'Take one guitar wonderkid and one international burlesque star, throw the two together, and you get a rock-out road show hitting a Canadian city near you! Real life couple, Alistair Christl and Tanya Cheex, have put together a winning combination of tunes and tease. Touring to promote his new CD release, "Unmarked Grave," Alistair is a one-man show in the tradition of Hank Williams and Hasil Adkins. Tanya has just finished a two month stint with the world famous sold-out "Spiegel Show" in Toronto. Don't miss the opportunity to see the two bust out musically and physically! '
When I received this show announcement from Tanya, I knew this had to be good. She's a fierce and fabulous performer with a lovely bit of edge, and always full of good ideas. She and Alistair were good enough to do a quick interview. When I say quick, I mean I emailed the questions and had the answers in half an hour!
How did you get interested in burlesque?
Tanya: My grandmother was into old movies like Gilda that might have a little scene of striptease in them, at least that's what stuck out in my mind. She was a catalogue model and she had a whole closet dedicated to her peignoir sets! We'd get dressed up in these glamorous outfits and watch movies. She had a huge impact on me. When I was eight I organized a strip show in a neighbours backyard with my girlfriends, choreographed a routine and charged admission. It was my first sold out show! It got busted by my parents. My perplexed parents asked how in the hell did I come up with an idea like that and I told them, my Grandma! My Dad's porn collection also influenced me a lot too! Years later in 1998 or so I had been a professional dominatrix for many years and wanted to exercise a softer side so with a few well chosen girlfriends formed Skin Tight Outta Sight! There weren't many points of reference for modern burlesque back then so we were definitely influenced by old stag reels and The Velvet Hammer. We used to strip out of a lot of latex as I was a rep for Skin Two fetish clothing- hence our name. However the rhinestones won out over the latex, even though the name stuck!
Alistair: I've been doing music in one form or another since I was a kid. I've always been intoolder forms of music, i.e., jazz, blues, swing, early country, rock and roll, and of course roackabilly. I think it was doing this type of music that enabled me to fit into the burlesque scene. I started going to Tanya's shows just to give support, not realizing that I would have much of a part in it. Immediately, though, I was drawn to the energyof the performances and soon they were booking me and my band to perform.
What does burlesque mean to you? This can be a definition of burlesque, a description of the effect burlesque has on your life, or both.
Tanya: Burlesque is my job but fortunately it is one I love. Everyday is devoted to it and it shapes who I am. I can suffer from burn-out once in a while, but then I'm right back cooking up a new act.
I am naturally a quiet obsever but 'Tanya Cheex' lets me exercise an inclination to over the top extravaganza. I also was most happy on a stage whether as a stripper or a performing dominatrix. And the fabulous community and diversity are very important to me.
What was your first experience with live burlesque?
Tanya: It was our own shows! The only other thing we had seen was the Velvet Hammer website [Note from Jo: The Velvet Hammer website had interviews with Dixie Evans, Zorita, and Anton LeVey]. Our friends were the audience. Some were weirded out that we would be stripping but once they got it they all wanted to sit in "perverts row!" The New York Burlesque Festival was like the first time at a circus for me. I couldn't stop grinning. All these amazing performers like Dirty Martini and World Famous BOB. Oh yeah, I met you for the first time and looked at you and went, "Hmmmm...birds of a feather!"
What is one of your favourite experiences so far?
Tanya: I'd have to say the first time Skin Tight performed at Exotic World, the last year in the desert. Meeting Tura Satana for the first time I started to cry! She is my biggest inspiration for sure. I'm getting a Tura tattoo very soon! The Legends show at MEW still makes me cry. This year performing at The Spiegel Tent has been a tremendous experience too.
Alistair: I've done some festivals and bigger gigs but my best shows are always at local clubs with local talent. Any show where I feel I really connect with people in the audience is a great experience for me.
What is the burlesque scene like in your city?
Tanya: We have a good community. Since STOS has been around so long we realize that we have to set a sort of example for others, and offer some mentorship. Sauci Calla Horra and I started up the Toronto Burlesque and Vaudeville Association (TBVA) as a community board to post shows , provide tips and air grievances etc. We are working on our own International Toronto Burlesque Festival next spring.
They're so hot I don't want to talk about it. Photo by David Hawe.
Who inspires you most, and why?
Tanya: The idea of the larger than life blonde bombshell like Marilyn and Mamie Van Doren etc. We had a strong relationship with the LA girls from the beginning. Ming and Diamondback Annie are like family. Bambi inspires me a lot because we share a sideshow sensibility. I do a tap dancing parasitical twin act and I think of her when I do it. I was influenced by an old photograph of sideshow sweetheart Myrtle Corbain. It was those little legs with their matching striped stockings. My friend Ugly Shyla made the legs- it's puppetry. I find that stuff so sexy. I like women with tails too!
Alistair: I'm strongly inspired by the honesty and emotion of people like Hank Williams. Django Reinhardt is always inspiring for plain musical ability. I watch a lot of footage of the greats like Elvis. Any performer can learn a lot from him.
What is your favorite aspect of burlesque as it is now?
Tanya: The fact that it growing, and that for good or bad the mainstream is taking notice. I never thought I could partially support myself by burlesque and that I now can is definitely a result of the general populace taking notice. I don't think it will ever truly die down now. That being said, there is nothing worse bad burlesque--new performers, take classes, watch movies, practise and DO NOT WEAR CHEAP STORE BOUGHT UNDERWEAR!! Unless its integral to your act. One of my sayings is No street underwear! If you can fit it under your jeans it doesn't fit in the show. Sorry, my troupe members refer to meas an underwear nazi. [Jo: Right, lingerie is not a costume!]
What would you like to do or see next in burlesque?
Tanya: More of this. It's pretty cool that I can work with my partner, Alistair in burlesque. This tour is a big deal for us. We always wanted to do it. Its a whole lot of driving as Canada is a big country! Between guitars, amps and costumes it will be a tight squeeze. Originally STOS's live band was made up of members of British psychobilly band King Kurt so we'd like to get the band together and tour Europe with them next year.
When in doubt, spill out!
Alistair: I'd like to get more live music into Skintight's shows and work more closely with Tanya.
Aug.3rd: Halifax, NS
Aug.4th The Seahorse w/ Pink Velvet Burlesque: Halifax, NS
Aug.11th Toad In The Hole: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Aug.17th Palominos Bar and Grill, Calgary Alberta
Aug.24th Logan's Pub, Victoria, BC
Aug.25th Dollhouse Studios w/ Sweet Soul Burlesque, Vancouver