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Drawing Blood – Victorian Seance

absinthesalon

photographer: Ivana Jovanovic, used by permission of Venus Vamp/Drawing Blood.

 

Through the “anti-art” movement, those wielding sharpened graphite or with charcoal dusted hands have had a cornucopia of opportunities to engage in that most staple of artistic mediums – Life Drawing – particularly capturing subjects from the Burlesque & Fringe performance worlds.

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Sydney’s Drawing Blood, curated by creatrix Venus Vamp, differentiates itself from the usual studio-in-a-pub affair by way of a specific resurrection of the deepest sentiments of the 19th century French Salon de la Rose + Croix movement. To this end the specific focus of Drawing Blood is on the imagery of the occult, esotericism, metaphysical and mythological symbology, a vehicle to introduce artists back into the visual splendour exalted through Impressionism, Symbolism and Romanticism.

The theme for the session attended by Absinthe.com.au, Victorian Séance, is not only an interesting juxtaposition of the gradual baring of flesh that comes with life drawing to an era associated with conservatism – but is symbolic of how the pre-World War 1 spiritualist movement was a societal reaction against the repression of the Church dominated State. We will return to this point.

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Drawing Blood is not a static drawing session, but an active narrative over a number of hours, a staged storyline cradled with sounds from Sydney DJ Unfamiliar Nostalgia– providing an unpredictable soundtrack of untuned piano music, post-rock strings, witch house glitch and darkest ambient soundscapes.

The stage parlour was appropriately set with velvet drapery, Grecian pillars, peacock feathers in vases, tapestry chairs and fringed lamps. Our first subject, the Funereal Lady, stands under a shroud, black shawls, high necklines and tight corsets. Like armour against the physical world, her attire as much serves as a vessel to imprison the spirit from reaching out to the beyond. The Raven Haired Medium, our second subject, sits gazing into the distance over a table filled with memento mori, a scrying crystal and tarot cards. Our third protagonist, the Bearded Skeptic, stares intently at the Raven Haired Medium. Is it disdain? Unbelief? A man of reason, of the Establishment, he presents a pillar of defiance against the unknown.

The Raven Haired Medium’s head and eyes tilt back in the early stages of mediumistic rapture, her eyes distant and white. Exposed necklines, bare shoulders and loose ruffles – by sheer faith she is the antithesis of the repressed Funereal Lady, whose arms are upward, imploring the presence to make themselves known by sign, rapping or apparition.

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The scene moves. The Funereal Lady reaches to out the the Bearded Skeptic. He is clutching his heart, shielding it, as though he had witnessed something that shakes his resolve, his hand tentatively held out to hers.

In our next pose, the Bearded Skeptic is all ruddy of face. He stands with firm fingers boring into his cranial temples, like he would otherwise be blocking his ears, but rather it is his mind he is trying silence…the voices…the voices. The Raven Haired Medium ponders at the scene of denial. The Funereal Lady raises her veil, the rendering of which speaks to the removal of barriers between the worlds.

The Raven Medium now leans on the table, her hand propping her chin, eyes full of gnosis as the crystal ball opens the gateway.  Our Bearded Skeptic reclines on a chair, body crossed, a tilting of the hat to protect him from the gaze of the Raven Haired Medium. But something has landed in his heart, for there is a weariness or sadness etched in his features. The Funereal Lady stands behind him now, reassuringly placing her hands on his shoulders and she gazes down upon him with empathy, as though she reads the sorrow caged behind his emotional fortification.

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But the scene soon changes dramatically. The Bearded Skeptic is now prostrate on the ground like a corpse, but he is between realms with his dead eyes open. His finger rests on the cover of a fob watch. It’s time. Chronos. A silent partner to Azraels caress, a metronome to our performances in this world, the springs unwinding, ever slowly but with a persistent momentum.

The Funereal Lady clutches at the crystal ball, pineal gland pressed to its cold surface, her mouth hanging. The Raven Haired Medium is overcome in rapture, bent backwards in a dystonic spasm clutching onto the back of the chair through white knuckles, her black hair cascading to the floor. A grinning skull on the pedestal seems slightly tilted, as though it is looking at her with morbid affection.

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These written vignettes of a much larger chronicle reflects what was captured on paper by many dozens of artists present. Despite the intensity of the scene one should not assume malevolence is at play or intended. This was physicality acting as a canvas for spirituality. As though deprived the agency of sensation for so long, a spiritual return to the body results in each step, head turn, and movement being an act of pure intensity. Nerves crave not subtlety.

Noted noir-author and underground-film historian, Jack Sargeant, punctuated the evening with an historical review of the spiritualist movement. As he elucidated to the audience present, counter-intuitively, spiritualist popularity was parallel with the rise of Scientific Method, both serving as a societal response to the dominant narrative of the Church. It was, perhaps, no strange coincidence that with Queen Victoria on throne, within the spiritualist circles women were the principal mediums. It was a position of power in a patriarchal world, and represented a return of the feminine mystic as captured by the likes of John Collier in his 1891 masterpiece of Pythia, the Priestess of Delphi. Victorian repression was a war on the female body, but when women became mediums, it openly challenged these conventions and shifted the balance of power, however temporarily.

 

Posted by Jonathan on Jul 23rd 2017 | Filed in Art,Culture,Events,Reviews | Comments (0)

Adelaide Fringe Picks for 2016

 

Carnivale was the best damn thing to happen to television at the turn of this century and its cancellation will remain a crime forever more.  Fortunately my sorrows are annually ameliorated with the influx of performers, magicians, vagabonds, burlesque queens and musicians into dear (R)Adelaide for the Fringe Festival, dragging their creative accoutrements, stories and daring-do across the many miles.  They may not have gypsy wagons but flying in on Tiger Air is equally fraught with difficulty and an act of endurance demanding respect.

A number of familiar faces return this year – some are re-imagined offerings, some a bold new solo adventures for seasoned troupe performers. Here is my pick for Adelaide Fringe 2016. IT ALL STARTS NEXT WEEK SO GET YOUR TICKETS!

NOIR REVUE

A Fringe cabaret/burlesque favourite, a new line up albeit still under the steady hand of Sarina de Fuego – including musical director and co-producer Michael Wheatley who’s performance prowess has taken this production to another level.

THE VAUDE-VILLAINOUS MR.GØRSKI

If you have a child under 7 years of age – chances are they are familiar with  Hoopla Doopla! and may already be on the fast track to running away to join the circus.  Jango, aka Daniel Gorski, brings out one his darker split personalities in the Vaude-villainous Mr Gorski in this child friendly production with magic, juggling and chaos.

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BURLESQUE IDOL

A good show case of the burly arts from a line up of local talent making the transition from enthusiastic amateur to national-starlet-in-the-making. Who will be the big names in Australian burlesque in the future?…get the good oil here.

bidol

 

LOVE, LOSS & LATTES

Mistress of the acrobatic aerial arts brings her solo show to Adelaide for the first time, as she explores the theme of her favourite caffeine marking time throughout life’s travails.

missy

 

ADULT-ISH

We knew her best from Peaches & Gin Burlesque, but now Luna Eclipse has found a new voice as she comes to terms with growing older, responsibility, and whether she can continue justify living life like one of Neverland Lost Children. I think we know the answer but best go along just in case….

luna

 

SCARLETT BELLE’S SCARLETT LETTERS

Ex-Blues and Burlesque star, Scarlett Belle, is another throwing caution to the wind and embarking on a solo tour, bringing a show of songs, stories & erotica that promises love, lust & adultery – something for everyone, including the grandparents.

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BECKY LOU’s “SHAKE”

We reviewed Becky Lou’s standout tragi-comedy-burlesque performance last year in a charming ramshackle possibly near condemned building acting as a performance space. There was nothing ramshackle about her performance however, so imagine how great she is going to be on a larger stage with no risk of floor collapse! If you didn’t see this last year, don’t be the last person at your local front bar to be able to talk about the virtues of merkin puppets.

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Posted by Jonathan on Feb 6th 2016 | Filed in Art,Burlesque,Cabaret,Culture,Music | Comments (0)

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

 

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)

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)

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