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Briefs: Burlesque with Balls

January 10, 2011

Last night I had the great delight of attending Briefs : the “all male, all vaudeville, all trash” performance of circus tricks, boylesque and strutting, currently running at the Opera House Studio. It was rightly the winner  of the Best Circus – 2010 Melbourne Fringe Festival, has played Brisbane and Woodford Folk festivals in 2009 and to sell-out audiences at the Adelaide Fringe and Judith Wright Centre.  Briefs is the collective of MC Fez Faanana, ‘Boylesque Boywonder’ Mark Winmill, Natano Faanana, Davy Sampford, Mali de Groey, Rudi Mineur and lady of the house, Tess Beck.

Briefs takes an awareness of the forms and tropes of ‘traditional’ burlesque and circus and skilfully plays within them.

These boys display great variation in their skills and characters — handsome, weedy, graceful, awkward, ostentatious, butch and through this diversity work with incredible rapport and balance as a troupe. The show is riveting from start to end. With a fantastic soundtrack of Major Lazer, Roisin Murphy, the Motels and more, amazing death-defying skills and fluorescent beaded g-strings, we were whistling and  laughing till the lights went down.

There is all sorts of burlesque out there right now and in my opinion, Briefs represents what is great about this form of performance. As a lover of burlesque and circus, (having attended the former the entirety of my adult life on a regular basis) I am aware of watching all the old tricks, the going through of the motions, my rising boredom and desire to go to the bar as another insecure cliche is trotted out or another perfect, yet sterile trick is ticked off the box. There seems to be an electricity when a performer cuts through that fog, that routine and desperate desire to be approved of and electrifies the audience by performing straight past their expectations, making real contact with their attention.

I really believe that audiences are sophisticated enough to feel this nuance — that not only are these boys nailing every trick that they perilously undertake, they are also doing it with a knowing wink. So if  Mark’s butt is squeezed into a taut bind in the aerial ropes, he flaunts it knowingly. When Davy takes his sweet time as his spinning plates wobble dangerously, his deadpan smirk is in ‘total control.’ When Fez deconstructs his ‘disaster drag’ into a very human skin, we are holding our breath for him. When the cast effortlessly twirl their feather fans in canons to rival seasoned showgirls, they do so in a way that pays tribute with comic variation. They milk each gag to absurd relief, making light of the body, their skills and of various masculinities.  They permit you to notice the things that you are not supposed to take notice of.

Here we see a showgirl take on the Chippendale waiters, the underpants model, the bogan, the gymnast on steroids, the drunken deadbeat and the suburban toreador, each well-developed character presented with a real affection. And the very act of taking a traditionally feminine form (the burlesque show) and transplanting it with male performers immediately begins its semiotic deconstruction.

Most contemporary burlesque performed by women seems to explore an amplified femininity: a femininity as drag, a femininity of heightened drama. Out in the world, femininity is consistently the topic of debate while masculinities seem to have the privilege of passing under the radar in everyday life, rarely turning up for scrutiny.  I believe this parody of masculinity in performance has the power to unhinge the norm, dismantle the hegemony and remove the shades that we cast over normative gender expression. It highlights that which normally passes as the undifferentiated masses.

It casts a glittering follow-spot on the talent and charisma of those who are not beige.

“Briefs” — the all-male revue is running for only a few more days at the Sydney Opera House Studio and if you can get yourself tickets, I would thoroughly recommend it.

Burlesque Assassin – may include bondage.

January 9, 2011

12 September 2009 for unFRINGEd

I had a coffee with the Burlesque Assassin, Nikki Nouveau at Cinque. It’s a public space so I thought that if she whipped out any restricted weapons, at least there would be witnesses.

Nikki quickly put me at ease with her enthusiasm for burlesque and martial arts. Scorned hot babes who don’t take any shit are always hotter with a weapon. Tank Girl. Barbarella. Lucy Liu in Kill Bill. Any of them. Trained by her martial arts-obsessed brother, she got the idea for the burlesque show when watching Bruce Lee whirling his ‘chucks in the film ‘Enter The Dragon.’

A seasoned singer and performer, with 15 years of singing under her belt, Nikki is not content just to slay the audience with her sultry singing but would rather take us through an unnerving trail of vengeance and seduction. Her 50 minute show has been developed with the mentorship of Wendy Dys and the visuals are amped with the aerial talents of Matt Kinsinger, and professional ballerina Simone Smiles. The bittersweet musical score is provided by her regular band, The Knife Waltz, playing a live soundtrack to this unique cabaret.

Not only danger and talent, but Nikki promises me (well, I mean the audience) bondage. That’s right, some bondage.

So a few quick questions:

You are such a multi-faceted artist. In your artistic process, what comes first for you… the music, the visual or the concept?

My ideas flow from a storytelling notion. I really like to develop a character to a deep level… in this case, I’ve tried to find that combination of crazy and sensual.

Have you ever hurt yourself with your nunchucks?

No. Only chipped a nail.

Lucky! Have you ever considered branching out into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles burlesque side project?

Um… no.

Burlesque Assassin opens tonight at the Red Rattler Theatre, Marrickville.

Sat 08.00pm
Sun 09.30pm
Thu 09.30pm

Tickets available at

…And for some Bruce Lee nunchuck genius:

Mortal Engine Review

January 9, 2011

May 2009

Tonight I had the luck to score tickets to Mortal Engine, the acclaimed work by Melbourne’s Chunky Move dance company. Difficult to classify, this piece straddles contemporary dance, physical theatre and new media, as the cast of six dancers weave in and amongst a set defined by projected light design on a pitched stage. These genres found moments of union in the opening sequence when the dancers were haloed alternately by white or black membranes of projected light, connecting in a meiosis of human relation or when they were showered in particles like ashes or insects, exploding in a vacant cosmos or in a mechanical eruption. This point laboured through the darkness and increasing volume as the dancers reacted to the gnawing and deafening soundscape.

The choreography played a background role in this work. Swamped by the frenetic light show, the unison was lost and the sense of motion was muffled, as if under a mass of agar jelly.
To place this piece conversation with other cross-genre contemporary dance companies, it did not use the athleticism of ‘Legs on the Wall’ or the narrative theatre of ‘Compagnie Phillipe Genty’ – in this case, the point of difference was really the lighting design.

Moving from the monochromatic opening half, the second half crashed into a fragmented assault of smoke, green lasers and industrial noise. The closing scene had elements of science fiction and danger and some new conceptual direction.

I finished this piece with smoke in my lungs, a dizzy retinal laser after-burn and the vague feeling that I was sitting in the bleachers of the Hordern Pavillion, talking myself out of a K-hole. I might add, I would not have been surprised to see an ACON drug rover wander across the back of the stage in a pink safety vest to shoo us out of the auditorium when the show was over.

Mortal Engine: Sydney Theatre Walsh Bay, Till the 15th May.

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