Thursday, 7 August 2014

Does this matter in 2014?

After ten years of revival, has Cabaret finally gained critical legitimacy?
PUBLISHED in the shimmy 06 AUGUST 2010
Coming from a circus and New York City Live Art aesthetic, The Wau Wau Sisters are tired of the burlesque tag. "Originally, a burlesque was a three act play, satirical and political," they say. "Now, it just means women taking their clothes off."
The cabaret revival is now in its fifth year - tenth according to the sisters, from an American perspective. Crippled by a lack of critical respect, and sometimes appearing to be self-supportive community rather than a challenging art form, most critique consists of bland statements and lazy truisms.
The Wau Wau Sisters, inspired by Obama but grappling with the reality if slow change, have added the Last Supper as a theme for their Assembly show as a dynamic theme alongside their mixture of rigour and mayhem.
"The train wreck is our friend," they insist as they prepare to provoke the tasteful tassel-twirlers who dominate UK burlesque.
Ahead of Sarah Louise Young's plot to give cabaret its own section in the Fringe brochure, an explosion of shows are claiming its influence, and the definition of cabaret becomes complicated. Whether it is Luluat the Zoo, with a cabaret band and a defined period drama, the variety assault of the Bongo Club, the polished finesse of Blonde Ambition’s Ghillie Dhu take-over or the twisted irony of flame songstress Camille O’Sullivan, cabaret has become a buzzword.
It can be a by-word for sloppy technique and feel-good exhibitionism, historical revisionism, a genuine interest in relating the past to the present, a variety show format, anything involving nudity, knowing satire or talented artists reworking traditional vaudeville. British, American and European strands combine and fuse: sometimes it is fundamentally sexy or saucy, other times it is funny or spectacular. The original burlesque revival, as pioneered in Scotland by The Academy of Burlesque and Cabaret, has divided into a rump of night best described as “community orientated” and a powerful professional cadre of excellence.
The producer is increasingly vital: a good cabaret is often defined by intelligent programming and not a wishful evocation of atmosphere through vintage clothes and corsets. Blonde Ambition and Itsy’s Collective prove how a strong editorial vision coalesces into a bracing evening. The battle between cabaret as a token influence and a distinctive genre will be fought across this year’s Fringe.

The best cabaret merges diverse traditions to expose social, political or personal ideology through technical skill, satire, sexiness and slapstick. The worst panders to audiences, repeats a limited movement vocabulary in different costumes and stereotypes, excusing lack of imagination with a vague rubric of self-empowerment.
The variety format contains both: only visionary production and a skilled compere can resolve the tension. Blonde Ambition thrilled the Voodoo Rooms last Fringe with Ministry of Burlesque’s High Tease: this year, their Vive Le Cabaret is the Pleasance’s flag-ship, promising a rich lineup. Held together by Des O’Connor’s musical theatre showmanship, and plucking a cast from the best of the Fringe, they cater to the high end of the market.
Kitty Cointreau’s Brahaha is a comedy-vaudeville hybrid. It collates both classic acts and new blood, and is the first Zoo venue variety show. Against this youngster, The Bongo Club Cabaret, designed by Glasgow’s Rhymes With Purple, is the godfather, guaranteeing a rotation of top notch acts. 
For a tougher edge, try the Free Fringe’s Kabarett at the Voodoo Rooms. Amanda Palmer is a former guest, while Itsy’s Collective promise a new format and an opening show that includes the Tiger Lilies
These shows all share rotating casts: not about scenes or individual artists, they depend on overall atmosphere and creative booking. They also offer great value, as performers sell their own shows through a rapid-fire guest slot. 

The other cabaret strand consists of performers who come from a theatre, dance or comedy background, but take up cabaret as a motif. Bryony Kimmings was slipping between genres, before deciding that although “the word was laden with almost negative expectations, in its purest sense it fits for me.” DespiteSex Idiot being a one-woman show, and leaping across Live Art and comedy boundaries, the combination of styles suggested cabaret.
This adoption of cabaret as a definition is more explicitly stated by Company Chordelia. Best known for radical dance, they follow the footsteps of The Featherstonehaughs and Cholmondeleys with a cabaret inspired performance. From the other direction, the ubiquitous Des O’Connor teams with Sarah Louise Young and Mr B to forge a show from their vaudeville stylings.
O’Connor was involved in The Mating Ritual, one of the strongest shows to merge narrative and variety: adding a company feel, and linking each routine, as echoed in more theatrical offerings like Dramaten’s Freakshow. But even a solo show- like A Picture of Dusty Limits - can unite material towards a common end, while drawing on the cabaret tradition.
Quite often, the word cabaret just means that the company fancy hitting a zeitgeist, or have incorporated different techniques into their script. A desperate attempt at the fag-end of last year saw a random burlesque shoved into a mediocre play, while this year, Tales From A Cabaret sees The Creative Martyrs reveal a mastery of both physical theatre and twisted vaudeville. And, of course, The Wau Wau sisters will be exploring the territory between laughter and terror, for audience and performers. 

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