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Burlesque R/Evolution: Beasts, Poor Slobs & Good Fairies

absinthesalon

 

The shows to which I am about to refer, I saw at Adelaide Fringe a little over a month ago on the final nights. I haven’t hurried to put up a review until now, because they needed some incubation on my part, and by good grace they are now being performed at other interstate venues, so now the time is right. Neither was a burlesque show in the conventional sense  – both elevated the genre into the realms of performance art.

If you were looking for a “by the numbers” tassel twirl, grind and shimmy – you would have been disappointed. These shows are not for you.

If you were looking for a refined story arc, invocation of archetypes, manifestation of myth underpinned by erotic movement, sepia sight and vintage sound – then maybe you were in the right place. I have recently waxed lyrical that endless repeats of well worn burlesque routines are beginning to tire this reviewer. Thank goodness they are also tiring many a discerning performer who are seeking to crash through the cliche and challenge the audience.

And so it was I took a journey into the delightfully tiny, tight boutique performance space that was the travelling Strumpet Salon & Exotic Imaginarium…..

Beast

There has been artistic re-interpretation of the French La Belle et la Bete since the 18th century, and this foundation text paves ground for performers KerryX and Bella deJac to walk the stage not just “in character” but as avatars of suppressed human psychological desire and instinct made flesh.

The animalistic drive, to fuck and to kill is realised through the majestically cruel swan who partners KerryX in a slow sensual dance. She would also take to the stage to ritualistically satisfy unspoken desire, a witch-woman of the bones weaving movement and ceremonial gesture to theurgical ends.

Bella deJac harnesses the various projections placed upon women – the Marian virtue and the Jezebel revelry duel to the death while she weaves powerful but sad soliloquies, her prowess and presence amplified in the performance space. Unabashed. Unashamed. I suggest you follow them.

beast flyer

The Poor Slob & The Good Fairy: A Cabaret

Lola The Vamp has taken an 1899 work by French humorist Alphonse Allais and turned standard burlesque fare on its head. Through a clever combination of silent movie projection and live performance, we follow the trials of a poor fellow down on his luck counselled by a hapless waiter whose vocal creativity is strangled by fear, all the while being beguiled by the promises of Our Lady of the Wormwood, La Fee Verte.  Oscar Wilde famously warns us that after a third glass of absinthe (because one cannot stop at two) we will see things as they really are, and that is amongst the most horrible things in the world. This is an axiom worth bearing in mind in this show – the risk of pursuing the truth is that you will find it.

A classic morality tale with a twist, Ms Vamp as our favourite peridot fairy clearly regrets nothing and neither did I. Most fitting as the belle of the époque, it may have been classic style burlesque that calls on the era & imagery we most associate with absinthe, but rarely is retro-burlesque a convincing time capsule delivered in a contemporary fashion. Here is one of those rare moments. Follow Lola and wait for it to turn up in your town.

Lola

I suppose there is irony that a pair of productions that push the contemporary boundaries of burlesque look back to 18-19th Century sources, but that only highlights that weaving the fragile threads of the human condition into tales is a timeless pursuit.  In the current era, we are at risk of losing the ability to tell stories as entertainment, hence we need to look to the past to relearn.  I trust these shows are but on the vanguard of big changes in the burlesque arts.  We are beginning to see a big injection of comedy, prose, psychodrama, live music and multimedia as the seasoned Australian performers raise the bar – arguably in part for their own creative sanity and satisfaction, but we the audience will be the beneficiaries of this r\evolution of the Art.

Posted by Jonathan on May 17th 2015 | Filed in Art,Burlesque,Cabaret,Culture,Reviews | Comments (0)

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Burlesque Idol 2015 – Adelaide Review

 

Burlesque Idol has been winging it’s way around Australia at a break neck pace under the steady hand of producers Sarina de Fuego and Lola LaBelle, with host Michael Wheatley charismatically wielding the mike. This is not just an Australian affair, but part of an international showcasing stretching from the UK to the US, which should not be surprise with many a seasoned Australian burlesque performer making inroads into these performance circuits.

 

Adelaide had its chance to showcase the up and comers in the Burly arts on the 28 March 2015 at the Nexus performance space.

 

First up we had a stunning kick off with Aurora Blue, slinking onstage to some dirty low blues tunes, resplendent in black satin & trimmings. Gyrating and smiling through almost carnivorous teeth, it was a smooth and engaging performance.

 

Briar Rose was up next who combined alt-girl style with traditional routines to sassy jazz. She is very elegant on stage and teases the audience, however the connection could probably be strengthened if she allowed herself to move more like the bass drum, and less like the hi-hat rhythms.

 

Desert Rose is often a surprising performer, and her entry with a mink coat to John Barry Bond-esque sounds had us settling into a certain frame of reference. Then to our surprise, all was discarded as B-52’s “Love Shack” burst through the speakers, and we were treated to a very aerobic Go-Go Girl mix-routine. For me personally, if we can get a few less predictable saxophone tunes, and more interesting musical choices with routines to match, the better the burlesque arts will be. Is it what the standard “I want classical burlesque” crowd want? – this is a debate I should probably engage in another piece for this blog…. Needless to say I think things need to change and get contemporary.

 

Speaking of which, classical ballet trained Lilly Evelyn bought us a Black Swan inspired routine that moved from piano laden dark ambience to a metal onslaught carrying the same tune. Graceful, effortless and a wonderful example of a performer applying skills from one medium into another.

 

lola+labelle

 

Lyla Dash bought us back into some classical territory, keeping it cheeky and fun. And while her skills in both nipple tassel & ‘ass-el’ twirling was beyond doubt, the pace of her performance matched the Beatles tune selected, in that it seemed to be over way to quickly. I think she can afford to slow right down and tease us for much longer.

 

Again cracking the typical burly mold, Miss Kiki brought us her Mr Cheese physical comedy routine over fine British show tunes and Monty Python standards, with diversions into Marvin Gaye. It was all very Victor Victoria (for those old enough to remember Julie Andrews for things other than Sound of Music) . Vaudeville and cabaret are key parts of burlesque, and in fact historically were more prominent parts before the stripping element came to the fore, and this is ground she is clearly keen to reclaim. Heaven knows, burlesque needs a good shot of humour – it takes itself far too seriously quite often.

 

Velvet Chase brought us into animatronic heaven with a wind up doll routine – which interestingly is quite common in burlesque and yet seldom have I seen it done with such attention to detail (special note to the “Made In China” stencil on her derrier!). Aptly underpinned with Regurgitators “Polyester Girl” this routine was a pleasure to watch, and richly deserved was her “Runner Up” award at the end of the night.

 

I was initially quite nervous that Viola Verve’s routine would be a too close a follow up to Velvet Chase, her being adorned in a classic French clown doll attire. However such concerns soon faded as she employed many miming techniques that clearly differentiated her routine from the former. It was equal parts disturbing yet fascinating in the manner she managed to maintain “soulless doll eyes”, which occasionally would transition to softness and sensuality before withdrawing back. It was a clever introvert/extrovert dynamic that a number of people noted.

 

Lastly Vivienne Von Coffin swanned onto the stage to solo clarinet beat jazz, adorned in purple velvet for an elegant and measured classic burlesque introduction. Before we knew it she was down bare, the tempo was up and a rockabilly tempest was unleased, highly synchronised Go Go moves combined with mock snarls and generous smiles. Vivienne was a very polished in her routine and this was reflected in her taking the Burlesque Idol Tiara for the night – probably a timely leap off point as I think she is clearly making that transition to benchmark performer.

 

Burlesque Idol will be back again next year, and a wonderful opportunity for the serious amateur to make a concerted footfall on the journey to the professional.

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 29th 2015 | Filed in Burlesque,Events,People,Reviews | Comments (0)

Adelaide Festival 2015- Unsound – Forest Swords, ATOM + Robin Fox, The Bug, Shackleton

 

Returning to the South Australian Freemason’s Grand Lodge for night two of Unsound Adelaide the anticipation was building for a night possibly grander the previous evening.

 

The throbbing live bass guitar of Forest Swords grinding over thick dub beats drew us into the main hall – a welcome sight to see some traditional instrumentation mixed with desk artisty. It certainly wasn’t all dub odyssey, with Matthew Barnes touching on Portisheadish trip hop beats, explorations into distinctly bluesy phrasing and somewhat Spaghetti Western guitar moments that gave me pleasant Ennio Morricone chills.

 

It is very difficult to describe what happened next when immersed into the RGB world of ATOM ™ & Robin Fox. Full body scans of laser light with visceral sounds that boil blood in a surreal sensory tennis match with Uwe Schmidt’s Germanic precision electro dance sounds and video projections. His luminous head projected above us – a demigod of the matrix reassuring us that the following treatment will be painless and liberating. Sensory overload was balanced with ambience of deep grey noise and indistinct swirling visuals – a respite for our synapses. You can’t dance to architecture and it is equally hard to give words to this performance that would be subjected to injustice if described simply as a sound & light show.

 

The Bug (Kevin Martin) proved to be a major crowd pleaser – bathed in haematological light, underpinned by siren driven loops, he delivered subterranean dub beats weaving below high frequency drone. He would also move effortlessly between open ended electronica and the framework of traditional song structures, working dynamic arches and minimalism as a counterpoint to his heavy artillery dancehall beats. Intermixed with eviscerating hip hop from Manga and a toasty Miss Red – the audience were in it penny for a pound. This did raise some interesting questions and discussion with my concert going companion about the propensity for Australian audiences to self-identify with music touching on themes of class struggle, in what is arguably a much more egalitarian society.

 

Lastly (Sam) Shackleton took us back into realms that one would be mistaken as thinking of as traditional techno sounds, although such an error could be made if one were not paying attention. Clever xylophonic arpeggiated sounds overlays old school beats, but builds in Tubular Bells fashion with simultaneously stripping back older layers. It was nothing short of painting through music. And throughout this thoroughly danceable symphony were very distinct melodies, sometimes like a folk tune, differentiating this electronic musical craftsmanship from the less adept IDM-meisters.

 

Will Unsound return next year under David Seftons extended tenure as Director of the Adelaide Festival, or have we experienced something quite special and unique over the past three years? There is no doubt Australia’s appetite has grown year on year – and it would be a shame for the momentum to stop now.

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 18th 2015 | Filed in Events,Music,News,People,Reviews | Comments (0)

Adelaide Festival 2015 – Unsound – Lawrence English, Gazelle Twin, Container, Fushitsuha

 

Unsound Adelaide, the Festival within the Adelaide Festival, has taken up new digs in 2015. Moving away from the rustic Queens Theatre to the late century grandeur of the Freemasons Grand Lodge on North Terrace within the main hall, reflecting an age of Victoriana: grand stage, large bay windows and plasterwork. We have substituted the industrial for the majestic.

 

First on stage was Queensland musician Lawrence English, a prolific sonic artist of over decade, bathed in Masonic-blue light while manipulating noise scapes containing very distinct melodic arches that reminded me of more 1970’s era analogue experimental tonality. Breath & voice manipulation featured as a keystone locking it together – Mr English seemingly having an organic connection or interface to his hardware. The music developed into a transplutonic organ fugue, reverential but otherworldly with a certain windswept ambience.

 

This was starkly contrasted by Gazelle Twin, nom-de-plume of British producer Elizabeth Bernholz who prowled the stage microphone in hand, in her trademark blue hoodie while an assistant provided the suitable music triggers and beat manipulation. This performance was unlike anything I expected – blurred industrial beats, precision rhythmic attacks countered with soaring ethereal vocals, and whispered hip-hopish recitations. It was one of the very few times I believe I have seen a vocoder used effectively as a instrument rather than a crutch, and it was like she was in a violent battle to keep it in control rather than succumb to any assimilation. Taught, palpable tension filled the room as she had the audience moving like a machine. Probably the stand out performance of Unsound and a privilege to witness.

 

 

Ren Schofield aka Container unfurled a series of more familiar dark beats and loops with distinct avant-garde elements just to keep any feeling of comfort at bay. While providing what seemed initially seductive electro dance rhythms, he would continue to cleverly switch beats with syncopation and complexity in a manner much like Cut Hands did last year. That delightful moment when people dancing deeply in a particular groove suddenly need to readjust their frame of reference and body motion. Some more successfully than others!

 

Lastly was Japanoise / Space Rock Godfather Keijo Haino with his most recent line up of Fushitsusha. Or at least there nearly wasn’t. Five minutes after walking on stage he walked off again. I don’t know what the problem was, but clearly it made the audience less tolerant & forgiving. When he returned and unleased his particular brand of noise exploration and inprovisation – over what must be said was a very tight bass and drum section holding everything together like gripping but yielding gaffer tape – I think certain minds had closed to what he had to offer. Which is unfortunate.

 

As someone said to me on the night – sometimes art is difficult.

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 15th 2015 | Filed in Art,Culture,Music,People,Reviews | Comments (0)

Adelaide Fringe 2015 – Glitta Supernova Experience: Let’s Get METAphysical Review

 

It is not insignificant that more than one Eastern states burlesque artist with whom I am acquainted have repeatedly cited Glitta Supernova as a catalyst for them taking up the Art. And after seeing her troupe in “Pretty Peepers” last Fringe, I understand why.

 

It’s a new year, a new Fringe and Glitta is back, solo, in salubrious new surrounds at the Royal Croquet Club with her “Let’s Get METAphysical” show.

 

Remember what I said, a couple of reviews ago that those looking to push the burlesque art into the most interesting directions are telling stories? This isn’t just a story….it’s a delicious (im)morality tale of a small hippy town girl lured into the hedonist post-punk nirvana of late 80’s Sydney.

 

glitta

 

Her autobiographical baggage is gradually unburdened in close concert to her level of dress, as she deconstructs herself from Stepford Wife into a bare all Bacchanalian insurgent with a message straight from Cosmic Coincidence Control Centre.

 

Interspersed with porcine & smurf orientated porn titillation – this is full contact art experimentation with vulgarity, absurdism, gynaecological in-jokes, nudity and amyl. If acronyms are lost on you, feel free to tune out and return to pre-programmed stupor.

 

Like a manifestation of Kali-Ma herself, she conducts her performance like a puja with the desire of destroying ignorance, mediocrity, conservatism…dear Middle of the Road Adelaide…this Goddess has you in her sights and will crush you between her thighs. This may be a promise, or a threat – take it as you will.

 

‘Tis an ill wind that blows no minds, and Glitta will be there to blow yours  – particularly throughout the remaining week of the Adelaide Fringe at the Black Box, Royal Croquet Club..

 

 

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 8th 2015 | Filed in Art,Burlesque,Cabaret,Huh?,People,Reviews | Comments (0)

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