June 19, 2012

Cabaret Festival 2012

Filed under: 2012,Archive,Cabaret

June 17, 2012

Cabaret Festival 2012
Adelaide Festival Centre
until June 23.

Zoe Keating
June 9.

Kim Smith
June 10.
Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne
June 22-24
Slide, Sydney, July 12.

Circa & Katie Noonan
Dunstan Playhouse
June 13.

What exactly is cabaret these days – café settings , intimate solo shows, songs by Weill or Brel or Cole Porter ? This year, Adelaide’s 12th Cabaret Festival has broken all box office estimates with a program by artistic director Kate Ceberano, using even more elastic criteria than usual. It has worked a treat, though, and audiences have packed out performances from headliners Miss Saigon star Lea Salonga, Broadway Wicked cast principal Eden Espinosa and, guesting in James Gavin’s rather bookish tribute to Lena Horne, the splendid Supreme, Mary Wilson.

But in quieter, stranger spaces other performers have also been waiting to intrigue us. Canadian musician Zoe Keating lives in the Californian Redwoods and she drapes around her cello like a lanky forest sprite, peeling off riffs and melodies, figures and drones which are looped and processed into a richly vibrant layered performance. The technical complexity is effortlessly understated as she thrums, taps, scrapes and plucks, creating mood compositions entitled Escape Artist, Optimist, and, something she never is- Lost.

In a premiere performance, acrobatic troupe Circa join forces with singer composer Katie Noonan for Love-Song-Circus, a captivating chamber work of songs about the trials of Australian convict women. While three women acrobats perform intrepid moves on aerial silks and gymnastic blocks, Katie Noonan sings her lambently tender songs of privation and injustice.

Accompanied peerlessly by the Tulipwood String Quartet, bassist Zoe Hauptmann and guitarist and banjo player Benjamin Hauptmann, with arrangements by Steve Newcomb, Noonan’s songs give life to the courage and stoicism of young women – with names like Esther, Jane and Mary – otherwise lost as mere mentions in prison records and colonial archives. The link between the song cycle and the Circa performances is somewhat tenuous and at times more laboured than invigorating. But this is an accessible, highly accomplished new composition which deserves wide attention.

Kim Smith first played the Cabaret Festival in 2010 and, now re-located in New York, he has returned to the Artspace with Misfit, a stylish, grimly amusing little show which fits the genre like a strangler’s glove. Insinuating himself around the tiny stage with a series of waspishly camp asides, Smith, accompanied on piano by the imperturbable Amanda Hodder, forensically deconstructs Cher’s Bang Bang to a death knell drumbeat and similarly extrudes the Supremes’ You Keep Me Hanging On.

He also knows his way around cabaret ancient and modern as he navigates from a lascivious version of What Shall I do with a Drunken Sailor straight into Brecht’s Surabaya Johnny – hissing the lyrics :“Take that damned pipe out of your mouth, you rat” with the grinning rictus of Peter Sellers’ Dr Strangelove. Misfit is neo-retro cabaret at its mordant best.

Murray Bramwell

“Live-wire acts when cabaret comes to town” The Australian, June 19, 2012. p.17.

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