Twisted Sisters: Bands & Burlesque
Many performance critics are guilty of making lazy, label-slapping generalisations, defining works with compounded titles and ‘exciting’ buzzwords. For whatever reason, burlesque is often a victim of these conjunctions: descriptions of the performances can rest on tired platitudes and new additions to the English language. Burlesque-noir? Neo-burlesque? Gorelesque? It’s a way of delving into the mysteries of the craft, making things easier to understand the absurd or confronting, but for Miss Nic Twisted Sisters, burlesque tries to resist definition.
The burlesque seductress, coated in colourful tattoos and sporting a shock of brilliant blue hair, does work in an industry that lends itself to genre-redefining, and they’ve pulled together a show with some of Melbourne’s most stimulating performers to reflect that – including the recent winner of Mr Boylesque Australia, Raven – and Lady Bird, who dresses up in a giant vagina costume.
“We got sick of having to conform,” the former go-go cage dancer says. “It’s basically a bunch of performers doing what we do best, and not giving a fuck what anybody else thinks. With the burlesque industry these days, we’re looking to broaden the expectations, because sometimes it gets a little bit vanilla. And performers that we have on the show really push the limits.”
And push the limits they shall. Genitals seem to be a kind of fascination for the some of the acts. According to Nic, Lady Bird “did this show for Halloween where she was a vagina and it was bleeding, and she spat out a tampon and treated it like a baby. So you can imagine the sort of content in the show.”
Her own style of performance uses shock tactics, she says, and shock theatrics: “really tacky but funny.” She likes to unnerve, and gets a kick out of seeing people’s responses to what she performs, sardonically attempting to affect their sensibilities. “I like to be able to walk out on stage and do something that somebody goes, ‘I can’t believe she just did that’.
“I don’t necessarily call myself a burlesque performer anymore; I say entertainer. Because there’s elements of burlesque, but there’s also elements of parody and satire, vaudeville, mixed with all my shock theatrics and tactics. Sometimes I walk out on stage and you don’t know where I could be hiding things.” Was that an oblique reference to her ladyparts? “Possibly.”
However, there are more reserved performances for the feint of heart. Raven’s work, The Show Must Go On, is a black-feathered fan dance that explores gender norms with his androgynous, feminine garb. The subversive style of these particular performances, with dark gothic tendencies and salacious intent, has been a way of gaining attention for Miss Nic, she says. “The burlesque scene is evolving. It’s no longer big head pieces and pretty costumes – you take burlesque and it’s parody. That’s essentially entertainment in its purest form. No one wants to be put on the bill with the same performances over and over and we all have our own little niche. We’re all such crazy performers and people remember our faces.“
And nothing is out of bounds for the troupe, poking fun at all sorts of institutions; religion and politics, with unusual props like blood and guts and chocolate toppings. Nic’s warning is ominous, likening the experience of the burlesque show to that lurching illness before a rollercoaster descends. Expect the unexpected, in other words. Which is all part of her modus to make audiences uncomfortable.
“I know that I ruffle feathers, and I know that the other people ruffle feathers as well. So that’s why I picked those guys to jump on the bill. It’s like a car wreck, you shouldn’t look at it but you want to anyway. We’re all twisted in our own ways but it’s how the audience sees it and reacts as well. I’ve been performing with these guys for a couple of years now. We pass ideas onto each other because it’s the stuff that we want to see performed.“
Miss Nic then talks through her acts, in every particular gory detail. She’s got an act, she says, where she’s dragged onstage in a body bag with a heart strapped to her chest and a liver strapped to her stomach. “I remember one of the shows I did to the Twin Peaks theme song was a contemporary dance out of a body bag, and I take the heart and I bite into it. As I was biting into it I look at an audience member, and I remember looking down and seeing another performer I know, Strawberry Siren, mortified. She was like ’UGH’.”
Other things she regularly works into the show are peeling her skin off, and making people cry and feint. These visceral performances are aided by special effects from the Victoria Market Butcher – a gore fiend’s best friend.
With Kerry X and Betty Blood also billed for the show, as well as Hatchet Dawn and DJ Simon Quinn, it may be the most horror soaked striptease you’ve ever received.
BY BELLA ARNOTT-HOARE
Twisted Sisters: Bands & Burlesque! is on at The Evelyn on Saturday May 12.