Photographer; Lady Soul Photography
Pixie Twist; I love this women. She is real. She is soft. She is inspiring. Tonight in one week she will be co-mceeing the New Zealand Burlesque Festival’s opening night in which yours truely will be in. I soooo can’t wait! I wanna catch up with this beautiful women so bad!
I was lucky enough to interview Pixie recently and I am excited to share this with you.
BS; okay. I’ll just get these questions. So Pixie Twist…
PT: That’s me
BS:That’s you. How did your journey begin? How did you get into burlesque?
PT:I was just in the early stages of my master’s thesis: creative writing with a real focus on embodiment and bodily trauma and inhabiting the female body. And I was looking for something that would allow me to be embodied that didn’t have a lot of rules attached with it. So a friend and I, we went along to a Dr Sketchy’s and really enjoyed that and the sort of diverse group of performers that were there. It felt accessible. Then we went along to Ms Tittle Tattle’s burlesque for body confidence course and yeah, did the grad review at the end of that six-week course and just loved it. Loved everything about it. I’ve always been a performer, but it was so different to be on stage like that in a way where you can’t– well, I mean, I guess you can hide but for me personally, I didn’t want to hide on that stage. I wanted to be embodied and be that version of myself that the world says is not appropriate. So yeah, I guess that’s how I got into it and then it’s been a slippery slope ever since—
BS: I reckon. Now you said you’ve always been a performer. So what’s been your past performances or are you like me where I say, “I’ve always been a performer,” where I’ve always been a little bit funny, a little bit quirky, but not actually performed on stage?
Photographer; David Rowe Photography
PT: I’m definitely a bit weird and quirky, but no, so I was quite involved in acting and school productions at school. Drama, I was involved with the local theatre group, so I did a lot of acting early, early on. And I was a gymnast as well. But I never really had any formal dance training until my kind of late teens. I still would hedge at calling myself a dancer. I feel like I’m not good enough to call myself that, even though I’ve been repeatedly told by my dance teachers that, “It’s not about how good you are it’s about whether you’re out there doing it.” But still. So yeah I came from a theatre background, and then I’ve done a little bit of lots of different kinds of dance. So I got into performing dancing with fire- fans and poi and fire contact. So I was a fire performer for several years, and then I got into Japanese drumming and I was drumming for a long time, which is not technically dance but it is very sort of physical about lines and shapes and all those—
BS: And all those sorts of things. Yeah, yeah
PT: And I’ve also got a belly dance background. So that’s probably where most of my formal dance training happened is belly dance through to sort of contemporary fire.
BS: Excellent. Belly dancing is something that intrigues me, to be honest. So when you decided to get into burlesque, you had to come up with a name. So how did that happen for you? How did you come up with your name?
PT: It was really cool. It was the first time in my life that I could name myself, and I took it quite seriously. A lot of the girls that I was graduating with had names that seemed all very ‘burlesque-y’- you know? I didn’t necessarily want to give myself a burlesque name. I wanted to name myself. So I definitely wanted something that alluded to my size, my stature, because being a short person has always been sort of part of my identity and often, alongside those things people notice first- but Pixie came last. The Twist of it came first. So I wanted to be something to do with small size, pointy ears, mischievous kind of thing, something you’d put in your pocket but it would bite you. That kind of thing. But the twist came first, and I wanted to– what’s the best way of putting it? I’m a bit dark and twisted inside [laughter]. [inaudible] And that damage or that emotional trauma has shaped who I am, and I feel like people sometimes meet me and they think that I’m just this cheerful person who there’s nothing ever wrong and I’m just out here loving it all the time. And I wanted to sort of allude to that kind of dark and twisted interior. But also, I liked the other connotations with twists, so I wanted to put a twist on what I was doing. I wanted audiences to be surprised. I wanted them to expect the unexpected. It’s burlesque, but with a twist. It’s a small performer, but with a twist, and it’s this bubbly, cheerful– And people tell me all the time that I’m this bubbly, cheerful, friendly person but with a twist. And you scratch the surface and there’s– it’s in there. So yeah, that came first. And then Pixie, I actually think– I was thinking for a little while about Pinky Ring Bling. So I had a tiny little ring I was wearing on my pinky, and I liked that idea. Something small and sparkly and cute little– and actually, I went to Mr. B. Frank, and I was like, “I’ve got to give myself this name, and I’m thinking about this, but it just doesn’t feel quite right.” And he was the one, I think, who suggested Pixie. And it really fits who I am. My little pointy ears and small and—
BS: Good things come in small packages, though
Photographer; David Rowe Photography
PT: Yes. I have heard this.
BS: Yeah. And they have a thing that I tell people because I have a family of very tall people. Because I’m nice and tiny like you. I’m short by my standards and at home. I tell them that when they were younger, they obviously got huge kicks up the bum, which made them grow taller, and I got patted on the head for being a good girl. So you’re the same sort of thing [laughter].
PT: Yeah, I like that. I don’t know if I’d go so far as good girl, but I can live with it
BS: Mr. B Frank. Did you know Mr. B Frank before you started burlesque, or did he come onto your scene as a consequence of performing?
PT: No. So he was performing for awhile before I entered the scene. And we actually didn’t meet through burlesque, which is super weird. So a friend of mine who was performing at the time, Ms. Rosina Lee asked me to come and model some of her vintage dresses at the opening of the Classics Museum here in Hamilton. And Mr B Frank was there doing a swing dance demonstration, and we actually have a photo of the moment that we met that Miss Tittle Tattle took. So it’s all the same people, but quite removed from burlesque, and that was about 9 or 10 months before I started performing- quite awhile before I started my burlesque journey. And he started well before I did, and he was a very established performer, and everyone told me to stay away from him because he was a player [laughter].
BS: He was a what? A player? [laughter].
PT: He came to my grad review which was awesome because other guys I have seen in the past have been gross and possessive but he was totally behind me. And that was kind of– we’d known each other for a little while, but things sort of didn’t really kick off until around that same sort of time, when I first started performing.
BS: So what inspires most you most about performing? So what inspires your acts? Like your act that you did at DIY a couple of years ago – or was that last year? – that won you the DIY. And then, of course, it won you the queen title at New Zealand Burlesque Festival? I was so intrigued with that act because all I could see were pool noodles, and ivy, and stuff [laughter].
Photographer; Maria Ligua
PT: I have a couple of friends who no longer perform, but they’re kind of like my burlesque mums. They really supported me right early on. And I sent them a message that basically said, “What if–?” So a lot of my acts come with these weird ideas and I have no idea how I’m going to make it work, but what if? So what if I do an act where I pour wine out of my vagina [laughter] and make someone in the audience drink it? And they were pissing themselves laughing, like, “Yes, you’ve got to do it. So exciting.” And then, I really wanted– I like to subvert some of the expectations we have around burlesque, so I wanted to do something very classic– like a wine pour. It’s a very sort of popular image that we have in burlesque, this wine pour, like Dita and stuff. And I wanted to do it, but with a twist. And I am not really a champagne kind of a girl. A lot of my acts are quite layered- and there’s definite meaning in it for me that not many people would know by looking. So yeah, the original idea was, what if I poured wine out of my vagina and gave it to someone? It alludes to period blood, alludes to femininity, alludes to something a bit feral. And I am a bit feral [laughs]. And I like the weird stuff and I think challenging people about stuff like that is one of the reasons why I love to get up there. And then, yeah, so I wanted to that very sort of stereotypically classic pretty wine pour but a bit feral. So what’s more feral than a cask of red wine? That’s about as feral as you can go really [laughter]. So yeah. I thought, “Well, what if I do this wine pour with a goon sack and then the rest of the routine sort of came from there. And I wanted it to be very pretty for the first section but with this kind of undercurrent- like what’s happening, what’s about to happen, and then just filthy. Totally filthy for the second half. And I actually had a bit of a crisis before D.I.Y. that year. Strip Cheese was my act for D.I.Y the year previous and I poured my heart and soul into it– months and months in advance I had this very clear idea of what I wanted Strip Cheese to look like and all the rest of that. And I really went all in which I tend not to do because I’m one of those sensitive creative types [laughter] as we all are. But yeah. So I was very invested in Strip Cheese. And as soon as I saw Constance Mayhem take the stage, I was like, “She’s winning this. That’s it -the best routine on the night” But it wasn’t anything to do with winning. It was more I brought my A game with Strip Cheese and I felt like I peaked in terms of my innovation and I peaked in terms of my way to interpret and use those rules to create something really interesting. And so I had this wine idea for 2017 but I was so blocked about trying to find music for it and trying to choreograph it and why am I even bothering because I’m shit. And that voice really got on top of me to the point where I almost pulled out. So two weeks before the competition, I was like, “I have half a costume. I have no music. I have no choreography. I will be doing myself a disservice and I will be letting down the people who put this competition on if I go out and make a tit of myself.” And then it was the Tuesday before D.I.Y. and I was listening to just any sort of music to try and stop stressing. And I was listening to Marilyn Manson and that song came on and I was like, “Maybe the reason I’m so blocked and it’s just not working is that I need to stop hanging on to the idea of–” I had a very sort of specific idea about what I wanted for the music and I just couldn’t find it, couldn’t make it, but. And I thought maybe I need to let go of that expectation and just choose something that makes me feel sexy and makes me want to dance. And so I choreographed my routine for D.I.Y. three days before the competition.
Photographer: David Rowe Photography
BS: I remember you saying that backstage actually.
PT: I was packing my dacks like fuck [laughter] just– that is the most afraid I think I’ve ever been- not about being on stage in front of people but that it wouldn’t be up to my standards, that it wouldn’t be– that I would feel that I hadn’t brought the best I could. Nothing to do with winning or anything like that. Just the standards I set for myself are very high and I wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t convinced. And I’m really glad that I hung in and challenged that voice that says, “You’re really shit and you should just give up and walk away.” Because challenging that voice– I think all of us as performers have to, at some point, challenge that voice otherwise we wouldn’t still be performing. And winning D.I.Y. after feeling so low about myself as a performer– literally, I was going to quit burlesque. It was that bad. The beginning of last year was really crisis point for me as a performer. And to go from that to winning the competition that for me symbolizes everything that I love about burlesque, it’s accessible to everyone. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what amazing costume you can commission. It’s about being creative, and it’s about anyone can get on that stage and put something on that stage that is entertaining. So that competition for me is every reason why I do burlesque. D.I.Y. kind of is the epitome of what I think burlesque, at its heart, should really be about- community, and being a bit weird, and taking creative risks, and levelling the playing field so that everyone can be involved and all of those things that make D.I.Y. so amazing. And I got to enjoy it for, I think, a week and a half. And I was so buzzed. And then I got a message from the producers of the festival saying, “This act that you’ve applied as under development with different music [laughter] and just basically the idea, is that the one that you put on stage at D.I.Y.?” And I said, “Yes. Here’s the footage. It ended up being quite different than what I had put in my application but you’ve obviously been able to tell that it’s the same thing.” And then I was selected to compete for Queen which I didn’t want to to do [laughter] because I– this huge rollercoaster of, “I’m quitting. I’m shit. I’m done.” So that was where I was at even three days before DIY. I’m shit. I’m quitting. I’m done. That was really where I was at — to “I’ve won this thing. That’s mental. Are the judges high? [laughter]. All these amazing people and I won this competition. I don’t get it.” And it’s like success, in general, where what is success? Success is always looking for the next thing, right?
BS: Yeah, yeah
PT: And so I accepted to perform at the festival and all the while, “This is a terrible idea. What have you done [laughter]?” And in the end– in the end, I really just wanted to– what it boiled down to for me was I wanted to take a routine that cost me, I think, $53 to put together, and I wanted to put it on that festival stage with top performers from around New Zealand and no matter what happened on the day the point for me was you don’t have to be expensive. Burlesque can be weird, low budget and all that stuff and still be valuable. So I wanted to get up there, and I wanted to rep the weirdos and the broke novelty strippers. I felt like I was the weird hire [laughter]. The token hire. The token weirdo. And that there was no way that anything was ever going to come of it, but fuck I was going to take that stage, and I was just going to have a blast. That was the goal to get up there and have fun
BS: Yeah, yeah, yep. And fun you did. You looked like you were having heaps of fun
PT: And I’m still not quite sure what happened there.
BS: Yeah, and of course, I’m going to see you at the festival because you’re going to be– I think you’re emceeing the night that I’m on and then, of course, you’ve got the handover of the crown. So I’m looking forward to that as I expect that everybody is
Photographer; David Rowe Photography
PT: Yes, the step-down routine. Yeah, it’s all very– I still don’t– I still don’t quite know how the last sort of stage of my burlesque journey happened, and it’s been very difficult for me to acknowledge that I’ve been acknowledged because, deep down, I still feel like the weirdo token hire and I don’t think that feeling will ever go away no matter what.
BS: I think we all feel that.
PT: Yeah, well, I think to an extent everyone feels that and no one talks about it and I think we should talk about it.
PT: Being an artist is really, really hard and most creatives struggle with their mental health in some way, and we should talk about it. We should talk about how hard it is to place value on your acts and– because you’re putting yourself out there when you get up on stage. It’s not just you’re playing a part. You’re actually putting yourself out there and showing the world at large, I guess, how you think and how you operate, and all that sort of thing and who you are. Yeah, I sometimes think that Pixie Twist is a more authentic version of who I am than myself with my muggle name because it’s the version of myself where I completely refute patriarchal ideas and I just don’t buy into any of that societal shit. And I completely refute that I have to be X, Y, Z to have work, or to be a burlesque performer, or to be a woman, or to be whatever it is that I– it’s a total refutement of all of the rules. And in a lot of ways, it’s the most unadulterated version of myself. And it’s also a slightly caricatured version of myself, as well. So I guess a lot– I mean, I imagine a lot of people, when they create their personas, it’s similar. Some bits of your personality are amplified and caricatured, and some are most raw, and– yeah. Yeah.
BS: Yeah. So can you identify, maybe, the differences between when you first got up on stage ever – for burlesque specifically, rather than your past performing life – and what it is like now? What are the differences? And then, what would you say to somebody who was starting in burlesque for the first time and absolutely shitting themselves because they’ve got to get up on stage?
PT: Oh, yeah. I remember that feeling [laughter]. I think that a lot of people who enter the industry do it through a burlesque taster course, right, and a graduation review. And I’d say that most burlesque taster courses are classic-based. Very generalized, obviously, but as a rule. When I first got up on that stage, I was in very high shoes, and a gown [laughter], and a corset, and gloves and I think my idea of what burlesque was was quite narrow. And I was very sort of subscribed to the fact that to be a burlesque artist, you had to corset, and you had to– this is how you be a burlesque dancer. Getting up on that stage, I had a lot of fun. I fell down the stairs at the back of Altitude Bar- my first performance, and was caught – literally caught – by the stage manager [laughter]. Simon was bloody Simon. So packing my dacks, about to do my pastie reveal for the first time, and he ran from the back of the room and slid on his knees to the bottom of stage, adoring, but right in my face. I’m like, “Thanks. That doesn’t make it hard at all [laughter].” Stage manager caught me, and I was shaking so hard, like, “Oh, yes. This is such a rush.” Now, when I take the stage, I like to subvert what people expect burlesque is and what people– I really dislike, “To be a woman, you must this, this, this. To be a burlesque artist, you must this, this, this.” Well, why? Why do we have these arbitrary rules about what — you must wear shoes, you must wear a corset, or any number of other things that people have very strong opinions about, obviously. Whereas, when I take the stage now, the core reason for me to take the stage is I want it to be fun, and if it’s not fun, I’m not going to do it anymore. And the way that I make it fun is I do things that are a bit political or a bit like, “Whoa. What just happened? That was not where I thought this was going.” Or just like a total piss-take. Strip Cheese has lots of layers, in terms of its narrative. And there’s a very sort of deep layer that isn’t obvious, and it’s just there for me, and that layer is I’m lactose intolerant and I really miss eating cheese [laughter]. That’s the bottom sort of sublayer. And then there’s the top layer, which is it’s cheesecake burlesque that’s got stocking peels, and boas, and it’s glove peels, and all of those sort of stereotypical, classic things, but I’m dressed as a giant cheese because why the fuck not [laughter]? So I guess, yeah, that’s the core difference. I don’t subscribe to any rules now when I’m on stage. You can take your rules and you can shove them up your ass. Rules are really good, and good at focusing things, and it’s– burlesque has a history, and we have to respect it. But also, are they arbitrary? And if they’re arbitrary, then I’m not going to fucking listen to them [laughter], essentially.
BS: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. For sure.
PT: If your only answer to a rule– like, why do I have to do this? Because it’s the way it’s always been done. Well, I don’t give a fuck [laughter]. My advice for new performers is don’t get too hung up on what you think you have to do, and just be yourself, and put yourself out there, and do what makes you– not what you think people want you to look like, not what you think people think is sexy, but what you think is sexy, how you feel sexy, how you feel most authentic, what makes you feel good. And the thing about doing that is that, the first couple of times you do it, you feel so lonely and afraid, like, “Oh my God, I’m this weirdo and no one’s going to get me.” And then you put yourself out there and people come up to you like, “Thank you for saying this thing that I wish that I could say.” People will respond to you being your authentic self. Fuck rules. That’s essentially my message [laughter].
BS: So on that note, in all the literature that I’ve read and what I’ve been taught, there are generally two styles of burlesque, which kind of follows on from what you were saying, because you’re saying that people have a rulebook, I guess, and that you should just throw the rulebook in the air. But in that rulebook, there are two styles. One is neo and one is classic burlesque. What style do you think your main style of performing would fit into?
PT: I’m like that kid in the corner eating glue [laughter].
BS: Eating glue? Okay. I’ve never seen a kid eating glue, I must say
PT: Yeah. No. I’m of the belief that anything that we do sort of post-’90s revival is neo-burlesque because all of us are on that stage post that period, post the ’60s with the history, and that when the ’90s revival of burlesque happened and the burlesque that we do as a consequence of that revival, everything that takes the stage now is neo because it all has influences. But a lot of people don’t feel that way. And there’s obviously classic boa, corset, gloves, jazz, style. And then there’s neo- which people don’t seem to be able to define in any way that I feel is valuable. So neo- is kind of like everything else [laughter]. Maybe it’s classic moves but to neo-music, or maybe it’s neo-moves to classic music, or maybe it’s inspired by classic. Neo- is kind of like all burlesque we do now for me. So it’s hard for me to switch them. For me, again, that’s one of those things I try not to get too hung up on. A lot of what we think of as classic is what people think of when they think about burlesque. I do have some very classic routines, and I’m performing one in Cambridge next week. It’s a very classic fan dance. There’s nothing neo- about it. It’s classic. I think because I like to tell a story, or make a political point, or be a bit controversial, or be a bit twisted, I don’t think that anyone else would describe me as a classic performer. But I don’t feel that the distinction is super useful for us now because Strip Cheese is a very classic routine, set to a big band orchestra—
BS: About cheese
PT: About cheese, [laughter] yeah because I think I like to use both styles because they’re both valuable. And I think if you’re going to do straight classic you have to be really on about it, otherwise, it’s very– it sounds terrible but, “Here is my glove. Oh, here is my bare hand. Here is another glove. Oh, here is my hand,” or, “Oh, look my corset.” And that’s cool, but when there’s 9 or 10 performers in one night all doing that, as an audience member—
BS: It’s boring.
PT: It’s boring. Dance however the fuck you want, but be entertaining [laughter]. Do whatever you want. So yeah, I think both are very valuable as long as you’re not resting on them. Just because you’re wearing a corset doesn’t make you a burlesque goddess the same as standing in a garage doesn’t make you a car
BS: Or a mechanic
PT: Yeah [laughter]. I don’t know how to express that very well but there it is.
BS: if there was a movie produced about your life, who would play you and why?
PT: I really don’t know. I love it when actresses take roles that are more challenging. I don’t know who I’d choose to play me. Someone like Kate Walsh, or somebody who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Because I like as much as I’m very opinionated and that I know that everyone will see this, I don’t like to take myself too seriously. But if we disagree that’s fine. I will be happy for you to have your opinion as long as there’s room for mine. Emma Stone maybe? Or you know what, some total random up-coming actress who needs the work. Let her do it and pay her rent.
BS: If you are on an island and you could only bring three things with you– now, I’m just going to say the Island you’re there for, say, six months You’re not there for your life. You’re there for, say, six months. For a shorter period. What would you bring and why?
PT: Probably music. Music’s really important to me. And I have a very wide and eclectic mix of tastes. Like I’m obviously a pretty serious bogan at heart. But I also have great love of pop songs and great love of pretty much anything except that kind of hardcore misogynistic gangster rap. Music, something to read probably, and my animals. I’d like [laughter] to have my horse and my dogs. We’d have adventures and stuff. Is it bad that Mr B Frank is not here [laughter]? I mean
BS: You could call him an animal [laughter].
PT: He could be one of my animals.
Photographer; David Rowe Photography