The art of Burlesque has appeared more and more in popular media over the last decade or so, featuring in the worlds of film and music and dispelling many preconceptions along the way. I met with one of Blackpool’s own very talented up and coming artistes Kitty Koko. On stage she is a teasing, coquettish siren who holds the audience in the palm of her hand, in person she is quirky, perky, poised and incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about her art. It was a real pleasure to get the inside scoop and lift back the curtain on the mysteriously glamorous world of burlesque.
Kirsty: What inspired you to take up Burlesque?
Kitty: I’ve always been a big fan of the circus, vaudeville and cabaret, and growing up in Blackpool you are surrounded by that kind of thing all the time. When I discovered burlesque, it seemed to be an art-form that encompassed everything I loved about that style of entertainment, such as the comedy, the intricate costumes and of course the creative storytelling aspect of any piece.
Kirsty: Are there any particular artists that you admire and are inspired by?
Kitty: There are too many to mention! But the stand-out performer for me would definitely be Pina Bausch. Though she isn’t a burlesque artist, she’s been credited as a pioneer of contemporary dance. She’s very much celebrated for her amazing skill of story-telling through movement.
Kirsty: Could you tell me how you feel about the depiction of Burlesque in the mainstream, do you think being represented is more important that doing the topic justice?
Kitty: Well there are many burlesque artists out there who completely abhor, for example, the Christina Aguilera film ‘Burlesque’ because in actual fact, it’s more cabaret than burlesque, with Christina Aguilera’s character being a modern-day Sally Bowles. It shows a Hollywood, idealised version of big costumes, honed showgirls and fabulous routines, without showing the whole story. However, despite that I do think it has diminished the mysticism of the art-form and made it accessible to larger audiences.
Kirsty: A lot of the articles about burlesque that I’ve seen mention the fact that burlesque is seen as ’empowering’ for many women. Do you feel burlesque is a feminist issue?
Kitty: I may lose credit for giving this answer, but I have to say that there’s nothing at all about burlesque that I find empowering. To me, it’s simply entertainment. I perform for an audience because I want to, not for any self-worth. It’s no different to an actor performing in a play, it’s just a character that I’m playing. There’s nothing wrong with people finding it empowering, but you will find critics anywhere and no one will ever please every member of the audience so you need to have pretty thick skin, you may get told that you aren’t the best dancer, or have the best body, so if a woman is doing it for empowerment and self-worth then it could ultimately have incredibly negative implications.
Kirsty: What is your favourite style of burlesque?
Kitty: Gosh that’s a really tough one! I’m a sucker for a fan dance, definitely! (laughs) I love vintage styles but I’m so drawn to anything that is overly dramatic and anything original. You see a lot of burlesque that looks as if it’s come off a production line, with none of themselves injected into the performance. And when I see something completely different, I am very inspired by that as an artist.
Kirsty: How do you come up with your acts?
Kitty: A few different ways actually. It could be that I hear a song and work from there. I am also an extremely visual person, I can see part of a costume and immediately part of a routine will take shape in my head. I do a lot of research for my routines, researching the song I’m using, making sure it’s an original idea. Obviously parallel thinking does occur, but if part of an act does resemble another artist’s, then it’s down to you as a performer to make it your own.
Kirsty: Do you have any advice for aspiring burlesque artists?
Kitty: Do your research! Ask yourself why, as a performer, you want this to be your art-form. Enrol at an accredited school, practice, submerge yourself in it. Hone your stage presence, you can’t just get up there and wing it, the audience is discerning. And it’ll shine through anyway.
Kirsty: What has been your proudest moment as a burlesque artist to date?
Kitty: It has to be the first time I ever performed in the UK in public (just after I finished at the Sugar Blue Burlesque Academy in Australia) and all of my friends were there, it was the first time any of them had seen me perform. That show was actually the first heat of a national burlesque newbie competition, which I won and went through to the final in Birmingham a few months later and won again.
Kirsty: Is there anything about the industry that you’d like to change?
Kitty: Ooh this is a difficult one to answer without upsetting anyone! I will say that I think schools that teach burlesque should be accredited, because there are people out there with no burlesque background and consequently there are students paying money for poor instruction who are unlikely to excel, through no fault of their own. So I think tighter regulations would be a good thing in that respect. Also tighter regulations for burlesque promoters to ensure that acts are age-appropriate for burlesque, as finding under-age girls will just bring the whole industry into disrepute, and that would be a shame as we’re finally in the spotlight.
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