Art & Design blog
Sapphira is a Burlesque Artiste, singer-songwriter, label owner at Domina Records and CEO/Founder of Sapphira’s Showgirls. Born in Melbourne, Australia, she recently moved to London to live with her music producer husband, Antony Silcock aka Tonestepa. We were fortunate enough to meet her in January and are thrilled to be interviewing her for the XETH Art & Design Blog.
At what age did you start to take an interest in the field you work in?
From as young as 5 years of age I was transfixed by Rogers and Hammerstein’s musicals and the old movies starring Marilyn Monroe. I entered my first talent quest at the local shopping centre in 1994 when I was 16 and sang Peggy Lee’s rendition of ‘Fever’ winning the competition and $1,000. Burlesque collided with my world in 2004 when I relocated from Melbourne to London to pursue my songwriting career. It was in the decadent underworld of London’s burlesque scene at The Whoopee Club in Notting Hill where I witnessed the striking performance of a then relatively unknown Immodesty Blaize and I slipped her a business card backstage while she was crouched over her suitcase packing up from the show. In the early days at burlesque events, I would perform as a belly dancer and jazz singer because I was enthralled by the sensuality and daring sexuality of the burlesque artists but felt too timid to perform striptease publically. For me, burlesque has been a very personal inner-journey and rite-of-passage learning to become comfortable with my own naked form and to celebrate the power of the stage, costume and performance which has provided escapism and healing in my life. It has really been in later years, as my album and songwriting have developed that I have found a way to combine all my loves into the one artistic project.
What are your top three favourite songs?
That’s a tough question, I love so much music:
1. For Priscilla – Tonestepa
(A piano ballad written for me by my husband who is a fellow pianist & music producer)
2. You’ve Got The Love – The Source Feat. Candi Stanton
3. Gorecki – Lamb
(I walked down the isle to Gorecki by Lamb at my wedding last year.)
What is your favourite London venue and why?
My favourite London venue has only recently been closed, it is Madame Jojo’s, 10 Brewer St, W1F 0SE in Soho. Madame Jojo’s was one of the original cabaret venues that had a true magic with flaming peacocks decorating its walls and butterflies embossed on its low ceiling, the dimly lit staircase transported audience and performers alike to a fantasy world. It was easy to travel back in time to the 1920s or 1950s within the alluring presence of its four walls. For me it is particularly significant because it is a venue where I performed at the London Burlesque Festival in 2007 and then later cut my teeth as a promoter producing my first show Shimmy Shake, a belly dancing & burlesque night. Working with the venue manager, Paajoe Gaskin was a highlight, he was so professional and supportive. The ethos of my burlesque dance academy, Sapphira’s Showgirl’s, has been to empower women realising their own potential and dreams. In 2013 I returned from Melbourne to Madame Jojo’s with 4 of my star students with whom I had formed the Sapphira’s Showgirls professional troupe, Kitty D’Vine, Ms Hunny Pottz and Laydee Bombay. I was glowing with pride to be on stage with such wonderful performers, we had become like a family. It was also at this event we were able to perform our full tribute show to Sir Richard Branson, he had responded to our YouTube campaign for flights from Melbourne to London and discounted our airfares with Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. Our show was titled Burlesque or Bust – My Heart Belongs To Branson. For the full story on my crusade to meet Richard, visit www.myheartbelongstobranson.com
Name four creatives who have inspired you over the past 10 years?
Sir Richard Branson – Virgin Group Founder
Whilst Sir Richard is not strictly recognized as an artist, his creative entrepreneurialism and the Virgin brand which oozes with his personal flair, irreverence and charisma have been profoundly influential in my own approach to the music industry and show biz. Reading his biography Losing My Virginity has made me realize that even the most successful business people had to start somewhere and that the risk-taking gene I have inherited is not something I should shy away from. Whenever I experience self-doubt or reach a crossroads I often say to myself “What would Richard do?” I then hold my breath and dive straight in.
Julian Kynaston – Illamasqua Founder
I discovered Illamasqua, a London based cosmetics brand with outlets world-wide at a pivotal time in my artistic career and it opened my eyes to the miraculous wonders of stage make-up. I had just quit my full time job to start my burlesque dance academy and commence writing my album and it was at the time Illamasqua were breaking into the Australian market. Julian has been the driving force behind the success of Illamasqua and his own understanding of marketing brands running the Propaganda business enabled him to take the concept of producing quality stage make-up to empower people to express themselves to the world. I became a regular face at the Illamasqua counters in Melbourne, Sydney and London where my dancers, students and I would get our make-up done by exceptionally talented make-up artists for photoshoots, stage shows and TV appearances. It was this experimentation that helped me develop the stage character for my album, I call her Mystress.
Charles Billich is arguably one of Australia’s finest art exports and we crossed paths at the Graham Gedde’s Figurative Art Exhibition in 2012 where I posed as Charles’ model and performed a number to open the night. His work is eclectic and has been featured in the Vatican Museum and in the palaces of Kings and Queens. While I was used to performing striptease under lights and in a fancy costume, it was extremely intimate to be sketched by Charles at this exhibition (although we were in room of 200 people). We became friends that night and now plan to work together on a special piece on my forthcoming album. The song is entitled Forbidden Fruit.
My stage name, Sapphira, is a Greek name, derived from the ancient Greek poet, Sappho. I have been researching Sappho’s history as her salacious history of writing erotic poetry on the Isle of Lesbos has had significant parallels with the inspiration I have found emerging in my own writing. Sappho was not a historical figure I became aware of until the latter stages of my album but I felt a resonance as I read more about her.
Have you got any exciting projects coming up in the near future?
2015 is possibly the most exciting year in my artistic calendar ever! I have finally finished my debut album, Mistress, which combines burlesque, electronica, dark beats and a dramatic stage show. It has taken 5 years to write the album and I fell in love with my music producer, Antony Silcock aka Tonestepa, during the process. We got married last year and after 5 years of a long-distance relationship, we are now finally together in London and we are excited about releasing the album which has a range of beautiful music encompassing the genres of dubstep, drum n bass, house and a few gentle piano ballads, too. The biggest unveiling will be the Atonement music video, shot over 4 days in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges by director Jeff Osman of Carpe Diem films and featuring co-star, Hana Vraniqi. To date, Atonement is the one creative accomplishment of which I am most proud. A huge thank you to the team including Donna Billing at Hairextrodonnaire, make-up artist Mishel Vounatsos Bratsos and photography, Pam Morris.
If you weren’t involved in the creative industry what other career path would you have chosen.
Essentially I have had two careers for long time. One has been in the business media and corporate arena where I have worked in advertising sales for all the market leaders including MySpace.com, Future Publishing, JCDecaux & CBS Interactive. This has enabled me to learn about the global entertainment industry, luxury brand strategy for companies like Rolex and Chanel plus large-scale sponsorship deals. Within my own company I have networked with Virgin Active, Virgin Atlantic, Agent Provocateur and cult London make-up brand, Illamasqua. My knowledge of marketing has helped me identify companies that mirror the ethos of my dance academy and record label. These two businesses, both that started as part-time hobbies, have now become fully established. Sapphira’s Showgirls and Domina Records are expanding from Australia to the UK and I am grateful I have great teams in both locations. Finally, I believe in volunteering and I run a Music Program at St Mungos in London, a support organization for homeless people as well as volunteer with More To Life, a non-profit organization that helps people with simple personal development courses. In many ways, creative ideas stream into all the things I am involved with as that is purely in my nature and the filter through which I see the world.
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