Review By Thomas Gregory
There are great gymnasts and great comedians, and even a mediocre circus performer needs to be both. Perhaps that is why there are so few circuses today. Perhaps that is why I had never been blown away by any circus performance before.
At least, until last night.
On a cool summer’s night, a crowd gathered outside in Albert Park to enjoy a performance with a difference. Enjoying fairy floss with wine, they watched as a group of insane artists put their lives on the line and their hearts on their sleeve in the name of entertainment.
Champagne Cabaret is an adult’s only circus, both sensational and subversive. While it may have showcased all the traditional circus arts, it presented them in ways that you could never expect. While you may expect a juggler, even one so talented as to keep seven balls in the air, you cannot imagine them throwing the balls around in time with Missy Elliot’s “Work It”. While you may expect the trapeze artist to show superhuman strength, you could never expect them to perform in heels (or later surprise us with some of the most flexible floor-work you have ever seen).
Presented on a relatively small stage in Gasworks Arts Park, it would be reasonable to assume that you were not in for a night of death defiance. However, against all common sense and any comprehension of insurance costs, the performers most certainly risked their lives to the gasps and cheers of the crowd. At times they performed their incredible feats of strength and agility while twenty feet in the air - no trick wires, no safety nets, just pure skill and bravado.
Every so often, the breeze would pick up just enough for you to be concerned for the artists, who appeared not even to notice. With dizzying spins and unbelievable balance, each stunt took its individual art to its limit. If someone would like to explain to me how the production could find permission to even try the stunning conclusion to the night, I am all ears.
As I said, however, circus performance requires two very distinct skill sets, which are rarely found in a single person. It is baffling, therefore, to find that for every gasp of amazement from the audience, there was an equally passionate outburst of laughter. It should not be possible that something so physically incredible could also be the funniest performance you could experience all summer.
It should not be possible, but it was.
From contortionist to Cyr wheel performer, every artist was given the opportunity not just to show off their physical ability but also their comedic chops. A standout performance was given by Aurora Kurth, whose improvisation skills put the audience in stitches as they wrangled two audience members onto the stage and made the couple’s night as joyous as it was embarrassing. Of course, some credit should go to the two audience members. Following the lead of Aurora, their absolute willingness to go along provided an added entertainment that even the production team could not plan for.
In the past, I have openly not been a fan of MCs (who generally range from crass to offensive), nor of drag artists (who I now realise could be described the same way), but Valerie Hex has me questioning my views of both. A true addition to the night, rather than a necessary transition-filler, Val will be remembered as much for their sense of humour as they will be for their incredibly outrageous and entirely appropriate clothing choices.
It would be unfair not to try to find something to criticise from the incredible experience that was Champagne Cabaret. Any criticism must be taken as nit-picking at best. My companion was disappointed that the professional stagehand was not also a costumed performer. I was glad for their presence; a clown holding the ropes that kept performers precariously in the air would make the stunts more frightening than I could handle.
Sometimes the speakers would crackle a little outdoors, and the twilight may have been too bright to appreciate some of the performances fully, but it took these acts of god to stop the show from being perfect.
Champagne Cabaret is only on until Friday, and you should hate yourself if you miss it. If I am lucky, I can still get tickets to see it again.