Bristol's Badass Burlesque Show
I was always mesmerized by Kitty Twist, from the very first time I laid eyes upon her. I vividly remember the moment. She and The Black Pearl strode down the sidewalk arm-in-arm, looking distinctly as though they had just stepped directly from their time machine onto the muggy New Orleans street. Perle Noire was in her perfect spit curls and the very living image of Josephine Baker in an opulent evening gown.
Kitty’s piercing, icy blue eyes smoldered into my vision from such a distance, I quite literally couldn’t take my eyes from her as they approached. She looked like a magnificent Hollywood spitfire, a peerless star from an era gone by. And not just a costumed vestige of a character; but the real, wild, unnamed woman from another dimension, standing right before me. I remember it so vividly because it triggered one of those surreal moments that I have only had the pleasure of experiencing in the Crescent City. Past and present dance drunkenly together in a magical, hazy embrace; intermingling with sexy abandon. You’re unsure, just for that moment, what realm you may have slipped into.
Kitty always seemed to be of another time. We jokingly called her “the immortal” and fantasized that she had found the fountain of youth somewhere along her varied, magnificent travels. She had a quiet wisdom about her. Kitty Twist was the true definition of a timeless beauty. She had an amazing mind, and lightning wit.
Born to two phenomenal musicians, she had a musicality about her that was hypnotizing. To watch her perform was an honor and a privilege, truly. She inspired her peers with her vivacious and charismatic performances, leaving audiences spellbound, in sheer hysterics, or in awe on a regular basis. A burlesque, music, art, movie, and history buff, Kitty was always dropping gems of knowledge from the vast libraries in her mind.
She taught me so much in our short time as friends. She designed and created incredibly beautiful, exciting costumes and accessories, creatively constructed. She meticulously adapted a book by Kenneth Anger about old Hollywood scandals into a burlesque show of the same name, “Hollywood Babylon”. She directed, co-produced, co-choreographed, made many of the costumes, and performed in the show.
She found New Orleans at 18, running away from her Virginia home, and found the burlesque revival in the late 90’s in traditional strip clubs on Bourbon Street. Kitty became a resident member of Bustout Burlesque after auditioning in 2006, and graced the stages of Tipitina’s, La Chat Noir, Harrah’s, and The House Of Blues with them until 2010.
She competed in The Miss Exotic World Pageant in 2008, winning runner-up for best debut. She performed what was one of her signature acts for Bustout Burlesque, an electric, pistol-toting tribute to the great “Miniature Marilyn”, Candy Barr.
She guest performed with nearly every troupe in New Orleans, regularly performing with Fleur De Tease and traveling to Chicago to perform with Angela Eve in Eve’s Parlor. She helped create costumes for many of the productions she starred in. In the fall of 2010 she joined Slow Burn Burlesque.
Ben Wisdom and I were co-producing the show at the time, and we were so over-the-moon that she had said yes to our proposal. I remember feeling like we had just completed a dream-team resident cast! We wanted our audience to participate in welcoming our newest cast member at her first show with us, a Halloween show. Being the horror genre mega-enthusiast that she was, she had the idea to have a cult style ‘initiation’ finale routine, where she thrashed her flaming red hair and perfect, petite form with wild licentiousness to “Oh Fortuna”. A cloaked Roxie Le Rouge and I melodramatically assisted in the ritual. There was fevered, synchronized mutual stripping, hot wax on skin, glittery baptism, and a lot of spinning and carousing before the entire cast joined in the reveling crescendo of the Carmina Burana.
In 2011, we went to Switzerland together on the gig of a lifetime. Renowned jazz musicians from around the globe filled the air with sweet music for a two-weekend festival. Everyone got together for all night jam sessions after the festival closed for the nights. These were blow-your-mind, make you dance, make you cry, make you laugh, joyfully insane jam sessions. I remember sitting at breakfast one morning after one of said sessions. Michael Dardant sleepily cracked his last joke, digging into his food. I exclaimed that these may be the best eggs I will ever eat, and Trixie Minx serenely giggled at the both of us. Bella Blue smiled in her rock star shades and sipped her coffee sweetly, stoically. After a moment of silence among the five of us, Kitty Twist, in snoozy sincerity, turned to Trixie. “I can die happy now.” She says to her. “I have always wanted to be a 1920’s dancer in Europe, performing with jazz musicians and eating fancy eggs. I think I can die happy now, Trixie. Thank you”.
We four emphatically agreed with her, and took another dreamy moment to take in the amazing time we were experiencing together. She joked that the mountains of Switzerland looked exactly like those of West Virginia, and she was right. She had admirers all over the tiny town by the time we departed, and one character of an older gentleman we saw everywhere would gleefully exclaim, “Baby Twist!!” with shear amazement every time he saw her.
Like many creatives and artists, Kitty had drug addiction in her past. But unlike many, she came out of the other side of the storm. Being a recovering addict and alcoholic myself, it was comforting to have a friend that had been to dark places like I had, and returned to the light; to shine ever brighter. She gave me some hope. Sometimes we played and laughed like children, and it was fucking fantastic. She was sometimes very quiet, and I so relished having a platonic companion to just be silent with. To just BE with. I know that she was this person for many of her friends. Incredibly compassionate and loving, these qualities eventually led her to leave New Orleans to help her sister care for their father in Virginia.
I don’t wish to skirt around, or sugar-coat the fact that my kindhearted, talented and stunning friend took her own life. I have never before experienced the devastation that suicide leaves in its wake; both in the community and personally, for those left behind. Because she did leave us, depriving the world of her splendor. Suicide leaves so many questions unanswered, so many things left to say, or take back. I vehemently disagree with her decision, but am learning to live with her choice.
Aside from my understandings with my blood and my soul mate, I’ve never really had the foresight nor the desire to plan many people into my future, beyond the immediate. I can count on my right hand the number of individuals that I have made those plans with. Kitty Twist and I sat together and made plans to be friends late in life, and that means something very deep to me. We talked about the days when we could no longer perform burlesque, and concocted a few different wild, fun, silly and realistic plans for what we would do with ourselves in different phases of life. She was very special. I think of her always. Today, on her birthday, I will picture her carrying-on with Clara Bow in the great beyond, their birthdays five days apart. What a party they must be having, and I can spend hours imagining who is in attendance.
Her family and friends refuse to let her story fade, or be forgotten. Some of her writings about burlesque were read at the BHOF weekender by Bella Blue in 2014 at the special addition of Naked Girls Reading. Her photo is in the Burlesque Hall of Fame museum. I will not let the memory of her joy, or the reality of her dark side and struggles fade either, and I will not allow the pain of missing her to dull the memories of the laughter and beauty that she created. Her contributions to the burlesque revival in New Orleans, the creative and innovative things she did as a skilled practitioner of the Art of the Tease, and the positive impact that she had on her creative community. All of her gifts as a creator and designer. All of the adventure, dance and fun that she inspired in those around her. The love and kindness she cultivated and spread. The mischievous frolicking and the innocent play that her memory continues to embolden within me on a daily basis.
We are imperfect creatures. One can only hope that when we die, someone laughs forgivingly and lovingly at the many great follies of our human condition; and in some way just appreciates our finite time that we shared here; with a few billion others. Kitty Twist was appreciated far more than I believe she realized in her life. She will continue to be greatly missed, but her memory lives in those she inspired, and in those that will forever love her.
Some words from others:
“When I first met Kitty Twist in 2006, I was a little bit scared of her; to me she was this exotic creature that had lived a wild life I could never even imagine. Through circumstance we did not merely become friends but we became family. Our relationship might have seemed strange to some but it was rich in art & love. To me she was a mentor and to her I was a mother.
The story I am sharing is just one of many wonderful memories of Kitty. A while back she asked if she could live with me to help save money so she could travel to take care of her dad. I told her she could stay with me free of charge as long as she worked towards making all the wonderful dreams and ideas she had a reality. In what was a normal boring weekday morning we sat down and made a list that set the pace for the next 2 years of her life. Included in this list was: creating/writing the Hollywood Babylon show, performing in Europe, and documenting her mother’s legacy, among other goals. Every morning we would talk about what she was going to do that day & over time she started to check each item off her list. I sometimes think that part of her leaving this world had to do with her accomplishing these goals and wished we had made a longer & more difficult list.
She would often say “Burlesque is like a firework. A big dramatic explosion of light but eventually it falls to the ground & everyone is just trying to grab the last spark.”
I believe with every ounce of my being that Kitty Twist was a talented creative force that simply could not be contained by the banality of mediocrity. I hope that her passion for art lives on through those she’s inspired & in that way she will never truly be gone.”
“It really isn’t a Mardi Gras without her. Over the last week I had her in my thoughts so many times. I was cleaning out my closet in my New Orleans house room and I found a dress she made for me to wear at the clubs during carnival. I feel like she was with me this year. Her dress now hangs on my wall in my room. I know a lot of us spent carnival with her and we all miss her.”
Angela Eve March 2014
“Kitty use to post some of the best photos of things. Interesting and beautiful like herself. I actually copied some into a folder when she would post them. I now consider them treasures. I wish I had more of them.”
Talented photographer Kaylin Idora captured some utterly breathtaking images of Kitty that you can find here.
Also, you can find an article Kitty wrote about two of her favorite subjects, Halloween and burlesque for CoochieCrunch here.
Some more links to check out:
About the author:
Nona Narcisse is a Model, Burlesque Artiste and Variety Entertainer, currently residing in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a founder of Slow Burn Burlesque.