Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Finucane & Smith's Glory Box

From Left, clockwise. Cast of Glory Box - Holly Durant, Anna Lumb
Moira Finucane and Maude Davey.

Theatre making duo Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith developed The Burlesque Hour years ago and now it's almost a yearly event in Melbourne with month long seasons at fortyfivedownstairs. Recently it's been touring regionally in the form of the Caravan Burlesque.

Finucane has performed her unique brand of gothic/gender-bending/sexy/food-infused acts for well over a decade, way before the burlesque resurgence that has gripped Melbourne of late. She's more trend-setter than trendy and has a wide and varied fan base (especially here in her hometown.) It's not surprising that The Burlesque Hour, even with two shows a night, packs out it houses. 

Burlesque, as a genre, is so pervasive now that it can really mean anything and the market, so to speak, is flooded with mediocre and not particularly smart work. Finucane & Smith, with the help of their collaborating artists, transcend the average by far. They create performances that have all the sexiness and verve of high-quality burlesque and then take them to the next level theatrically. 

They're successful for many reasons including their maturity and experience as practitioners, their inclusion of intriguing and multi-dimensional artists into their fold and the trained directorial eye of SmithFinucane often works with text or collaborates with writers (in this current show Christos Tsiolkas) and is interested in fully integrated dramatic pieces, which will not always totally successful, are appealing for their high camp costuming, eerie physicality and wacky twists. 

This new Burlesque Hour incarnation is called Glory Box, which is described as Burlesque Hour meets Pandora's Box, opening the way to play with ideas of original sin, temptation, human vulnerability and desire. The themes thread the new acts and give cohesion to the whole show. 

Finucane opens with Apple. She wears a white PVC bikini with sparkly green leaves over her female bits and thrashes manically while displaying a crisp green apple. The music stops every so often so she can tell us why she should eat the apple rather than share it with the audience and at each interlude she chomps and desicates the fruit further until it's just a bit of spit-out pulp on the floor. In the context of the show, it's a fitting opening - temptation, lust, greed....and it was an apple after all that set Adam and Eve on their journey out of innocence. 

Not all the acts work so closely with the theme, but of the ones that do, the most powerful is Maude Dauvey's rendition of the PortisHead song Glory Box in which she's nude but for antler ears, her skin painted a dusty white. She's vulnerable, yet sexy, soft but fighting. Davey's is a normal female body - not young, not old, not surgically enhanced. It is what it is and its out there in all its beauty and flaws. 

The most ambitious act is written by Tsiolkas and involves all five of the regular artists, which makes a good visual break from the  solo format. In long black dresses with plunging neck lines, holding apples in black-gloved hands, it starts as a rendition of Madonna's Like a Prayer and turns into an erotic dialogue between Finucane and Davey while the other three keep time as swaying back up singers. It's experimenting with a lot ideas at once and being text heavy, hard to absorb in one go.  

Ursula Martinez in Hanky Panky. Photo by
Prudence Upton. 
For me, the highlight acts came from Ursula Martinez and Anna Lumb. Martinez has performed in Melbourne before. I first saw her in the inaugural Melbourne season of La Clique doing one of the same acts, Hanky Panky, that she does here and it still feels totally fresh and surprising.  She's one of those flawless performers, so good at what she does - everything is tight and clean without a wasted or over-done moment. I won't say more as that would ruin the fun.

Anna " Pocket Rocket" Lumb is a NICA grad who has built a stellar career in a short time. She's made two full length shows for herself and seems to be performing everywhere. Both her acts are spot on. A hula-hooping routine, set to the Beach Boy's I Get Around cleverly slows down and speeds up in both music and hooping tempo. Fantastic! Her blue-suited trapeze act to David Bowie's Rock 'n' Roll Suicide works on a conceptual level while still being a sharp aerial display (in stilettos in a tight space, very close to audience heads, none the less...)

Holly Durant in Salome. Photo by Paul Dunn.
Harriet Ritchie and Holly Durant are both VCA School of Dance graduates. Ritchie is an in-demand contemporary dancer who works frequently with Lucy Guerin and Chunky Move, among others. As a duo act they have been with the Finucane & Smith brigade for a while, developing funky, poppy dance routines. Here they venture into solos. Durant's veiled Salome routine to Donna Summer's I Feel Love has developed from last year. Just like the music, it builds and sustains a heightened sensuality. Visually, Durant's slow body undulations and gradual journey down the catwalk match the extensive green billows of sheer fabric that envelope her. Ritchie's new routine, Wolf, to Jimi Hendrix's Foxy Lady is performed in a back-exposing fur outfit. It's all thrashy head and body rolls and quick darts through the space. It needs a bit of tweaking dynamically to balance the thrash with some other textures. 

Along with Martinez, global cabaret diva Meow Meow is the other guest artist. She channels German cabaret with a twist, abusive to her audience and self-deluded about her own beauty. She's such a good performer, with such a great voice (accompanied by John Thorn on piano), that, like Martinez, she can pull anything off. Again, don't want to spoil, but she has a great take on the Glory Box theme. 

The overall mix here is stronger than what we have seen in recent years. The whole thing feels fresh and dynamic. Each act is distinct, while still managing to thematically cohese as a show and the addition of some older, tried and true acts works a treat. 

As usual, not for the faint-hearted or those who aren't into confronting female nudity. But if you like burlesque out of the box, get ye to the fantastic Glory Box.

Click here for my review of Glory Box in the Herald Sun on 11 June 2012. 

Finucane & Smith's Glory Box
09 June - 01 July 2012

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