Brackenfell resident Lana Te Brugge will take her new persona, Serpentina Lady of Snakes, to stage for the first time in Phantasmagorium of Earthly Delights and Oddities, at the Galloway Theatre on Friday April 26.
“Be prepared for Medusa in the flesh. She’s real, but sexy,” she said of her performance as Serpentina.
Phantasmagorium is a burlesque showcase of performers with unique talents. Serpentina is better known in the burlesque community as Red Baroness, recognised by her flaming red hair and bold body art. And while this is the first time Serpentina will perform, it is not a first for the Red Baroness, or Lana, who has been living a life in the spotlight since a young age.
She grew up in Wynberg and her father worked in the SA Navy, so as a child, Lana spent lots of time in Simon’s Town where the naval base is.
When she was 8 years old, she and her family spent three years living on Mercy Ships.
When she finished school, Lana wanted to study fashion design and always loved vintage and classic burlesque looks.
But she also wanted to be a detective.
“I loved the mystery and the idea of solving crimes, but I ended up working with my father in a workshop, doing administration. I also got involved in lifting the hoods and looking at engines and gearboxes from time to time.”
Lana grew up in a charismatic Christian home, was overweight, and had no friends at school, she said.
Around that time, she developed a fascination with having power and being noticed, so she started dabbling in witchcraft. “People were suddenly more afraid of me. I was getting attention – the wrong attention, but it didn’t concern me.”
She then got involved with the “wrong crowd” and got involved in drugs, prostitution and became a dominatrix, which she said was taboo back then, but became more acceptable after the 50 Shades of Grey series.
At the first AfrikaBurn in 1995, which was called Desert Storm at the time, she met her daughter’s father. “My daughter was born three years later, in 1998. And with the amount of drugs I was using, I thought she would be abnormal, but she was perfect, and that was my turning point.
“I thought of giving her up for adoption, but when I held her, I realised what a mess I was. Kate was my redeeming factor. She made me want to be a better person.”
Lana tried to turn her life around and started looking for regular work.
She then met someone and got married. “I realised that all my sexual experiences thus far (had been) violent and aggressive, and I thought that this time, it would be better.”
Her son was born in 2004, and her youngest daughter, in 2006. But, things didn’t end well and she got divorced in 2015.
Then a friend introduced her to burlesque.
“I was in awe. These women were stripping, but not stripping and standing there in all of their glory. It was beautiful and all I could think of was ‘I want to be up there’.”
Later that year, she started lessons with Black Orchid Burlesque SA and performed in her first show. When it came to choosing a stage name, Lana settled for Red Baroness. “My surname is Flemish and while doing some research of my family tree, I found out that I am a descendant of royalty and I come from a line of baronesses. I’ve also always loved the colour red, and it made sense to me.”
After five years of dancing with Black Orchid, she had to quit due to work pressure and personal tragedies.
“My daughter as diagnosed with somatoform disorders and we were in and out of hospital, so I lost my job. I figured I couldn’t get another daughter but I could get another job, and I left the burlesque world completely to be with my children.”
She was reintroduced to the limelight when another dancer asked her to help out by being a stage kitten – the woman who picks up the props and clothes after an act.
In her free time, she works as a film extra and earlier this year she landed a lead role in the film Trafficked – Africa as Lady Bee – a woman who owns a club, a prostitute ring and a trafficking ring.
“It was like my life came full circle. Playing the role was hard but liberating. I was all those things, and now I’ve been in a movie where I can be a voice for the voiceless.
“Everything that has happened to me brought me to this point. It wasn’t just a movie, it was my life.”
Serpentina was born two months ago when show producer Sofia von Syron, asked her to perform and to incorporate her snakes.
“My family is all about conservation and we own about 27 snakes, spiders, geckos, rottweilers and cats. I thought Serpentina was a good way to show off the snakes and show people that they are not the scary creatures that everyone makes them out to be.”
Asked about the burlesque scene in the city, Lana said it is definitely growing. “We are seeing more productions and more creativity. People are becoming more open to it and there is more international exposure for us and Gate 69 on Bree Street has done a great job by introducing it to the city on such a scale.”
Phantasmagorium of Earthly Delights and Oddities will show at the Galloway Theatre on Friday April 26 at 8pm. Tickets cost R280, which includes a free glass of sparkling wine on arrival, and can be bought at www.waterfronttheatreschool.co.za/booknow