An Interview With Isabelle Époque and Bella La Blanc on ‘Bowie and Burlesque’

And the stars look very different today. David Bowie left us poor, mere earthlings behind last month but there are two burlesque shows in his honor happening next week!  Philanthrotease is presenting The Life and Times of Major Tom: A Chronological Tribute to David Bowie Thursday, February 10, 2016 at 8:30 p.m. at the Rock and Roll Hotel. The show is also a fundraiser for the Wanda Alston Foundation which provides housing to homeless LGBTQ youth.

I had a chance recently to chat with two of the show’s stars and producers, Isabelle Epoque and Bella La Blanc about Bowie and Burlesque.

Bella La Blanc. Photo by Stereo Vision Photography.
Bella La Blanc. Photo by Stereo Vision Photography.

Since I’ve asked this of Bella before I’ll ask you, Isabelle – name, tagline and when and why did you get into burlesque?

Isabelle: Isabelle Epoque, The Silken Body of Scorching Glamour (tagline bestowed by Diva Darling). I began my Burlesque performance journey in Spring of 2015 with Gigi Holliday in her Budding Burlesque Beauties studio to stage program. Bella was one of our guest instructors.  I’ve been a dancer since childhood, and it has matured over the years – the classics as a child (tap, ballet, jazz). In my teenage years I joined a competitive dance team, and after heading off to college and grad school I indulged my craving for movement with Egyptian Cabaret and Lebanese Folkloric Bellydance. I missed dancing when I arrived in DC 7 years ago; it was a hole in my heart. When I bumped into GiGi at a Hill Center Burlesque 101 class, I remembered how it felt.and I was hooked.

How did Philanthrotease come about?  Great name, by the way!

Isabelle:  Thanks! The idea arose with two of my Budding Burlesque Beauties sisters (Jane Ostentatious and Te’a Sweet). Back in May 2015, coming off our whirlwind debut with Studio Holliday (under the tutelage of the incomparable GiGi Holliday and Indianas Jewels), we had an idea to combine three things we (and the District) love: art stripping and sweet, sweet charity. Thus was born Philanthrotease on a sticky summer day on a redline metro platform. (We had a lot of time to brainstorm, f-ing redline delays!) BUT we were babies and we still had oh so much to learn from this amazing, loving, talented community. So we registered the name on Facebook and decided to wait until Jane returned from London to implement our grand plans. We wanted to use that time to study under the producers we most admire and hone our own skills as performers. Basically, we were acutely aware of not getting too big for our sequined-britches. But opportunity presented itself and when Bella offered to help me produce the David Bowie Tribute show, I knew it was time!

How did you all decide on the Wanda Alston Foundation as your beneficiary?

Isabelle: About a year ago I had heard a piece on their work on WAMU (NPR) and then again, about a month ago the segment re-aired. It was top of mind when Bella and I were discussing charities.

Bella: Because we both thought it was very important for this benefit to represent LGBTQ youth because honestly most of us look at Mr Bowie as the patron saint of queers, misfits, and weirdos.

What are the plans for Philanthrotease going forward?

Isabelle: If there is enough performer interest and weekend venue slots available, I’d like to do a major charity show like this twice per year, gauge demand, this is DC after all… philanthropy is our second favorite sport next to brunch …

Bella: Truth!

Isabelle: … and maybe ramp up from there. I’d like to do other production forays, too, but my mind is very much in the now of making sure this event gets the visibility and attendance it deserves.

What are some of the acts we can expect at this show?

Bella: You can expect everything from side show, burlesque, variety, maybe some light comedy too, just to lighten up the mood.

Isabelle: It is a cast diverse in skills and styles – feats of daring, musical instruments, pointe shoes, LED hula hoops, and feather fans. We want our audience to take a journey with us… all the feels .. tears, laughter, painful beauty!

What’s your favorite Bowie song and why 

Bella: I honestly can’t pick just one… but if you forced me to I would say “Heroes.” It helped me through a very dark patch in my youth. Bowie was always there for me. I was lucky enough to see him live in the 90’s when he toured with NIN!!

Isabelle Epoque. Photo by Stereo Vision Photography.
Isabelle Epoque. Photo by Stereo Vision Photography.

Isabelle: It has always been “Space Oddity”, which I am privileged to perform to at this show.

It was a part of my childhood, and it gained new meaning for me during the years I worked at NASA.

Wait – what? What did you do at NASA?

Isabelle: I was one of many engineers planning for the future of space exploration and the computational tools necessary to do the job. I’m not currently there. Burlesque gathers nerds of all stripes to her bosom.

What’s up next for each of you after Major Tom?

Bella: I am home for a week or two and then I take off to Texas then to Seattle so I can headline Norwescon again this year.

Isabelle: I’m not touring like Bella, but I have a packed Winter/Spring full of shows! The First Ladies’ Show at the Bier Baron on February 20, Self Love Show at Club Orpheus in Baltimore on March 5, 2016 and Hexwork Spring Equinox Brunch at the Bier Baron on March 20, 2016.

Which first ladies are you doing?

Isabelle: Notorious RBG and Dolly Madison.

STOP! I love Notorious! She was recently asked something about when she thought there would be enough women on the bench and she said when there are nine! 

Isabelle: I even have Ginsburg’s Dissent and Majority Opinion collars in my costume.

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The Life and Times of Major Tom: A Chronological Tribute to David Bowie plays on February 10, 2016 at the Rock and Roll Hotel – 1353 H Street, N.E. in Washington, DC. Doors open at 8:30 PM and the show begins at 9:30 PM. Tickets are $15 in advance online, or $20 at the door.

This show is for 21+ year-olds!

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Lucrezia Blozia
Lucrezia Blozia has been part of the local alternative performance scene since the early ‘90s (she started when she was 6). She was the leading, ahem, lady at notorious pervpunk theatre company Cherry Red where she honed her skills in plays like “Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack” and “Poona the F*ckdog and Other Plays for Children”. She was part of girl group Eva Brontosaurus in both New York and LA where the trio opened for Margaret Cho’s monthly burlesque show, The Sensuous Woman. She’s proud to have originated roles in all five years of Hope Operas and played everything from a flipper derby girl to a were-squirrel to a Pam Greer-type cop/barista. She’s a regular collaborator with Landless and Borealis Theatre Companies and Astro Pop Entertainment. She loves you and is surprisingly easy to work with for someone so simultaneously humble and exquisitely beautiful (oh and talented). You should hire her.