Olivia Bellafontaine is the creator of some of LA's most celebrated burlesque theatrical productions. She is a producer, an actress, a dancer, a choreographer, a costume designer and an infectious force on stage. Transcending the archetypal femme fatale, Olivia carries a hypnotic flare morphing into any character like watching a string of Meryl Streep roles. Inspired by mystical lands in time that span from the swamps of the sultry south, to the dark fantasy of the fetish world peppered with erotic surrealism led by this psychedelic-kitten wild-child, Bellafontaine. Graced with a stage presence that will give men heart palpatations and women a reason to whisper, Olivia is best known for Alligator Wine,Blue Velvet and the ethereal, dark evocative, The House of Red Velvet. Bellafontaine gives off some serious, Lillian Gish vibes (1912-1987: the first lady of America cinema, Birth of A Nation) her long limbs and Kewpie doll face have been captivating audiences with her performances in Tease If You Please, Seduction, Pour Vous, American Monster, Greaseland and more. Burlesque has taken her all over the west coast, Europe, Bahamas, Jamaica and Canada.
If you are a connoisseur of LA's underground scene you have heard of Olivia's most revered creation, The House of Red Velvet. The House of Red Velvet has been gathering steam and praise close to two years and for good reason - mainly, it has a unique vision that you won't find in your run of the mill showgirls performances. Bellafontaine love of oddities gave her the insight and the lady balls to produce something rare, something left of - "off the beat and path." A production that blends theatre, vaudeville de la erotica and dark performance art - leaving patrons unsettled and euphoric, always wanting more. The House of Red Velvet parallels the fervor of Lynchian vignettes - atypical when one thinks of beautiful women stripping down to tassled nipple covers and sequined g-strings all while titillated an audience. Olivia found a way of blurring the lines of horror, haunting audiences with erotic surrealism invoking emotions found in the films of Polanski and Kubrick. Thursday, December 21st - The Other Door will host the last performance for 2017 (link to buy tickets @ the bottom) so we sat down with the mastermind behind the dark delicious decadent disturbia all that is, The House Of Red Velvet --- Miss Olivia Bellafontaine.
Like most of us, I danced in my room in front of my mirror as a young girl, but I didn’t take professional classes until I started doing burlesque, and realized I wanted to do it as a profession. I was 27 I think? I never remember numbers.
What was your first introduction into burlesque?
I saw a show called Kubrilesque, which was all of Kubrick’s films done in a burlesque tribute. I met the creator of it, who is still a friend today, and she asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. I said yes, and that’s how it all began.
When did you decide to create your own productions?
Almost two years ago, I was feeling like I was in a rut. I kept having conversations with friends about where burlesque goes from here. I was feeling like I needed an outlet to do some dark art performance theater. I started performing in clubs years ago, and they were usually dark or fetish related acts. I wanted to go back to that, but with a more sophisticated approach. So, I took the risk and started The House of Red Velvet.
What is your relationship to the metaphysical and how does that play a role in your work?
The House of Red Velvet is built to be a dream that the audience is experiencing. It has this transcending feeling. We strive to induce all types of emotions out of people. I like to create imagery that is beyond any reality. Metaphysics is an important piece that is never ending in exploration. When I was a young girl, I would be up late looking out my window at the stars, which you could see better where I grew up, and I would bend my mind and think about my being, and how my existence was real and something I was aware of. It’s a great place to get lost in. The show is made for that kind of individual internal thought process.
You like the process of experimenting on stage in front of an audience. With Blue Velvet (assuming the title was inspired by the David Lynch film and the Tony Benett/Bobby Vinton song) almost if you took the art of jazz and infused it into dance – how was the reaction to not having any idea of whats next by you , dancers and the audience? Is this something you would do again?
Blue Velvet is my favorite Lynch film, and I love the song, but actually it wasn’t directly named after them. I had already started The House of Red Velvet, and to keep things under an umbrella, and because it was blues influenced music, I called it Blue Velvet. I realized later I had to explain that to some people, but I love the name. It fits the feel of the show. This show was a risk also, because I had no idea if it was going to hold up. I am grateful for the band that works with us, Dave Cavalier Trio. They are one of the most talented bands in LA. Having that freedom to completely let go during the music while having to connect full heartedly with each other has been one of the greatest experiences in my performances. Audiences feel it more than see it. The show has become an experience. Each show feels different also. There is something sort of psychedelic about it. We are booked on a monthly at Clifton’s Republic right now, so we will definitely be doing it again.
Alligator Wine feels like a southern sweaty cigarette filtered rendezvous – almost like the intro to true blood – what was the inspiration behind Storyville, Swamp Blues and early 1900 Red Light District?
Blue Velvet came first. I love Gothic Americana styling, so that one is a lot of black laces and leathers with pops of blue colored pieces. We were hired to do a swamp blues sound with a Storyville inspired burlesque show. I took the group I had, researched costuming, and we made Alligator Wine. The costuming tends to be lighter lingerie colors with early 1900’s bloomers and pieces inspired from that era. Dave changes the musical tones, and we changed the format, but it is still 100% improvisational.
Of the persona’s you have brought to life which have been the most fun and why?
The House of Red Velvet is one of the most important creations of my career. It has helped me grow as a performer. I have learned to dive deeper into my subconscious, and more importantly to trust that. I have experimented with dream work to help draw in the visual imagery of the show. I am really happy with the latest editions we have been doing. There are different levels of personas that I bring out, but it is the truest and most raw ones.
What is your relationship to the subcultures of yesteryear specifically 1920s – 1970’s and why do you think that 50 year span has more of a appeal? (surrealism, gold rush, fetish,noir, psychedelic) Why Burlesque as a dancer and why producing / creating costumes (although it goes with the territory but for those that don’t know the ins and outs) and then why did you take it to the next level to producing your own productions?
I find the 20’s interesting especially because it was so dark. I have a deep connection to Berlin, so of course I have been fascinated with the Weimar era. Surrealism art is something I found to be most drawn to, because it’s so internal. It was also something I wanted to play with when I was first starting The House of Red Velvet. Dali and Beksinki have been constant inspirations.
I am also drawn to this 50-year span for the fashion and the music also. Film noir because of the dark aesthetic, and the Gold Rush or Wild West era because I can only imagine how tough people had to be to live in that era. I love anything that is badass in nature. The fetish world is something I have experience in, and something that is intertwined with the visual imagery of The House of Red Velvet.
I regularly listen to more music in the 60’s and 70’s, as I was raised on that kind of music from my parents always playing it. I felt my life change a little bit when I discovered and understood Pink Floyd. There are so many great metaphors in their work that have always inspired me. John Lennon helped me discover Alejandro Jodorowsky who greatly influenced The House of Red Velvet’s early editions especially. If it wasn’t for me re-watching Santa Sangre, I might have given up on doing it before it started.
I really fell into burlesque. I never expected to be doing it. But, it was an outlet of total creative freedom. That is what drew me to it. And, yes making your own costumes goes with the territory. We edit our own music, make our own costumes, and choreograph our own routine. I started producing because I really wanted to do stuff that I love. I was simply hungry for something else. And, I really wanted to challenge myself as an artist. The House of Red Velvet has been a test. It is by far the hardest work, but truly the most fulfilling.
How long does it take you to take an idea from conceptualization to fruition?
It varies. Some I know exactly what I want. They can be done in a week or so, but others take a couple months. We have been building a new edition at The House of Red Velvet in a two-month or month and a half span. I don’t think too much on it. I like my subconscious to lead me in the work I do.
With so many troupes and acts regularly performing around Los Angeles in particular – do you think House of Red Velvet stands out more because its darker, more surreal erotic vibe?
I do think people have been drawn to it, because there isn’t anything else like it in LA. Part of my goal was to create something that you couldn’t find anywhere else. The dark Lynchian tones have definitely gotten press and people to at least inquire about it. My tagline is pretty simple, but describes exactly what it is. “Euphoric Dark Art. Surreal. Erotica.” It is all those things. And, upon just hearing that, I have noticed people perk up. This show is really about being an experience for the audience, a surrealistic dream, and a portal to conjure up what is already inside.
Can you describe the feeling of performing to a live audience. And how, if it has, changed from when you started?
It is a special place to be. I feel like I transport to another place each time I perform. It’s an otherworldly feeling.
It has changed greatly. I know myself better so I feel like my performances have matured.