The Saucy Tarts developed from Toronto's Queen Street area in 2003, relaying the cancan with charm and cheekiness across many local contexts. They have high-kicked their way into Kensington Market’s Pedestrian Sundays festival. They’ve performed with Pride Toronto and the Church Street Fetish Fair. From cabarets, art hubs and private parties, they’ve collaborated with artists, burlesque dancers and sideshow performers, and the troupe will appear in Art Litwell’s short film Vive Le Cancan. Look out for changes in the future, given their recent call for new members. It was great to discuss the group with Kia Kotsanis, a.k.a. Absinthe Tart (pictured, below left).

Related: pictures of the Saucy Tarts

Q: How did the Saucy Tarts start out in 2003, in terms of its premiering of cancan here?
Originally we started out as a chorus line for a local band's Christmas show. Our very simple choreography was inspired by the cancan and included a lot of kicking and "frouffing" our skirts. We wore black tops, bright crinolines, fishnet stockings and boots, and danced as the band performed "Santa Baby." It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but we were so inspired by the experience we decided to continue and the Saucy Tarts were born! We expanded our choreography and costumes, and began performing at live shows and burlesque events. Seven years later, we’re still kicking up a storm…

Q: Given this suggestive dance was developed in Montmartre in the past, alongside cabaret, cafés, brothels, lauded by the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec – what do you think of associating your troupe to Queen Street West?
Our initial idea for our troupe was to recreate cancan for a modern audience. We didn't want to present cancan as a quaint vintage form of dance. Our version of cancan had to reflect its original raucous nature and aggressive spirit. In our experience, the punk roots of Queen Street exemplified these qualities. Queen Street West is akin to Montmartre in its "outsider" culture. Given Queen West's sordid punk-rock history, the Saucy Tarts aim to incorporate that old-time cheeky sexuality with a modern "in your face" attitude.

saucy_tarts_inset2.jpgAs well as quaint French songs, we also perform to modern artists like Marilyn Manson and the Pogues. Our appearance also reflects a Queen Street West sensibility – big black boots, brightly dyed hair, torn stockings and tattoos.

Q: How do you find you’re interpreting the cancan, differing from its roots from the 1890s?
We take the inspiration of traditional cancan and filter it through a modern lens. Our perspective is that of 21st-century Torontonians – we’re products of our time and culture, and influenced by our social mores and norms. Naturally, our background is going to be our filter. Being inspired by a vintage art form doesn’t mean trying to create an exact replica. Instead of being derivative, we prefer to be inspirational – so that modern audiences will get a real taste of cancan. Having seen "traditional" cancan performed without a modern spin, our impression is that the original spirit of the dance is lacking – even in current shows at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. One of the meanings of cancan is “scandal,” i.e., a scandalous dance. There should be a scandalous impact from watching live cancan, even for modern audiences who feel like they’ve seen it all!

Q: Have you found there are French-flavoured erotic tones in Toronto, otherwise?
There are definitely erotic undertones in Toronto, especially given the burlesque revival being in full swing.  But the vibe in Toronto leans more towards New York, while Montreal can be more easily compared with Paris. If there are any French-flavoured erotic undertones in Toronto, please let us know! We’ll be there with our frilly knickers on…

Q: What did you think of performing in Dom Castelli’s Circus Cabaret in Montreal? Did you find an understanding, receptivity to your work different in a French context?
We absolutely love performing at Dom's Circus Cabaret! The performers are always amazing and so talented; they take cabaret to a whole new level. We feel very at home performing in Montreal, and are always happy to return. Perhaps the French context does inspire additional understanding and receptivity of our work – although the burlesque scene in Toronto is definitely appreciative.

Q: What do you think about the physicality of the dance in terms of the suggestive lifting up and the movement of the skirts with the high kicking feels today, when there’s a lot of sexually arousing media?
Even though our act doesn’t involve striptease, and our costumes are less revealing than most burlesque dancers, it’s still quite suggestive. We’re using sexuality, but it’s more cheeky than straightforward. We’re flirting with sexuality in a playful way, which is in contrast to the more blatantly sexual images found in the media today.

You could see it as a throwback to a time [when] there was an art to being seductive, instead of showing it all up front. There's something wonderfully alluring about the "peekaboo" principle, where when you see a flash of something, and then it gets taken away.

Q: How do you see the qualities of costume in your group? What do you find appealing in old-style glamour?
Our costumes are vintage in spirit, but updated for a modern audience. Vintage glamour is incomparable – it speaks volumes about what the era reflects. You can use that type of iconic imagery in your art to express an idea or energy, beyond just with your movement. Old-style glamour is feminine, which we embrace in a way that could be considered "feminist," i.e., empowering. And most of all, vintage glamour never goes out of style.

Q: What do you think of the costumes in terms of the experience of manipulating more, "skirting" suggestively, which seems perhaps different in the reveal than in the use of more exposing garments?
There's an effect from a momentary reveal that is different from simply wearing skimpy costumes (which of course have their place as well). There's a dynamic energy to it – revealing, then pulling back, then revealing something else. It’s a flirtation with the audience that engages them in the game.

Q: What do you think of the range of pseudonyms in the group and are they affecting dance characters?
Burlesque performers tend to have a stage persona, and our Tart names reflect that: Absinthe is mysterious (and dangerous in high doses), Cinnamon is fiery and delicious, PoisonBerry is dark and seductive, Marzipan is sweet and artful, and Cherry is luscious and cheeky.

Q: You seem to bring sweet, appetitive terms to your work –how do you see recipes of sorts associated with the group?
The Saucy Tarts are sweet, but cheeky. Our name reflects the energy we bring to the stage.
A recipe for Saucy Tarts: Take sweet, saucy filling, add a sprinkle of glitter, a splash of alcohol, and mix until frothy. Pour into crinolines and dose with ribbons and feathers. Bake until hot and steamy. Serves one screaming crowd. Caution: may cause giddiness and shortness of breath.

Q: What do you think of appearing in Art Litwell’s short film Vive Le Cancan?

We loved working with Chris Blanchenot and Suzanne Carte-Blanchenot from Art Litwell. The style of the film was grainy and sped up, to appear like a vintage film; it was very reflective of the roots of cancan, and we were thrilled with the result.

Q: Are you interested in how aancan is developing in other cities, contexts?

We have seen cancan acts on YouTube from all over North America and Europe. We're very happy to see that cancan is alive and well! The book Cancan by David Price is a comprehensive look at the history of cancan – we were recently interviewed by David for a potential new edition which would include a chapter on the modern revival. We love cancan in all its forms, but we’re especially interested to see how it evolves and grows, to reflect the times.

Q: It seems you’ve been open to your work being applied to help social causes. What do you think about the qualities of the troupe that can relate to political, social issues?

The original cancan was extremely politically minded – costuming and dance steps reflected a changing attitude of the times and parodied the military and uptight social mores of the time. Cancan dancers were a part of the wave that ushered in a new era of the 20th century. We are happy to continue this type of commentary through our art. We also like to use our art for grassroots organizations that our friends spearhead and support, such as SPOC (Sex Professionals of Canada), whose events raise awareness and funds for their legal battles.

Q: What qualities are you looking for in your seeking of new dancers?
The new dancers we invite to join us are passionate about cancan and performance, appreciate the qualities we embody, move well and have an alluring stage presence ... and of course, sauciness is a must!

Q: What’s coming up for the Saucy Tarts?
Look for us at the Toronto Burlesque Festival – we’re very excited to be part of this amazing series of shows for the third year running. You can check out the information at See you there!

Related links:

Pictures of the Saucy Tarts
Official website of the Saucy Tarts

6 Comments | Add a Comment
deliciously appetitve-merci
thanks for thetarty link!
Hi Louise, I have never heard of Saucy Tarts before but it seems as an interesting subject, even the name "Saucy Tarts"has a 100% Canadian feel to it. Tarts(as in food , butter tarts )= Canada
appetite for tarts
thanks for the link.
Some good stuff..... I enjoy reading them.
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