An In-Depth Interview
by Kaylin Idora
This article was originally published world-wide in "The Best of Frankie Tease Vol. 2" ebook, August 2013.
The first time I encountered the magnanimous performer known as Perle Noire was at Dita Von Teese's "Strip Strip Hooray!" show in Las Vegas, May, 2012. An eye-level stage while standing, I remember looking up and saying "Love you Perle" and she looked back and said "love you too". Not only is her act distinct, she is a powerful dancer with a natural and subtle command of the audience, and the musicality of a goddess. The body? Well, hers leaves nothing to be desired with tone just about everywhere you can imagine. The good thing, is you don't have to imagine, because she'll show you. Her topless acrobatics are a high point for any show she is involved in, bar none. She leaves nothing but ovations in her wake as the audience cries for more.
Her love of the bygone era is not only evident, but brought to stage. She was just voted number five for the 2012 top 50 Burlesque figures on 21stCenturyBurlesque.com (along with Dita Von Teese, Dirty Martini, Jo Weldon, and Michelle L'amour). Let Miss Noire tell in her own words what she has done, is doing, and will do, related to her many talents. Her adoring fans across the nation and globe expand with each performance, so it's time for everyone to get to know the one and only Perle Noire.
FT: When did you start performing on stage and what was your first genre? What is your stage background?
PN: I started performing at the tender age of two. My mother said I was a dramatic actress from the beginning. When I was a child I would dance everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. For example, my mother would take me to Venice Beach (CA.) and I would steal the show from the break dancers. I was a ham. I had aspirations of becoming a world renowned actress, gymnast, pop star, and ballroom dancer. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to study the art of entertainment properly, but you can't keep a passionate artist down. I taught myself how to dance by imitating Janet Jackson and the glamorous ballroom dancers featured on PBS. As soon as I graduated from high school, I moved into a hotel and saved up money to pursue my dreams. One day I woke up and decided to move to Las Vegas with a back-pack and ambition. The rest is herstory.
FT: Did you grow up in New Orleans?
PN: Not in my present life. I'm originally from Dallas, Texas. However, Perle Noire was born in NOLA. I am proud to say New Orleans adopted me and the creative process began there. I crossed paths with some of the most creative and loving characters in my life. I'm truly grateful to the creator for sending me to the beautiful city. New Orleans became the heart beat of the creation that is Perle Noire, The Black Pearl.
FT: What or who drew you to burlesque and when?
PN: I like to tell people burlesque chose me. I had an unwavering avidity to become an actress and a ballroom dancer. Luckily for me the stars had a different path aligned. Burlesque chose me when I moved to New Orleans. I was focused on becoming a proclaimed thespian and singer, and as fate would have it, I saw an audition for a burlesque musical called "Backstage at Da Fonky B" in the Gambit. The musical was about a famous TV host (Oprah Winfrey type) named Brownie Glendale, and a tenacious reporter looking to uncover secrets of her scandalous past as a burlesque dancer. I was fortunate enough to join the ensemble of the urban burlesque musical as the witty, animated, free spirit, Lolli Fedicci. I was truly dedicated to this role. I spent countless hours reading about vaudeville, the Chitlin' Circuit, and the burlesque starlets from the past. This is where my infatuation began. I fell in love with the art form and for the first time in my life, I felt at home. I love burlesque because it encompasses so many styles of artistry and entertainment. Burlesque features dance, comedy, music, glamour, thespian art and showmanship. Burlesque is also one of the oldest forms of theater and I'm proud to be apart of the preservation of the art form. I'm grateful for the gift bestowed upon me.
FT: How did you align your path with the legendary performer and NAACP star Josephine Baker?
PN: During my research for my roll as Lolli Fedicci, I was re-introduced to Josephine Baker (along with many other talented black vaudeville and burlesque entertainers). I was captivated by two photographs of Josephine Baker. The first picture featured the great Josephine Baker in black face and the next photo showcased a costume so ornate, Liberace would be green-eyed. I finally had someone to identify with. Josephine was poor, uneducated, illegitimate, and she wasn't a proper dancer. She was ridiculed because of her skin tone and was constantly teased because of her appearance. While reading her story I was overwhelmed with the familiarity and moments of deja vu. Her story was my deliverance. Growing up, I spent most of my adolescence poor, misunderstood, and an exiled outcast. I was severely bullied and cast aside like a peasant. However, I always had a ravenous desire to become a star. Josephine's perseverance, vitality, bountifulness, exuberance and her down right bad-ass attitude inspired me to become more than my circumstance.That's why it's important for me to keep her legacy alive.
by Tonya Armbruster
FT: How many countries and states have you performed your burlesque to date?
PN: I'm proud to say I've been invited to grace the stage with every burlesque queen in the world and at nearly every state in America. I've traveled abroad to Canada, London, Tokyo, Madrid, Milano, Melbourne, Rome, Sydney, to name a few. I'm pleased to announce that I'll be featured in the 2013 Australian Burlesque Fest.
FT: How do you stay in such amazing shape, and perform your high-energy acrobatics?
PN: Thank you for your kind words. My high energy acts have become one of my trademarks that has brought a certain level of success, particularly overseas. I don't want to disappoint the audience so I prepare for my performances each day. I like to rehearse daily to keep my body limber and to maintain my momentum. When I'm preparing for a show or tour I tend to eat a lot of fish, brown rice and vegetables. During my performances I believe La Baker's spirit is the driving force behind the energy that exudes from within. Along with my passion and gratitude to the audience.
FT: What is one of the most outstanding audience moments for you so far?
PN: I've had so many captivating moments with the beautiful faces in the audience from city to city during the years. However, some of my most memorable moments happened this year. I performed my tribute to Africa at the 2012 Burlesque Hall of Fame Pageant. After my performance, I received a text from the legendary Kalani Kokonuts, informing me that I received a full house standing ovation. I couldn't believe it. I was proud of that showcase because the act represents my vision of Africa. I was overjoyed by the warm reception. Later that night I received the Most Dazzling Dancer award.
Another memorable moment happened in New Orleans at the House of Blues during the Bustout Burlesque show. Some man convinced his girlfriend to come to our show and let me tell you, she wasn't having a good time. This woman sat in the front row and made snide remarks to her friend during the show. She sat with her arms crossed and gave every performer the piercing Sour Puss Stank Face. By the time I graced the stage she was still relentless. I called her out on her behavior during my performance. To prove my point I jumped off of the stage and walked up to her and said "They're just breast!" She finally had to give in and have a good time. The video is on YouTube. It's a hit.
FT: How did you become cast for "Strip Strip Hooray!" with Dita Von Teese, and what has your experience been like on tour?
PN: Dita Von Teese tweeted to her followers that she was in search of a local burlesque performer for her upcoming show in New Orleans and my beautiful fans kept singing my praises. She saw my video on You Tube and decided to feature my La Baker act in her burlesque concert. The show was also in association with my long time friend, Rick Delaup. I can't reveal too much about the tour but I will say that the experience has been priceless and filled with countless shenanigans. I'm on tour with burlesque royalty. It's validating to say the least.
FT: What type of music are you drawn to perform to?
PN: I have to admit I'm drawn to big band standards, jazz and juke-joint blues. I believe that I'm at my best when I'm jamming onstage to a live band. I love to feel the vibration and energy from the musicians. Every now and again I'll explore music of this generation but my heart is in the old school standards.
FT: What type of music do you listen to for fun, and what do you listen to for pre-performance times?
PN: My iPod as everything from Etta James to Edith Piaf. Before my performance I listen to a mixture of gritty blues, rhythm and blues and rap. To date my pre-show playlist includes Biggie Smalls, Miguel, Mikumari, James Brown and Jay-Z.
FT: Who is inspiring to you out of the current International or U.S. burlesque performers?
PN: All of the people in my life are the motivational forces who inspire me to become more than I am. I'm surrounded by intellectuals, artists, entrepreneurs and loving mothers. If I have to name a few people within my circle who aren't in the burlesque scene it will have to be Thias Mills, Kali Red, Mikumari Caiyhe and Terry McDermott. Ms Thais Mills is a painter, poet, actress and the founder of The Literacy Online Magazine LipService Ink. Another extraordinary woman inspiring me is the New Orleans socialite and humanitarian, Kali Red. Ms. Kali Red is an advocate for stopping the violence and promoting domestic abuse awareness. She's constantly giving back to the homeless and taking an active stance in supporting her community.
These woman are entrepreneurs and they're constantly creating new ways to promote business, philanthropy, and leadership in the city of New Orleans. Terry McDermott is a long time friend and now a local hero. Terry is a recording artist who sings in the band Lotus Crush. He is currently featured on the hit TV series "The Voice". To date, he's made it to the top four and he's hit number one on the iTunes Rock charts. And last but not least, my current muse, Mikumari Caiyhe. M.C. is an established actor, emcee, spoken word poet, and arts educator. Terry McDermott and Mikumari Caiyhe albums are available on iTunes. These people (to name a few) motivate and captivate me. I want to do more for my community at home and abroad. I have to surround myself with men and woman who inspire me to reach new heights. It's the only way I can survive.
FT: How hard is it to have personal or romantic relationships with the high profile life of a performer?
PN: Well, I've been single for eight years, so I have to say it seems like an allegory or game of chess that I haven't learned to master. I hear about these women who have a career, a supporting lover, and children but I'm starting to think it's simply an urban legend. I know if I were a man I would have lovers on stand by but I'm not a man so I have to deal with the price of my divine gift. I also have to admit that I'm extremely shy and men rarely approach me. I lead a beautiful, glamorous life but it's also a life of solitude. I would love to find someone crazy enough to walk with me in this colorful labyrinth I call life. I hope to have it all one day but until then I will cherish the constant love from my friends, peers, fans and the stage.
FT: What is your most coveted award or accomplishment to date?
PN: I've been blessed with an abundance of opportunities and memories with my talented burlesque sisters Dulce De Leche & Gin Minsky, along with every burlesque queen known to man. However, my most coveted accomplishment to date happened in 2009. I had the pleasure and honor to grace my idol's chateau in France. It was surreal.
FT: Would you expound just a bit on visiting your idols chateau in France?
PN: There I was in France with Immodesty Blaze and Kalani Kokonuts, standing at the entrance to Château de Malmaison (Josephine Baker's home). My legs frozen, I stood there for a moment to catch my breath while fighting back the tears of joy. I was overwhelmed and anxious to experience the glorious event. When I finally worked up the nerve to walk where my idol walked, I could feel her spirit throughout the space. The mood was intoxicating and serene. I took another step slowly to take in the air, & the extravagance. And then I saw her . The museum showcased a beautiful nude portrait of the Black Venus. She was a vision.
People were walking around, talking, laughing and I stood still, in a trace, mesmerized by her physique, beauty, and resilience. Soon after, I made my way to the showroom featuring the historic banana skirt. I was looking at an idolized piece of history. The skirt represented so many beautiful, dark fantasies & realities. I remember feeling proud and inspired. Proud to be a woman. Proud to be black. Proud to be a part of the burlesque community. In that moment I knew I had a purpose and a calling from Josephine. I knew I was the chosen one.
After I wiped my tears, I found myself in her dainty baby blue bathroom. It was so exquisite. I turned towards the window and saw the view. Oh, the view! Acres of land, trees and beauty. I sat there for awhile. Pondering. Praying. Talking to Josephine. I felt at home. And just when I thought I had seen it all, I walked into the opulent costume showroom. My goodness she was the most grand peacock of them all! Silk, crystals and feathers were displayed on petite mannequins. I was in burlesque utopia. The museum showcased her lavish lifestyle and I was reminded of the many reasons why she was one of the most influential women of all time.
One of the last rooms featured her medals for her service as an intelligence liaison in the French Resistance during World War ll. I was in awe. She was more than an entertainer. She was a ground-breaking business woman, civil rights activist, and a loving mother. I was in my idols home. How many performers can say that?
FT: What are your life-long goals or immediate goals now in your life?
PN: I have so many dreams to fulfill for the future. For example, I plan on starting a dance program for abused and under privileged children around the world. I'm currently focused on my autobiography and of course I would love to work with producers in Paris to create a burlesque revue inspired by La Baker. In the near future, I plan to study abroad and receive my Masters in Psychology to transition from burlesque performer to dance therapist.
FT: What was your first time performing in Vegas like, and when was it?
PN: I competed in 2008 in the 'best debut' category (Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend) and I was terrified . Even though I started my burlesque career in 2003, I was unknown in the community and at the festival. I never expected to win. I was pleased to finally encounter acceptance and applause instead of scrutiny and ridicule. The community welcomed me with open arms.
FT: When can we expect you to perform in Vegas next?
PN: I hope to have the opportunity to present my Satin Doll act next year. This act is a tribute to the one and only, Toni Elling. Toni Elling was Duke Ellington's protege. The song "Satin Doll" was inspired by this enchanting lady. I hope to present my act at the 2013 Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. This will be a slow, elegant and delicate performance - well, my version of slow.
View perlenoireburlesque.biz for Perle Noire's tour dates and updates, what a woman.
Art by Olivia De Berardanis