Known as “The Embodiment of Burlesque” and “Queen of the Quake,” Kitten de Ville, Miss Exotic World 2002, talks Texas Burlesque Festival, Burlesque Assassins, the Velvet Hammer, champagne and wrestling.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
You just returned from performing at the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival in Atlanta, as well as judging their pageant, and this month you’ll be in Austin for the Texas Burlesque Festival. Tell us about your role in the Texas Burlesque Fest and your expectations for the event.
I am a big fan of Coco Lectric, the co-producer of the Texas Burlesque Festival, and was very excited when she asked me to be one of the featured dancers at this year’s event. The line-up is amazing with Ray Gunn, Miss Indigo Blue & Shannon Doah, just to name a few. I have been very impressed with the girls from the Jigglewatts and am happy to have the opportunity to come to Texas and perform with them. I will also be performing at Viva Las Vegas April 6th & 7th in Audrey DeLuxe’s Burlesque Bingo, a game show in which the burlesque performer dances on top of a huge numbered bingo board and where our costumes drop is what number they call; every member of the audience has a bingo card and plays along. Each performer is a round of bingo. It is crazy and fun and makes you rethink the way you strip and drop clothing. I also find myself adding new pieces to my costume so there will be more numbers to call out. I love performing at this show!
I remember speaking to you briefly after a show in Dallas a few years ago, and when my friend and I asked if you could share some burlesque advice, you gave us two tidbits that I still remember. First, you said no matter what you do, no matter what your gimmick is – just get out there and sell it. Make the audience feel it and believe it. Second, you said that in your personal opinion burlesque performers should strive not to lip sync with their music (unless it is necessary to the act, etc.) as it blurs the lines between burlesque and drag. Care to expand on those topics for our readers?
I believe that performers should be enjoying themselves and their performance on stage. If they are not having fun then why bother pursuing a career that involves an audience. The advice I give my students and those who are just getting onto stage and may be a little nervous is to remember that no one knows your routine, and as long as you do not let the audience know that something went wrong, by facial expression or body language, chances are they will not catch on. To me a live show is about interacting with the audience, the exchange of energy, and the enjoyment of entertaining. It is about the freedom of expression of that moment and that place in time. It is very special because no matter how many times I may do the same routine the feel and energy is always changing because of the environment that I am in and I love that aspect of burlesque.
About lip-syncing , I feel it takes away from the tease, if a performer has a nice voice then by all means use it along with the strip, but if not, then they should let their body do the talking and use their lips and facial expressions for flirting.
You created your first burlesque act in 1994, which obviously predates YouTube and the multitude of resources that exists for modern performers. You’ve stated that at the time even vintage burlesque videos weren’t easily attainable, and instead you based your dances on how you imagined the movements of the performers in vintage burlesque photos (especially those of Lilly Christine) and you mixed that with the stage attitude of Iggy Pop and Lux Interior to create your own performance style. Being a part of the burlesque revival since its infancy is not something many people can claim, and with such an extensive background, I’m curious to know some of the common challenges that you encountered in the beginning.
The biggest challenge then, and it may still be today, is informing the public on what Burlesque is and that it is an art form. I remember trying to explain how it was not lap dancing; yes we were taking our clothing off, but in a more flirtatious way, something a bit more innocent adding the art of the tease. And now, I feel today with the movie Burlesque and so many Cabaret style dance groups that I have swung the other way by saying it is not about Jazz hands and dance moves, it’s about being sexy and dangerous.
Speaking of your early days, let’s talk Velvet Hammer. For our readers who might not know their burlesque history, could you tell about the early days of Velvet Hammer, how it evolved and share which of your contemporaries also got started with that group?
Michelle Carr and Elvia Lahman started the Velvet Hammer. Our first show was Valentine’s Day 1995. From the very first show I believe The Velvet Hammer set the bar on what a Burlesque show should be and sadly 17 years later there are still not many shows that come close to what we were doing back then. The Velvet Hammer was not about girl, after girl, after girl. There were comics and skits; we had our own band & candy girls. The venue, lights, and sound system were top notch. There was a long runway from the stage where we could get out to the audience who were seated at tables and comfortable booths. It was all red velvet, chandeliers, perfection. Our shows were an event. People dressed up to the nines. We one upped our costumes with each new show. We were a wonderful group of girls who were enjoying life and our new found art form of Burlesque. Backstage was a happy mix of champagne and light hearted conversations. We were a DIY / Punk rock mix of attitude and style that were not afraid to push boundaries. The Velvet Hammer was more a group of headliners rather than a troupe. Each of us doing our own thing, creating our own performances. Ann Magnson. Miss Astrid, Ming Dynatease, Selena Luna, The Poubelle Twins & Princess Farhana are some of the original girls who are still performing today. Dirty Martini, The World Famous BoB, Catherine D’lish, Kitten Natividad and Mamie Van Doren were some of our guest performers. Augusta (AKA Penny Starr Jr.) was not yet a burlesque performer but instead a film documentarian who along with Don Spiro followed the Velvet Hammer for a few years and produced Velvet Hammer the Movie. There is also a beautiful oversized book packed with photos and quotes put out by Michelle Carr called The Velvet Hammer Burlesque. And if you are in France you may be able to find the documentary The Strip Velours by Jean-Marc Barbleux.
You’re appearing in Jonathan Joffe’s upcoming film “Burlesque Assassins” which is supposed to be released this winter. If I understand correctly, it’s an action comedy set in the 1950s in which burlesque gals help fight communism? Your co-stars include Armitage Shanks, Roxi D-Lite, Renea Le’Roux and Amber Ray, just to name a few. I’d love to hear a little more about your role in the film and your experiences during the filming process. The cast alone sounds like it would make for one hell of a party!
The Movie was filmed in Canada with the actors staying in one huge house with its own play room and hot tub. I have a small role in the film and was only in Canada about a week for the last of its filming, and all I have got to say is boy what a week! It was fabulous- nonstop, early call times and late bed times. You never knew who you would find where in the morning and what items of clothing would be out back by the hot tub; did I mention it was snowing? But besides all our escapades the cast and crew were all very professional. What I have seen in the previews from the movie has been amazing. I am so thrilled to have been a part of this film and only hope that there is a Burlesque Assassins 2. I would love to know what becomes of my character.
I saw a recent Facebook post in which you complained about how you’ve caught would-be bike thieves in the act twice and wrestled the bike away from them in six-inch heels. The story itself is amusing, but I was curious because you said, “I may look sweet but this kitten has claws and a wrestling background.” Please do share about this wrestling background of yours! I’m intrigued!
There is a fantastic show in Los Angeles called Lucha Va Voom which mixes Burlesque & Mexican Wrestling. Produced by Rita D’Albert and Liz Fairbairn, it started back in 2002 and mixed the girls of The Velvet Hammer in between Mexican wrestling acts, with Michelle Carr and Hope Urban actually wresting in that first show. I was intrigued from the start and knew that I too wanted to wrestle. So from 2003-2006, I trained with professional Luchadores and wrestled at each Lucha Va Voom show. Mixing burlesque into my act, I always ended up in a burlesque style bra, g string and my gold flake wrestling boots. Slymenstra Hymen (of Gwar) was my first partner. I have also wrestled the Poubelle Twins but Ming Dynatease remained my longest lasting partner. In 2007 Ming Dynatease, our opponents Los Chivos and I were asked to perform our wrestling act at a huge festival that would precede my three month burlesque stay with The Cabaret New Burlesque in France. We trained for 6 months perfecting all sorts of death defying tricks, flying from the post, flips out of the ring etc. But in the end, it was one misstep from my opponent that left me with my leg broken in two places, a week’s stay in a hospital and instead of performing, I was under strict doctor’s orders not to dance for three months and so there I stayed in France, not allowed to perform at the Cabaret New Burlesque or my other scheduled shows in the UK or I would have broken my contract.
In addition to being an award-winning international performer, you’re also a producer and owner/instructor of Kitten de Ville’s School of Burlesque in Southern California. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working on one of your many projects? (Or do you find that you’re always working on something?)
I love to keep busy and with the business of Burlesque there is very little down time. I am always looking for new projects and ventures, scheduling future tours, creating new acts or teaching. But in between this time I do make time for myself. I love to work or lounge in my garden, ride my bike around town and visit with friends.
Like many showgirls, you’re a notorious champagne-lover. Do you have a favorite brand of bubbly?
Most often I drink Moet or Veuve Clicquot.
What’s next for Kitten de Ville?
I am in talks with a producer who wants to do a television show, I am setting up my next European tour for the fall of 2012, I may do a little writing and Ming Dynatease and I are planning on producing another Rock & Roll Strip Show.