Since she first travelled to Arizona nearly 30 years ago, London-based photographer Jane Hilton has harboured an obsession with America. Citing the American dream as “a recurring theme”, Jane has produced images focusing on US election night, a rural circus, muscle-chasing body builders, post gold rush landscapes, and middle-American ranches and casinos. Earlier this year, Jane travelled to Las Vegas for a Highlife commission , where she captured performances from the Legends of Burlesque, a sold out evening of performances by once-famous cabaret stars now in their 50s – 80s at Vegas’ Orleans hotel as part of the city’s Burlesque Hall of Fame convention.
“It was an incredible spectacle to see dancers in their 80s still performing and stripping. Some of them had to be assisted onto the stage,” Jane tells It’s Nice That. “Their performances were all unique – like Dusty Summers who combines her striptease with a magic act that included two white doves. It made me smile. These incredible women still managed to perform beautifully in their 70s and 80s. I found it totally inspiring and to be able to meet with them afterwards and make these portraits was a great insight.”
Jane’s encounter with the legends didn’t end with the fall of the curtain. “A few months later I found myself back in the States, so decided to visit one of the legends that couldn’t make the Burlesque Hall Of Fame. Satan’s Angel, who is now in her 70s, invited me to her home. She is famous for her act where she sets fire to her nipple tassles and rotates her breasts in the opposite direction until they put the fire out. She had extraordinary stories to tell from back in the day, when she socialised with the Rat Pack and dated Clint Eastwood. She’s still busy now and hand-crafts the best nipple tassels in the business.”