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The Magical Nightlife of the Demimonde

Part 1: Miss Ida Heath

As a cabaret performer, one of the questions I always get asked is "What's it like to be up on stage in front of an audience?" Being a Burlesque artiste too means that people are always desparate to know "what's it like to take (most) of your clothes off in front strangers?!"

These wonderfully understated lithographs by Toulouse-Lautrec seem to capture so perfectly not only the exhuberance of performing on stage in cabaret, but also the extraordinary charged atmosphere of such an event, both onstage and off. They are a great representation of cabaret as ‘theatre for the people’ as opposed to an elitist thespian activity. I believe that cabaret is one of the great levellers of class - a cornucopia of glamorous gaiety, fantastical variety and absurdity. There has always been a great tradition of performance for and by common people, epitomised in the development of Music Hall in Europe, and Burlesque and Vaudeville in America in the 19th Century. Toulouse-Lautrec’s work captures the Parisian essence of it in its heady heyday.

This first image of a certain Miss Ida Heath highkicking across the stage without a care in the world encapsulates so perfectly how I feel when I’m up there - whether I’m singing with a live jazz band, or disrobing in as imaginative and seductive way as I can muster! Sometimes I feel as if the audience isn’t there at all, and yet at the same time they are crucial as I feed off their response constantly. Like any instinctive performer I always try and do a Burlesque striptease as fresh and unrehearsed as possible, and take my cues from the audience's reaction on the night. This adds a vital element of spontaneity and unpredictability which keeps the them (and me) on their toes at all times.

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