Teased To Meet You
Former club diva and DJ Sara Colohan is the prime mover in revitalising an older form of entertaining nightlife, the art of burlesque. Following a series of successful shows at the Sugar Club, at Spirit and at the Speigeltent, as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival, she talks to The Event Guide about her passion for bringing some sensual fun back into grown up people's lives.
Back in the day you were one of the hottest club dancers and DJs, though you say on the Tassel Club website that, while you don't want to go clubbing anymore, you are not quite ready for the pipe and slippers. Tell us about your current passion.
I had been DJing for a long time, everywhere from The Kitchen to Sides and The Asylum. I loved the way that the whole dance culture embraced everybody, and that is the connection for me between that culture and burlesque. You could be sitting at a show with a gay couple on one side, a straight couple on the other and a bunch of young singles in front of you. As happened recently at the Speigeltent, the audience is very mixed, and people come seriously dressed for the night. One of the outfits that I wore one night night was made by me for the Smirnoff Fashion Awards in 1996, when I was a student. I never thought that I would were it again, but here we are, years later and the frilly nickers are out again.
Are you attracted to that fashion and style?
I love it. I was working as a stylist for years and that is how, in 2003, I came across the photo of Immodesty Blaize that set this whole burlesque ball rolling. I had seen the photo in a magazine with a blurb saying that she was performing in London. I decided to go and interview her, for Irish Tatler magazine, who I was working with at the time. That was in July and by September I had her and her performance partner Walter in the Sugar Club.
What was it that clicked for you about her?
I saw her on stage, It was striptease but it wasn't in anyway offensive, just stylish glamorous and vibrant. It was so OTT and theatrical it got me on every level!!! I am, believe it or not, a bit of a prude so it appealed to me on a modesty level too.
There is an interesting atmosphere at your burlesque shows where the sexuality of the performers is sensual and not seedy, and not at all pornographic.
The sexuality is implied, and the shows are really all about the tease and not the sleaze. It is not about the end result, but is all about getting there. In each act there is a little story and you can get into the performer's personalities, even if they don't utter a word. Like Fancy Chance's act; she put that all together, the concept and the choreography. She is a really great girl and is a really polished performer. But then so are the other girls, like Lucifire, Miss Kittie Klaw, Gwendoline Lamour and Sade O Sapphic.
How did you go about putting the whole thing together, and to attract both performers and audience?
Like every good idea you have to take a plunge, and I lost a lot of money on the first show in the Sugar Club in 2003. I brought over Immodesty and Walter as the two biggest burlesque stars in London, but in Dublin nobody knew who they were. I was really starting from scratch. It took me nearly a full year to recoup that initial investment and to get the wind back in my own sails. It was the first time I'd had a gig that didn't work financially. It was something very different and I realised that nobody knew what burlesque meant or what it stood for. Some people just thought it was stripping, which put me in an unusual bracket. But then I met Vallejo (Gantner, former director of The Dublin Fringe Festival), and told him what I was doing. He took a chance and said that it sounded perfect for the Speigeltent element of the Fringe Festival. There is nothing lewd or untoward about what we do. It is saucy, but that is great. This is really entertainment for the thinking man and woman, who aren't into the other options of adult entertainment. It is wonderful, and the Fringe proved to be the perfect home for the show.
Did the Fringe's seal of approval change the attitudes of potential performers and audiences?
I found that the press realised then what area of entertainment we were in, whereas before they were a little apprehensive and wondered if were just dressing up something more suspicious. There are probably people out there, who haven't been to the show, who wouldn't see much difference between us and a lap dancing club.
Are you hoping to base the Tassel Club in one place or will you always move it around?
It is hard to find a suitable venue, especially in Dublin. We really see the lack of beautiful old Victorian halls, so it is hard to set the show in that kind of scene. The Olympia is the only one, but it is too big at the moment. As a result, we have split the Tassel Club up into smaller shows to suit specific venues. One promoter seems keen to take under their wing, so that could help. We have a new, smaller version of the full show, which will focus more on the musical side of what we do. For the upcoming Halloween show at Spirit we will have the Urban Voodoo Machine and we are hoping to have The Pricillas, a bunch of PVC-clad rock chicks. Urban Voodoo Machine play a lot of burlesque venues in London, Lady Luck in particular. They have a bluesy rockabilly vibe to them, with harmonicas and washboard included.
You really sound as though you love doing all of this.
I do, even after all the financial knocks. Two years is a long time to be in something that hasn't really taken off yet. But people are really getting into it. I am organising a Can Can troupe and I put the notice up on the website. The response from women was phenomenal. So many girls contacted me saying 'I'm not a dancer but I really want to dress up and to part of this; it sounds like such good fun'. It was lovely.
Are people attracted to the notion that there is a darker side to what you do?
Many older folks might have the 'Cabaret' image of Nazi officers frequenting smoky clubs and letching after the Sally Bowles character.True, but one of the biggest burlesque stars in the world is Dita Von Tease, and her boyfriend in Marilyn Manson, so there is a lot of that mix. Gothic and burlesque have always been attracted to each other. But many people are just attracted to the simple frivolous desire to dress up.
What does your mother think of the whole thing?
Ireland On Sunday ran a piece saying that I was teaching Irish women to strip but that I couldn't find Mr. Right myself, and that I was Ireland's leading expert in how to entice and please a man! My poor mother had the proverbial heart attack. It's funny, but people do twist things. Once the tabloids get a hold of you, you kind of know what to expect. But then if you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas. It is hard for me to knock that, though, and I'm quite happy to support whatever gets people to come and see the show. But we've never had what you might call the raincoat brigade at any of the shows.
It's too tame for them! Our audiences make a big effort to dress up and get into the mood of the shows. By its nature The Tassel Club is a fun place and I intend to keep it that way
interviewed by K Karney, Event Guide