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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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