Violetta Beretta is at the forefront of Hawai‘i’s burlesque scene. The professionally trained dancer got her teasing start with Cherry Blossom Cabaret, then in 2012 she launched the Hawaii Burlesque Festival & Revue, showcasing the best local talent and bringing in bright lights from the mainland. We talked to her during a rehearsal break in the Doris Duke Theatre to find out what makes this kitten purr.

When did you start in burlesque?
I started seven years ago. I was a professional dancer for many years, and then my friend started a troupe locally, and I’ve been dancing ever since. I have a lot of experience, I do a lot of tours on the mainland and a couple in Europe.

Do you have any influences?
Yeah! I’m very influenced by some of the old-school burlesque performers (like) Lili St. Cyr, Sally Rand, and contemporary women. I’ve been influenced by Julie Atlas Muz and Dirty Martini. Those are the big names right now.

What is your favorite part of burlesque?
The ability to do whatever I want on stage. As a professional dancer, you’re stuck doing other people’s choreography, wearing other people’s costumes, (however) burlesque is the wild west in the sense that if you have a skill—or even if you don’t, but it’s preferable that you do—you can take that skill and just make up whatever you want and put it on stage. If you want to do a political commentary about how oil prices are too high, that could be a burlesque number. If you just want to dance around and look pretty, that could also be one. It’s the ultimate freedom for a creative person to have a platform.  People will pay to watch them, and they can express whatever idea they want.

With all the freedom, I wonder, is there a lot of improvisation?  Or is it mostly choreographed ahead of time?
Everyone’s different. Some people are very good at improvising, or just talented show people in general. Other people have to have set choreography. It really depends on the individual, but for troupes, unless they’re an improv troupe, generally they’ll have some sort of set choreography. It’s not a very “thrown together” thing. A lot of time, when you’re looking at really good people, it can look like it’s effortless, but they’ve been developing their acts for 10, 12 years or more.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about burlesque?
I guess the absence of any conception is the first thing. Burlesque is such a little known and vintage pursuit that most people don’t really know what it is. Then when you explain they’re like, “Oh, it’s that thing where you twirl the tassels.” You have to get beyond that and respond, “Yes, we do twirl tassels, but there’s a whole lot more.” So it’s getting people familiar with what it is. The second thing is that some people that are unfamiliar with it think that it’s just a modern strip tease. I’m not denigrating those women or anything, but it’s just that this is an art form, and that’s how we’re trying to present it.  You’ll see a lot more skin on MTV, HBO, ABC.

(Laughs) Particularly HBO
Right? If you watch Game of Thrones you’ll be fine.

….and I do

Yay!

For people that have never seen you or your troop perform, what can they expect from tonight’s and tomorrow night’s show?
They can expect to be completely entertained. Non-stop. They’re completely different shows, the two casts are totally different. The second night is all out-of-towners.  This is a chance for them (the audience) to see a group of people that they would have to travel to New York, Arizona, California… it’s a chance to see all of these traveling performers in one night.

They’ll see things that will make them laugh, things that will shock them, a lot of glamour, sparkles, and fun.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the performance itself, or that you want to tell people?
Yeah.  I definitely want to thank them for coming and being responsive.

Also, what we’re trying to do is showcase the people we have here locally, and make sure that these performers, because we’re so isolated, that they get a chance to shine, because they work really hard.  That’s the main thing for us is showcasing the local performers.  Then also bringing in these people from out of town, and exposing our kama’aina audiences to all of this new different stuff, and giving them a good time.

The third thing is that we do workshops: we’re going to have a workshop on Sunday.  If the community wants to be involved, if they want to learn burlesque or dancing or anything else, just come check it out.  It’s kinda our thing to provide not only entertainment, but, if you want to learn how to dance, or make a costume, or whatever, then you can come.

I didn’t know that you guys do workshops.
Yeah!  We had one Thursday and we’ll have another one Sunday from 11am – 2pm. That will feature our feature act Peekaboo Pointe.  She’ll be teaching about eye contact and sensuality.  They can find out all of the information at www.hawaiiburlesquefestival.com.

Final question: What is your favorite piece of art? It could be a drawing, a painting, a film, a live performance, and you can be as general or specific as you like.
Bird in Space, my favorite sculpture. As a dancer, the clean lines are beautiful to me.

Update: VIP Tickets are sold out!  We’re expecting both shows to sell out, so get your tickets here now.