Undine LaVerve – Interview
What makes you identify as a member of the goth/alternative community?
I was interested in the alternative scene since childhood. I remember jumping around my bedroom as a kid, listening to Marilyn Manson on cassette. I got into all the usual introductory metal bands at first – Manson, Korn, Linkin Park, Evanescence, Slipknot, etc. and then in my teenage years moved on to The Birthday Massacre, Type O Negative, The Crushadows, Zeromancer, Scar Symmetry… as varied a list as you can imagine. Nowadays I listen to more Industrial and 80’s goth, some melodic death metal. I have been fascinated with goth fashion since my teenage years too, my wardrobe has consisted of mainly black for as long as I can remember and I started experimenting with looks, even making clothes in my teenage years too. I became part of the Malta metal scene at the age of 14/15 when I started hanging out with alternative people and even managing to get into the local metal concerts and clubs. By the age of 17 I was an established figure in the metal scene and still am often performing with a Maltese band Martyrium and supporting various bands by coming to their gigs, I often perform at and host metal and biker events.
In 2013 I became one of the Vampire Freaks official models and through the models cult I met a lot of amazing creatives and goths from all around the world who I am still in touch with, have met and worked with many, some of them have played a significant role in my life. So, I consider myself a member of the global, as well as local goth community. I love the music, the style and then there is something deeper. There is a romantic melancholy about being a goth, which I love. I feel at best when I express myself through my style, and though I may seem comfortable in yellow and pink on stage, I feel at my best when I manage to pair my black clothes perfectly…maybe throw in a hint of colour to set off my tight-laced glam goth look!
Why did you choose the name Undine LaVerve as your stage name?
I feel that I’m my ‘true self’ on stage because I’m completely free to be myself without holding back. I am Undine LaVerve, it is not a “stage persona” or a “stage name” for me, it is my true self. In some social situations, we water ourselves down to fit in or be accepted, but l choose to be myself and live my true nature, my femininity, my sensuality – I take it back and I own it! So, my work and my style allow my personality to shine through and live up to its full potential, rather than allowing me to create a persona. On stage, I can act a certain way according to my character, but deeper than that I am more myself than ever.
When you started doing Burlesque in Malta there was no work for you. What made you decide to pursue this path, knowing that you would have to create your own opportunities?
When I started Burlesque, in Malta it was unheard of and unknown, not an existing concept. I fell in love with Burlesque and knew only that I wanted to do it. I had no idea that 9 years on I would be teaching, performing, producing shows and organising events, that my art would be in such high demand. I am so proud because I achieved this all by myself and I don’t often allow myself to say this. I am blessed to have a supportive family; my mother has always allowed me to be me (although oftentimes I get the “Is THAT how you are going out?” …”Yes mom…no, I am not changing. Yes, my fishnets are ripped on purpose. No one is going to do anything.” She tends to be protective as all mothers are… but she is completely supportive, helping with costumes, styling, helping backstage and behind the scenes at every show and interview she can attend. My dad helps a lot too, with sound, shows, and even sings at my events. So, they helped by being supportive!
When I started I concentrated on performing abroad and having fun, on doing festivals and getting my name “out there”, I also thought I might eventually move away…but in 2015 I realised I had to do something here…and now Burlesque is not unheard of and people know who I am. Now I am building my little empire and I doubt I will ever move away for too long. I love Malta and what I am building here. I will travel and maybe sometimes for long, but I have a feeling, like in the past, I will always come back here. I am glad I had to work hard for my art and to create my opportunities because I feel it has built my character ad made me the woman I am today.
Tell me a bit more about your Dark Ritual Act? It made me think of Theda Bara playing the vamp (a dark seductress) but the 2.0 version!
I am flattered by your association. Dark Ritual is my first metal act, it’s also one of my favourite expression of my true self – dark, sultry, sexy, almost animalistic at times but in a slow and sensual way. I knew Burlesque had no limits, I saw performers like Dangerrr Doll performing to Megadeath, I often practice to Type O Negative in the studio and other metal bands because that music uplifts me, I can express so much more to it, it moves me in a different way, sometimes shakes me to my core. And so being able to pay tribute to my Favourite band Type O Negative and Peter Steele…the costume somehow just came together (I made it of course), I wear real taxidermy horns on my head (how hardcore is that?) which are skull crushing but worth it. I love the fantasy of being a devil, crawling around, pouring “blood” on myself…the whole idea of that is very exciting to me. So that was my first venture into metal Burlesque, and I have since done more acts that include metal and rock. Because that is a part of me I cannot and will not hide. It is what inspire me, so might as well use it.
As goths we see and experience life from a sensual perspective and we are really passionate people. Do you think this is what drew you to Burlesque?
That is possible. I often think that I feel deeper than some or even most people. I am highly passionate, very sensual in life, I love taking in the moment – melancholy moments, still moments, turbulent moments, moments of stage…I always appreciated nature – the movement of the water in the bay heaving all at once and falling; the bats flying by at the playground at night; the burning of the candle and the wax stinging the finger tips. I love living sensations and I love finding a way to portray these experiences. I do this through body language and facial expression on stage.
As Burlesque performers we take our audience on a journey and tell a story, whether complex or easy, a story non the less. We let the audience into our fantasy and let them interpret it. That can be personal but also rewarding. Growing up as a baby goth has definitely given me a heightened sense of certain concepts and emotions. I also believe that any person who truly ventures into the alternative lifestyle has already allowed their mind to be opened, straying from the mainstream. In a way, being goth is going against the grain. So I think it was easier to be drawn into Burlesque – a new concept, without fear because growing up as a goth I have learnt not to care about judgement, prejudices and started growing a tough skin, not knowing it would be essential to me in the few first years of my Burlesque journey and still comes in handy now too.
What do you think the art of Burlesque has to offer women in 2019?
I think every woman could benefit from taking a class or watching a show. Burlesque is wonderful because it puts creativity first, beyond what you look like, how old or tall or slim you are. I do believe that performers should make an effort to look in accordance to whatever their character on stage for a certain act is (be it a glamour goddess or a creepy clown) and I think acts should be polished and well executed but otherwise, Burlesque is a very accepting and open art form. And that alone is inspiring, that alone is beautiful! So many women come to shows and gush about how inspired they feel after, how they love seeing empowered bodies on stage. Women love burlesque – some for the costumes, some for the artistry, some for the diversity, most for all those things. As for classes, I have seen students transform – from basic flexibility and a difference in body movements and posture; to a difference in confidence, in self-esteem, in happiness levels. I know how Burlesque can translate into daily life because I live it and it’s who I am now – how I walk, how I move- more grace, I am more aware of my movements and their significance to, me. It is a gift to not only know your body but truly love it. It starts with taking the first step, and for many Burlesque could be that step towards self-love and acceptance of your own body, as well as mind.
What artists, musicians, movies or books inspire your work?
I am inspired by many bands, by bis of movies and Boosk, I wouldn’t want to pinpoint any in particular. I draw inspiration from everywhere. From the sea, flowers, the breeze, to other performers, 40s/50s American movies, jazz/metal music, costume inspirations from everywhere, nowadays even bits I find on Instagram! And of course, my own mind! Inspiration for acts have come from different places – sometimes it’s a song that I hear, can visualise the choreography and then everything else falls into place. Sometimes it’s a bit of costume, it can be something as small as a hat or a glove, as has been for some of my acts. Sometimes I think of a character and have to find the right music and the costume to make that a reality. I love the creative process!
Talk about the biggest failure you've had as a Burlesque Star. What did you learn from it?
My biggest failure was allowing myself to be overpowered and manipulated by an abuser and giving up my art and my passion for more than 6 months. Without Burlesque I felt like I had lost my spark, my happiness, my power! I am open about past abuse but don’t like it to be too public because Malta being a small island and everyone knowing everyone, it is very easy to realise who my abuser was, and I was even asked once in an interview, but prefer to give no comment. I am proud of getting through that and out of that dark time of my life! It gave me a huge kick and helped me become the strong person I am now. I’ve had bad performances for the wrong crowds before, but I believe that it is all part of the growing experience.
What has been your biggest success story? Why do you think it was a success?
In my eyes, MalTease is my biggest achievement, Putting on a big theater production with an amazing cast of local performers and foreign stars all on my own with support from my family! MalTease gives me an opportunity to showcase the beauty, class and variety of the art of Burlesque. That show was a real game changer in my career! For me every show I do, a small show or a big festival, each one is a success and an exhilarating experience.
What three things do you like to do in your spare time?
I don’t have a lot of spare time but when I do and am not catching up on sleep, I like to go to the theatre or a concert in good company. I love supporting art, I enjoy Shakespeare, opera, classical music, metal concerts, punk gigs, you name it! I also love dancing and always try to attend Malta’s monthly lgbtiq+ party where I can dance and enjoy myself in a safe space. I like enjoying a glass of red wine by candlelight somewhere in a dim and cozy spot occasionally on my own or with a book, but generally with a companion. I love reading, mainly philosophy and classical novels, dystopia novels… unfortunately I don’t find as much time to read now as I would like to. But I try to write a page or two of my thoughts daily, that helps tracking ideas and not letting my thoughts get too messy.
What advice would you give new artists getting started in Burlesque?
Be yourself and be creative. Draw inspiration from your own culture or something global, like nature or the animal kingdom or your own imagination! Write down your ideas and keep an idea log, that can help organise your thoughts. Listen to lots of music that inspires you and visualise. Use your talents, your quirks and whatever makes you unique!