Portland’s Angelique DeVil, known for “Putting a Little Pop n’ Lock in the Bump n’ Grind,” talks doing what she wants, glitter dumps, the importance of balance, backstage comradery, ripped hamstrings, Milan and muses.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: I’d like to know more about your dance background, as it’s obvious from watching you perform that you’re a highly skilled dancer. How long have you been dancing and what training have you had? You were a performer, teacher and choreographer prior to becoming a burlesque performer, correct?
A: Yes I was. It’s funny, I never think of dancing as something I do, it’s more just who I am. I’ve been creating choreography and dancing for as long as I can remember, both publicly and privately. I was that bossy little kid who made her friends perform dance routines instead of playing hide and go seek; I founded and choreographed the high school dance team; I started my own dance company after graduation (not too exciting though considering this was all in East Grand Forks, MN). I didn’t really have any training outside of a single season in jazz classes; I just wanted to dance so I would create my own opportunities. In fact, I didn’t receive formal training until I went to college at the University of Oregon. I was a dance minor there and thought for a time that I wanted to be a dance therapist. I took classes in ballet, modern, jazz, improv, hip hop and African. I taught classes at a local dance school, choreographed for one of the high school dance teams and eventually was a guest teacher for the U of O hip hop courses. I also did a lot of go go dancing at venues all over the country. But, again, the performance opportunities I enjoyed most were few and far between. So I started my own cabaret troupe made up of 5 ladies and we would perform with musicians, at local events, and eventually, at a small venue that hosted a weekly burlesque show. Though I didn’t really have a concept of everything burlesque was, this was definitely its introduction into my life.
Q: I understand that the start of your burlesque career was shaped by two main events. The first burlesque performance you saw was that of your good friend Charlotte Treuse in one of her earliest performances at a bar shortly after you moved to Portland. What about that experience made you so sure that burlesque was a good fit for you? And second, though hard for some to believe, is it true that you have a Craigslist ad to thank for your very first burlesque performance? How did that come about?
A: Charlotte Treuse and I have been good friends for many years and our friendship started when we were both living in Eugene, Oregon. She actually used to be the photographer for my dance troupe (her talents are endless!) After I moved to Portland, she invited me to one of her first burlesque performances at a little bar downtown. Up until then, my exposure and my ideas of the burlesque world had been quite limited, but after seeing her perform that night with her sparkly costume, her tongue in cheek humor, and her awesome glitter dump, I realized that burlesque embodied everything that I loved- dancing, music, costumes, drama, humor and, most importantly, the opportunity to DO WHAT I WANT. I have always kind of danced to my own drummer, so to speak, and burlesque seemed like the perfect way to express all the crazy things that I envisioned. It just made sense. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing or where to begin so it all kind of went on the back burner until one day I was combing the Craigslist ads for performance opportunities when I came across an ad for a guest performer for the Rose City Sirens, a queer burlesque troupe who were about to launch their new full length show. So I put together a makeshift costume (a sparkly dress from Goodwill + embarrassing Forever 21 lingerie) and auditioned for the Rose City Sirens and their manager and founder of SinnSavvy Productions, Rayleen Courtney. I picked a cheesy song from Moulin Rouge and danced around nervously as I quickly plucked clothes off my body in probably the least sexy way imaginable. Little did I know that Rayleen actually already knew who I was (thank you Myspace) and had been following my Eugene dance troupe. I was offered the gig and told I could do whatever kind of performance I wanted so I chucked the cheese and created a gender bending hip hop number. Two months later I was officially invited to be a member of the SinnSavvy family and it was with them that I truly began to develop as a burlesque performer.
Q: Like many in the burlesque industry, one of your greatest struggles has been balancing your “big girl job,” as you call it, with your performance career, and as you well know, the plight of sometimes declining performance/travel opportunities in order to maintain financial stability can be a very difficult one. Is full-time performance/instruction/choreography, etc. an eventual goal of yours, or is overall security the priority for you?
A: A few months ago I was offered a year-long contract to perform overseas. Of course, that statement alone looks incredible but there are a lot of life-altering factors that go into a decision like that, such as having to give up my big girl job, moving to a foreign country by myself, not speaking the language or knowing the culture or even how the business works over there, being locked into a contract performing 5 nights a week for 12 months, etc. Having that opportunity waved under my nose really made me evaluate my goals. I realized that as much as I love and am dedicated to performing, at this point in my life, I really value the balance that I have by maintaining my secular job. I am fortunate enough to have a big girl job that, not only provides some financial stability, but is also emotionally satisfying (it involves a lot of patient advocacy for children) and allows me to work from a remote location (predominantly, my own home). And having a relatively recent experience with a serious accident during a performance (tearing my hamstring off my pelvis), I know how your whole world can change instantly in the face of an injury. There are pros and cons to all lifestyles but being ok with turning down that opportunity made me realize how lucky and happy I am with my world I have.
Q: You just returned from the Minneapolis Burlesque Festival. We’d love to hear highlights from your trip!
A: Ooooh girl! Those Midwesterners know how to put on a show, doncha know? Seriously, it was such a huge honor to be there. It was the first time I have ever performed burlesque in my home state. The production was incredible, the performers were fantastic and everyone was so hospitable. A few bullet point highlights:
* The comradery backstage- we laughed with each other, ooohed and ahhed over costumes, gave pep talks- it was awesome and exactly what was needed to help calm the nerves of performing on the first night. Also, the after party was catered primarily with casseroles, a Midwestern specialty!
* Foxy Tann and the Wham Bam Thank You Ma’ams and their vacuum routine; Blanche DeBris in her multi-layer tribute to Sound of Music; Queenie Von Curves as Plus Size Barbie; Peakaboo Pointe in the hottest beaded dress I have ever seen!
* Jumping up on stage at the hip hop club with Sweetpea and making the crowd cheer; partner dancing with Alotta Boutté (that girl can LEAD)
* Teaching my hip hop burlesque class and having everyone call out “Pussy magic!” in unison – this was the term I used to describe the final dance move I taught them- amazing and hilarious
* Having my dad see me perform at a burlesque show for the first time (a little weird, but mostly awesome)
Q: And speaking of trips, you’re going to the Milan Burlesque Festival in May! You must be elated. Tell us all about it!
A: Yes! <wiggle butt dance> When I started performing burlesque, I decided to always set goals for myself- first it was to perform out of state (California was my first, 06/10), then it was to perform at a festival (Burlesque Hall of Fame was my first, 06/11), then to perform in New York (01/12), and then it was to perform in Europe. I applied to Italy because it was my favorite country when I traveled through Western Europe a few years ago and I couldn’t think of a better way to return to it than on a stage. There are only 4 participant artists from the United States that I am aware of and I was so excited that I had the opportunity to meet one of them, Lady Jack, face to face at the Minneapolis Festival. I will be performing Music Box so right now music box prop version 2.0 is being created- something light and sturdy enough to fly across the world with me. I can’t wait! It gives me butterflies just thinking about it!
Q: Let’s talk about the Rosehip Revue for moment. January 18 was the last show, is that right? You mentioned on Twitter that it was bittersweet for you, and on Facebook, you said, “I have been a resident cast member since the very first show. In 3 years I have only missed one show (because Rayleen and I were at Burlycon). I ripped my hamstring off during this show, had it surgically reattached, and still performed the following month. It was the foundation of what would become an actual career in burlesque for me. Blood, sweat and tears (all glittery of course) for this. The end.” I’m sure that it was an emotional evening, but how was the last show? Anything else you’d like to say on the topic?
A: The Rosehip Revue was the crown jewel of SinnSavvy Productions. It was the show that spawned our first (and only) tour. It was the show that helped create a King (Russell Bruner has been a resident cast member since 2010). It was the show that hosted a Queen (Indigo Blue, 5/12). This was the show I created all my signature acts for. It literally grew with me and shaped me as a performer. They are all still my family and it will always be my home.
Q: You’re a member of The Fringe Benefits burlesque troupe in Portland. Please tell us more about that project.
A: The Fringe Benefits consist of myself, Claire Voltaire and, our lead choreographer and founder, Zora Von Pavonine. We are all trained dancers and burlesque performers here in Portland. It was developed by Zora out of a desire to create something unique and engaging for the audience and to mesh the performance art of burlesque with the polish of a group dance dynamic to deliver a visual aesthetic not seen all that often. She has very high standards for production and detail and hand selected each of us, giving us fair warning about all the hard work it was going to be, the demand it would make on the schedule with rehearsal times, the willingness we would need to learn choreography, etc, and to basically think long and hard before saying ‘yes!’. It was not glamorized or sensationalized but it was very clear that this was going to be a very special project of magnanimous quality.
We have put on 2 full length productions that involve group numbers, duets and solos. We spend about 5 months preparing each production with choreography rehearsals, theory discussion and costume creation. Our most recent show, “9 Muses” tackled intricate movement in genres of ballet, lyrical, modern and hip hop. We utilized huge props masterminded by Zora’s crazy gift of engineering and showcased costumes that went beyond anything any of us had ever done. We estimated we had a total of about 20,000 Swarovski crystals by the time we were finished, lol. Now that we somewhat of a solid foundation, we are ready to explore outside our Portland walls and expose the rest of the world to the Fringe Benefits. You can find out more about us at http://www.fringebenefitsburlesque.com/ or find us on Facebook.
Q: You’re returning to Dallas in April! What’s on the agenda for the visit?
A: One word: ASSELS.
Ok, more words than that.. I LOVE me some Dallas! I love the performers, I love the producers, and I supermega love all these wild fans! Seriously, you have some of the best hootin’ and hollerin’ audiences ever! I am so excited to be performing at Cirque du Burlesque and I have a very special new routine I am creating especially for it. It will be in traditional Angelique style of a poppin-lockin-ass-shaking good time with a twist of carnie oddity.
Q: What’s next for Angelique DeVil?
A: Hopefully more travel, continued invitations to perform around the country (and beyond), collaborations with other performers, touring with my troupe, brand new and exciting routines bursting forth from the muses….
but honestly, I have no idea. I think that is the best part.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?