The Cape Town burlesque scene recently saw an explosion, with more production companies popping up and growing the community.
The latest one is Menage a Trois (MAT) Burlesque, run by three performers, which will show its second production, Femme/Ascendancy at the Galloway Theatre from Thursday May 9 until Saturday May 11.
Femme/Ascendancy is a showcase of everything risque and provocative about burlesque, and aims to honour women in all forms.
There will be a range of guest performances which are different on each night.
“Burlesque is growing substantially, and more places are becoming amenable, and all of the up-and-coming productions are doing well. If the city was not so welcoming of the art, we would not see the growth,” said Jodi le Roux, who is the co-founder and producer of MAT Burlesque.
Jodi is better known in the community as Jezzy Belle, her stage persona.
While Jodi is a fun-loving people’s person who enjoys reading and company, she describes Jezzy Belle as “Cape Town’s burlesque saucy siren”.
Jodi was born in Durban, where she lived until she was 13, then moved to a farm in Pietermaritzburg. Growing up, Jodi had always been quite the entertainer. “I could sing before I could talk. I was told I looked like a Shirley Temple when I was younger. My mom told me that when I was little, my grandmother took us on a trip and I sang and danced for everyone on the plane and in the streets. I also did modern dancing and ballet.”
She had also sang in school and church choirs, as well as a few musical productions at school. “I used to jump over the wall to the neighbours as a young girl, and they would play On This Night of a Thousand Stars for me over and over. I was obsessed with the showgirls, the boas, the glitter and the feathers. I watched the movie every day.”
After school, she studied information technology, but could not find work. She then followed a boy to Ireland, and worked in hotels doing various duties including babysitting, bartending, cleaning to name a few. They then moved to England, where she worked as a beauty consultant among other jobs.
“I then decided to move back to Pietermaritzburg to get a degree. In the same year, my father died, and I wanted to be with my family. During this time, I studied fine art and did my honours in ceramics.”
Her dad had been a big inspiration to her. “My dad played every instrument. I sang with his band before I left for Ireland. I planned to come back to South Africa and pursue a career in singing with him, so it was disappointing when he died, but I decided to sing anyway.”
She then joined a band in Pietermaritzburg and became a lead singer, but soon left to start a solo career.
“I then met a jazz pianist who taught me a lot and did a few gigs with him.”
Her family then moved to Hout Bay because her brother was a musician and needed better teachers.
“I followed in 2010. I thought that Cape Town would have better opportunities for my solo career, but it didn’t really happen, because in the entertainment world, it is partial talent and partially who you know. I had just established myself in Pietermaritzburg, so I still had work to do in Cape Town.”
During her time in Pietermaritzburg, a friend dared Jodi to take some belly dancing classes because it was the most risque form of dance at the time. “I loved it because it celebrated female sensuality that you very often don’t see in dance. We rolled our tummies and moved our hips. It was also the most supportive community of women I’ve ever met.”
Through belly dancing she was introduced to pole dancing, and started doing classes with a friend. “We used to bring a group of women together for a girls’ day and have some drinks, food and do some basic pole. It was amazing to see these women blossom with self-esteem. They were kinder to themselves. It was to do with the support we offered each other. It was great for me to be in a space where I could watch women grow.”
When she moved to Cape Town, she joined the belly dance community. “My teacher at the time was just starting to do burlesque. I watched her perform and I thought ‘I want to do that’. “It blew me away. She then started the Rouge Revue in 2012. My first performance was at the then Sugar Hut in Canterbury Street and I never looked back.”
Today, Jodi is a founding member of the Rouge Revue, and one of the first burlesque performers on the Cape Town scene, and most of her singing is incorporated into her performances. “I’ve performed at various venues and theatres around the city, including Alexander Bar, Artscape and more recently the Galloway and District in Harrington Street. I’m essentially the burlesque ‘sing and fling’ in Cape Town.”
Jodi started MAT Burlesque with another two burlesque artists, Velvet Letter and Scar-lit Hearts after performing at the Baby Grand Festival, a fairly new production on the Cape Town burlesque scene.
“We were delighted to perform in something independent and decided we want to make more stage time for ourselves, and also contribute to the community, so we decided to put on a show. It was always just a pipe dream until we called Alexander Bar for a date and they had one available. The first production followed soon after.”
MAT Burlesque was created to push the boundaries of South African burlesque, and also to give dancers an additional and more risque platform to perform, she said.
Jodi is studying anthropology, and is doing her dissertation on body positivity and
pregnancy, while Jezzy Belle starts her adventure with MAT Burlesque.
Tickets for Femme/Ascendancy cost R280, R520 for two nights and R750 for three nights. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org