The PM’s sorry speech was one of the ‘man on the moon’ moments of my lifetime; an uplifting, theatrical start to what otherwise promised to be an ordinary day. Cabaret Decadanse was the perfect bookend. While the last didn’t quite get the ovation so very worthy of the first, it, too, deserved it: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it!’, proclaimed a woman behind me. Nor have I.
Serge Des Lauriers, Raynald Michaud and Énock Turcotte are the brains, arms and legs behind Cabaret Decadanse; with a little, or lot of help, from Andre-Anne Le Blanc, who so thoroughly inhabits the character she portrays with little, or nothing, more than a mask.
First and, probably, foremost, they were, and presumably remain, friends. As well, they are ‘professional puppeteers’. But that dry descriptor is laughably inadequate, in light of the anthropomorphic animation this trio bring to feathers, felt, papier mache, or like media. Melding backgrounds in disciplines as diverse as fashion, the visual arts, directing and dance, they’re collective genius and artistry has taken the world of dummies by storm. Their trial by fire was Montreal’s Juste Pour Rire (Just For Laughs), one of the most toughly competitive comedy festivals on this more than slightly imperfect sphere. The jaws, apparently, were not only exercised, but hit the floor: their original season of 8 shows was extended to 44! Better yet, they went on to take out the Audience Grand Prix. The creators were probably the very last people who could’ve imagined globetrotting with their coterie of characters, but that’s precisely what they’ve done since leaving Canada, but a few months after their triumphant beginning, for Singapore. At least 330 shows, in 10 or more nations, have ensued, yet it, let alone they, shows no signs of flagging whatsoever. Constant evolution would seem to be the key, translating in ever more refinement.
Ironically, it’s the meticulous discipline of the puppeteers that lends their characters such abandon.
It’s practically impossible to play favourites, but Conrad, the ‘been there, done that’ French transvestite, with his florid, flamenco style is hard to surpass; his every move an exercise in artifice, cynicism and disdain (art, imitating life, imitating art?!), best expressed in his signature line, ‘without all this paint on my face, I’d be just like you: beige!’ Conrad is the consummate high-camp ‘lady’, fleshing out the shadows in a faded Weimar cabaret room. ‘Life is a bore’ is written all over his severely angular face.
Lorraine, ‘La Diva’, the ‘old pro’ herself, has the kind of pneumatic, primal, in-your-face Eartha Kitty-Catwoman sexuality even her human counterparts would have trouble kindling; as one luckless audience member discovered, to his embarrassment (which was the puppet?!). Or was that Mauve, the heavily-lidded ingénue seductress, who would seem to have superhuman balletic gifts, since, quite apart from her choreographic comfort, she flies through the air with greatest of ease. And, after all, why shouldn’t she: she’s a free-spirited puppet! Indeed, her starship would seem to be ascending and who are we to judge if that should be, at least in part, via the casting couch?
A bio-check of Kiko reveals he was discovered when an exotic dancer in the Phillipines (no surprise, given his athletic moves around a bentwood chair), rising to the occasion of 1990’s Latin lover of the year. Like Ray Charles, a more-or-less self-confessed ladies’ man, he also shares a gift for blues and soul.
Flighty, fine-feathered Jazz and Java are the kind of ‘loose lips sink ships’ pathological ‘prattle-tails’ that so haunt the lower north shore and art gallery functions: I’m quite sure you’ll have no trouble recognizing them. Jailbird Chica is dangerous in a whole other way; in fact, given our persistent ‘the government knows what’s good for you’ cultural climate, she should come with some sort of explicit sex scenes warning!
But what of Siba, little more, perhaps somewhat less, than a sock, with soul, who steals his ragged way into our hearts? And how can one leave till last she who is certainly not least, the Franco-Spanish mistress of ceremonies, Amfitriona?
All owe thanks not only to their black-clad and highly-visible masters, but their musical director, who has chosen songs which prove superlative vehicles for their respective talents. The interaction between puppets and masters lends another bold dimension: at last we see behind the curtain; a decision that is more than brave, providing another layer of entertainment.
The puppets of CD are more enchanting, vital and alive than, probably, most people who vote, or drive.
Next year will be the 10th anniversary of SOMA’s foundation (SOMA being the body, if you will, behind the cabaret). I can’t imagine their enthusiasm, or ours, waning for at least another 90 years.
There are many things you should see and do before you die. This is one of them.
Venue: The Studio | Sydney Opera House
Dates/Times: 12 – 16 & 19 – 23 February @ 7.15pm. EXTRA SHOW - 9.30pm on Saturday, February 23
Tickets: From $20 to $49 or $20 to $39 concession
Bookings: 9250 7777 or www.sydneyoperahouse.com/thestudio