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Review: Matador at the Sydney Opera House Studio

By Jerome Studdy

This show was a perfect example of how exciting physical performance, sex, dance, circus, and music can be on stage, and equally, a perfect example of how quickly that can become tiring, derivative, and predictable.

Bass Fam Creative presented their opening night of ‘Matador – a fiery fusion of burlesque, dance, and circus’ in the well-chosen venue of the Sydney Opera House Studio last night. There was something truly exciting about the atmosphere, and something that felt a bit raunchy about watching it in the Opera House. That aside, the audience were swept up as the first bass dropped and the show burst into sharp commercial dance and energy. Unfortunately, as the bass dropped again, and again, across a string of clichéd dance tracks, the commercial dance became repetitive and lost most of its spark.

Aesthetically, the piece drew upon conventional “Spanish Passion” appeal, with roses, bulls, and castanets. Thematically, the show was tied together with the concepts of love and passion, checking all of the boxes of flirtation, lust, intoxication, domestic violence, heartbreak, and homosexuality. Beyond these aesthetics and themes, the show did little more. It was a shame that the show appeared so powerful and diverse, but under the flipping hair and sequins, there was no original or interesting commentary. Compounding this disappointment was the show’s treatment of homosexual content. The show begins with fierce heteronormativity, which threatens to form the foundation of the entire show. It then, however, provides one of the most touching and incredible aerial performances of both gay and lesbian romance. Cheating the audience once more, this intelligent treatment of content is immediately thwarted by adulterated performances and crass portrayals of sex. The implied lesbian sex scene was baffling in its treatment; being framed almost exclusively for the male gaze, and portrayed with a lack of conviction or proximity.

The flaws in the overall content of the show aside, there was some absolutely phenomenal physical talent on display. The cast all demonstrated a comfortable control of their respective domains, and wore their sweaty sheen as a trophy of their commitment. Technically, the cast were capable, and showed incredible precision in their ability to share a very intimate stage space. Unfortunately, this precision was not always mirrored in the execution of their dancing, with performers often lacking conviction and failing to complete lines or hit beats neatly. The high energy, quick-paced choreography was messy and fun, and shone brighter than the more fluid moments, where a lack of line and ballon left much to be desired.

Character and conviction was served piping-hot by Mario Acosta-Cevallos. He knew what he was selling, and he was making sure everyone bought it. Equally as charming and deserving of praise was Amarah Radford, who never failed to nail her choreography and imbue gallons of cheeky character into a single wink. Aerial performances from Kelly Byrne, Zoë Marshall, Liam Roodhouse, and Tro Griffiths were breathtaking and terrifying. They each displayed a distinct mastery of their respective apparatus as they shifted between poses, drops, and catches with largely flawless ease. Marshall’s hair hang was appropriately shocking, fascinating, and phenomenal. However, it was a shame that the rest of her stage time was spent appearing rather bored.

In personal taste, I am not disapproving of a choreographer being cast in a piece. However, it must be done in good taste, with careful management given to the relative stage time. Unfortunately, this restraint seems to have faltered with Gerard Pigg’s role as choreographer and apparent lead dancer.

The costuming of the show was enjoyable, consistent, strong in its conception and execution, but occasionally impractical. There did come a point in the show where characters would appear onstage and there was no surprise in which items of clothing were going to be removed. One rather irksome feature of the costuming was the use of pointe shoes. The pointe work was limited to bourrees and some entrechats. It begged the question of why they were necessary at all.

Technically, the lighting was well considered and exciting. The necessity for lighting rigs to be immediately adjacent to the aerial winch did cause swinging and collision in the rafters, creating some very frightening moments. The music however, was one of the largest faults of the show. In desperate need of track normalisation and an EQ cut in the hissing ranges above 8kHz, the tracks were clichéd and contrived. O Fortuna and Beauty and the Beast were the ugly jewels in a poorly considered crown.

Ultimately though, the show was enjoyable, and definitely entertaining. It would benefit from a strong edit, removing up to 30% of the content, but it’s definitely not shy! It’s the sort of show that would thrill a hen’s party, or blow the roof off a nightclub. If you’re keen to see something cheeky and brash, head along to the remaining performances of the show. 

Photo Supplied

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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