Wild Card Feature | Natalya Alessi
The sound of a film reel shudders. Flickers of projector lights blink and shutter over a statuesque woman in perfect stillness. Like a music box ballerina fluttering to life, the woman delicately raises onto the blushing satin toe-box of her pointe shoes. Flickers fuse and refract light illuminating her body – a cumulative breath is held – the audience is transported to an old movie theatre watching art itself come into motion. Each movement is tender and delicate. Under the shuttering light, her physique ripples, tendrils of muscle stretch and strain. She peels layers of satin and tulle as though she is peeling tiny petals off a flower – until there are no layers left.
“Natalya – give me three words that sum up who you are as a performer,” I ask and hold my breath for a response – the words that come out of her mouth could not be truer. “From the heart.”
If there is ever more an apt description of Natalya Alessi, it is the one she gives herself. Whether it is the flutter of a heartbeat, the flutter of a balletic step or the flutter of an eyelash – every moment Natalya is on the stage is heartfelt. A truly spectacular dancer and an enigmatic artist – she does not seem real but somehow, is imbued with such heart and soul. Everything that Natalya does is from the heart. Watching her perform is nothing short of transcendental. Natalya is a combination of light itself – whether an old black and white Hollywood starlet leaping off the silver screen, or the neon sheens of blue and red from the original Star Wars.
Alyssa Kitt caught up with our third and final Wild Card into the Miss Burlesque Australia Grand Final, Natalya Alessi, to talk about being a Disney Princess, a storm trooper and performing for Michael Jackson (what!?)
Alyssa: Huge congratulations! We’re going to see you really REALLY soon – which is so exciting, but what was more exciting – hearing that you’d been selected for a wild card or when your name was called for the podium at the end of the night of Miss Burlesque NSW?
Natalya: Definitely being told I was a wild card. I was actually already up in the change room when they started announcing the places. I wasn’t disappointed with my performance, I just didn’t expect a place so I would say I was in a state of shock when I received my place. Also, I was born and raised in Perth so performing at the Grand Final in my home town is very exciting.
Alyssa: Oh you’re going to be right at home in Perth then! This was your first time competing for the Miss Burlesque NSW State title. What made you want to enter the competition for 2019?
Natalya: I saw it as an opportunity to perform more creative or obtuse routines I don’t normally get to showcase in the corporate entertainment world. Running my own entertainment company allows me to live in a creative space but there are still A LOT of restrictions and guidelines that limit you. Miss Burlesque NSW, under the super supportive eye of Kelly Ann and Memphis was a safe space to explore and present something different.
Alyssa: You’re a really established professional performer, did you enter this competition thinking that you would be wearing a sash at the end of the night?
Natalya: Absolutely not! I always try to think positively but a place certainly wasn’t my focus. I am probably the least competitive person you will meet so it was a real challenge for me to mentally prepare for the comp. I viewed it as a chance to perform some new routines and share the stage with it’s some incredible artists.
Alyssa: What nerves/ doubts did you face going through your competition preparation for the NSW State Finals?
Natalya: Ha, that I wouldn’t finish everything in time! No, truth is that I work best with a deadline but this comp really had me cutting it fine. There were quite a few hiccups with costuming and tech issues along the way but I guess that is part of the experience and only heightened the placing and wildcard for me. Also the thrill of walking away from a performance happy, against all odds makes it worth it. I’m a real perfectionist so having something not quite go to plan but to still have resonated with people makes me feel proud of my work.
Alyssa: What did your game plan look like for Miss Burlesque NSW?
Natalya: At the beginning of the year my game plan was very organised, leaving myself plenty of time to relax into the competition. But of course, I ended up being on tour for the first six months of the year which meant trying to steal time post show on the tour bus driving from one city to the next when everyone had gone to bed or before my show prep. It was very hard with a lot of very late nights but I guess it makes it that much more rewarding.
Alyssa: You seem to be touring constantly! I can only imagine what your rehearsal schedule looks like between the stage productions that you dance in and making time for your personal preparation! In my mind – it looks stressful. But there was not a moment that you looked stressed on the stage. Starting with the Red Carpet!
Alyssa: You looked like a true burlesque ballerina in a dazzling sparkling corset in the Red Carpet. Tell me about your outfit.
Natalya: Thank you. My dress was heavily inspired by Doris Days costume from ‘Love Me or Leave Me’. The additional head piece and corset were really there to express more of my personality and onstage showgirl character (which varies) but is mostly fun, light and sweet.
Alyssa: How did you bring your burlesque character to the parade?
I think my classical training allows me to lean into a softness and gentleness so I try to keep a controlled grace to my character regardless of what I’m exploring. I guess the comfort of the character I often play onstage comes from my time working at Tokyo Disney where I played Snow White, Belle and Jasmine. We had heaps of character training for those roles and without me even knowing their mannerisms, movement and attitude found their way into my Burlesque world. I’m a Disney princess at heart so I just tapped into that a little harder.
Alyssa: You are a literal Disney Princess come to life – well, a bunch of them rolled into one burlesque lovechild! You represented such joy in your Red Carpet then completely switched it up for your traditional!
Alyssa: My jaw was on the floor for your entire traditional routine. Describe your traditional for me.
Natalya: Thank you! My traditional act has been in my heart for a few years now just waiting to burst out. What I love about this act is while it’s an ode to the Albertina Rasch and the classical dancers of the follies in the late 20’s and 30’s it also has an underlying theme of self-discovery and it’s entirely up to the audience which they choose to follow. The lighting in the beginning creates the illusion of an old early black and white film and it was really important for me to transport the audience to another time from the very beginning of the act. The image comes to life as the dancer steps out of the film, her world becoming more colourful.
Alyssa: Your light was truly special and really made the act! It was as though you had recreated the hustle bustle of the streets outside the Follies – I can’t imagine this was this as easy as it looked to get perfect – did anything go wrong?
Natalya: No, much to my surprise the traditional act ran very smoothly.
Alyssa: Inspired by the first female dance director of the Follies, Albertina Rasch and her dancers – tell me about the era and what inspired you most.
Natalya: Firstly, after much research I discovered so many of the follies were classically trained to some degree but it wasn’t until Rasch stepped in as dance director that the discipline of dance was actually a focus. Though her dancers were designed to appeal to popular taste, she raised the artistic standard where the dancer was expected to take her work seriously. I loved this about her. She brought her years of professional classical experience and discipline and imparted it on the Ziegfeld showgirl stage allowing the art to continue to evolve further.
Alyssa: The history of ballet in the early 1800s was incredibly influential on the birth of burlesque. How did you research for this routine?
Natalya: I was on tour at the time so I had a few books as a jumping off point but mostly just a lot of late nights on line. I started with the classical dancers of the time then the follies themselves. I just saw who stood out to me then traced their career and training. I ended up researching around 30 performers until I realised the common thread was Rasch.
Alyssa: Pointe shoes are often fetishised and used by those without adequate training as a prop item in burlesque, so it was an honour to see such a technician on the stage. Your performance was an incredibly beautiful display of balletic beauty. Tell me about your dance background.
Natalya: Thank you. I began dancing as soon as I could walk and attended a wonderful theatrical dance school following in my sister’s footsteps. At around ten I started at The Contemporary Dance Centre which was the best start I could have hoped for. Though I attended jazz and Spanish, classical and contemporary were my main focus which led me to attend The West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) where I completed my bachelor degree in dance. My challenge along the way was that my dance school didn’t have us en pointe until our feet had stopped growing. This meant I didn’t actually go en pointe until I attended WAAPA. You can imagine how stressful first year was as I started in the ballet based Diploma course and had to work extra hard to play catch up to all the other students.
Alyssa: You certainly do work for those pointe shoes!
Alyssa: Your unique routine looked like it was pure you – complete with stunning musical precision and drop dead precision dancing. Describe the act to me.
Natalya: This act was my biggest challenge. I wanted it to be simple, clean and honest. The concept began as a duo between Ann and King Kong, exploring the love they shared and the danger she was in. I wanted to play with the fragility of our heart when in the hands of another. As there were a few technical issues and theatre restrictions around this act I didn’t get to perform it in it’s full glory for the NSW final and it temporarily became an exploration of my own inner beast, however I am really looking forward to showing it in it’s entirety at the Grand Final!
Alyssa: Ohhhhhhh stop it – that is so beautiful! Can I just repeat that for one moment, “I wanted to play with the fragility of our heart when in the hands of another.” Poetry! The act is as beautiful as that description! This was a new routine, wasn’t it?
Natalya: Yes it was.
Alyssa: What track did you use and how did you select the music?
Natalya: For most of the year I had a track called ‘Work’ selected for this act. It allowed me to explore the theme with contemporary dance movement and a sense of freedom I really liked but as the act evolved I veered away from it. The song I ended up using, ‘All Mine’, I had used before and knew it would work not only with the concept but also the tone I wanted to achieve.
Alyssa: What makes this act different in the world of burlesque?
Natalya: The theatrical elements of this piece make it unique. I also think there is something to be said for a performer on stage in an understated costume simply communicating with the audience through dance. That is one aspect of this routine I really love.
Alyssa: Amen!!! It is possible to be unique with the pure performative elements of good music, good dancing and just… actually good everything! GOOD EVERYTHING!
We are heading into the Grand Final and we are going to see the best of the best from across the country – with a big broad spectrum of acts in each category. Did you have a favourite section?
Natalya: Over the lead up to the comp they have all had their moment in the sun. When I feel one is working and resonating with me it’s my favourite, so I guess it just depends what mood I’m in.
Alyssa: You’re like me, anything I’m working on at the time is always my favourite! But there are so many different sides and facets to you – how did you represent the different faces of Natalya?
Natalya: I think, looking back I managed to represent three shades of Natalya. There are a lot more but these seem to be the dominant ones that generally poke their head out when I’m performing. The light and fun Disney dolly, the nostalgic and emotive burlesque ballerina and the passionate and indulgent contemporary dancer.
Alyssa: I definitely felt like I got to know you and the different sides of you while watching your performances on the MBNSW stage. How are you going to prepare for the Grand Final?
Natalya: Definitely more relaxed as most of the work was already done. Looking over things that didn’t work and how to fix them… then a deep breath and a glass of wine.
Alyssa: A big deep breath is an excellent piece of advice for all performers whether you’re about to go onstage or about to hit send on an application form. Did you enjoy your MBA Journey in the State Finals?
Natalya: Absolutely! The NSW producers, Memphis and Kelly Ann made me feel so supported which just made the whole experience enjoyable and relatively stress free. I also just really enjoyed sharing the night with the other finalists. Often we fly in and out of gigs almost missing the other performers so it was really lovely to be able to spend the night with the incredible women. All round support, love and encouragement.
Alyssa: What did you love about the competition – would you recommend other performers apply?
I loved how the competition pushed me to step up to create new routines I would otherwise not have a platform to perform. I would absolutely encourage anyone who is considering it to dive on in. For me the idea of competing in anything was shrouded in nasty behaviour and unkind words but this was the most supportive and encouraging team of humans bringing the comp together. Do it!
Alyssa: What have some of your other career highlights been?
Natalya: Hmm… As Belle in Tokyo I performed for Michael Jackson and his children and though he is now not a person to be idolized, at the time meeting him was pretty special. Another, funnily enough also at Disney (wow this is going to take a dark turn) was fulfilling a dying girls last wish to meet Belle. Bringing another human such joy by simply dressing up and becoming a character really hit me in the core reminding me what we do is pretty special. But on a professional level touring the USA and Canada with Russall Beattie’s Empire Strips Back and performing at the PlayStation theatre on Broadway in Times Square has been my most exciting career achievement to date.
Alyssa: What’s your overall style of burlesque – where’s your comfy place on stage?
Natalya: Honestly that all depends on the audience. Sometimes I go full throttle showgirl though in stage shows I’m usually cast as the contemporary/classical burlesque performer. I have to admit I love improvising and sometimes rely too heavily on it. I’ll listen to a track on repeat for an entire day until I know every accent inside out then I like to just see what happens onstage. That takes a lot of the pressure and boredom out of the equation for me and always makes the gig more fun for both the audience and myself.
Alyssa: Give me three words that sum up who Natalya is as a performer.
Natalya: From the heart
Audiences can catch Natalya Alessi as she competes for the title of Miss Burlesque Australia at the Astor Theatre in Perth on Saturday 24th August.