite large compared to Europe.
Lada Redstar: Yes, in Europe, the difference between burlesque in France and Germany is great, so already there are so many differences just in Europe. I would say it’s more classical than here. I think in Europe we look a little earlier for our inspiration, say, the 1910s and 20s, where in the US it’s a bit more about the 40s and 50s, though there are variations everywhere, of course. I think in Europe there is maybe more variation in costumes as well. People like to explore more differences in costume there.
Seattle Star: That makes sense. Especially in France and Italy, where fashion has a much deeper meaning than here in the States.
Lada Redstar: I think those are the main things. But really I think we’re all on the same page. The same rules apply. You still have to entertain the audience, and they need to be happy after your show. I’ve found all kinds of burlesque really inspiring. It’s just a question of finding your own way.
Seattle Star: Do you find the audience expectations are different in United States from Europe?
Lada Redstar: It depends. I have quite an easy style to approach, so with me it’s easy wherever I go. It’s easy and cheeky and funny. I don’t know. I guess in Europe it’s much more about aesthetics, purity of costume and stuff like that, but I think that’s the only real difference.
Seattle Star: The difference in the cultures, it seems, is a part. The tradition of the European dance hall is not the same as ours here in the US. European burlesque is more attached to the theater and music hall tradition, where American burlesque seems to rely more on cinema. But you draw a lot on cinema yourself. The archetypal characters you take from the movies adapt easily to both styles.
Lada Redstar: I think so. My idea for my style of burlesque is to find a theme that has never been done by any of the girls in the past, but I want to think with their minds, like “How would a dancer from the past have made this?” Insectivora started that way, thinking how would a showgirl from the Folies Bergère have done an act about insects. That’s always been my way of working. I try to stay quite similar to those styles of the 20s or the 40s but without copying what has already been done.
Lada Redstar performs tonight at Lily Verlaine’s Nightcap at The Triple Door at 11 pm.
Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net