Absinthe Left - Anastasini Brothers. Cover - Adil

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It’s a hot and sweaty audience that enters the Spiegeltent for the Melbourne debut of the New York cabaret show Absinthe. But little did we know that things were about to heat up even more as the show leapt into controversy as quickly as the performers leapt out of their costumes.

Presented alongside the Australian Open, Absinthe takes the format of a late night cabaret show, with acrobats, dancers and singers evoking the atmosphere of an underground speakeasy. It is a concept that shows like La Clique and The Burlesque Hour have utilised to great success and Absinthe producer Ross Mollison (Puppetry of the Penis, Tap Dogs) has applied the formula to present a showcase of international circus and burlesque performers.

Absinthe aims to titillate, to shock and to thrill audiences and all three of these adjectives were achieved on Monday night, 'though I’m not sure if they were for the right reasons.

The show began benignly enough with singer Melody Sweets consuming the infamous green beverage and inviting us into the hallucinogenic netherworld that Absinthe is renowned for provoking. It was when the master of ceremonies The Gazillionaire and his assistant Penny appeared that the barely established festivities began to unravel.

Though plenty of warnings were given regarding the adult content of the show and no under 18’s allowed, The Gazillionaire let fly with a stream of racist and homophobic abuse that was aimed directly at members of the audience. The diatribe elicited a polite response but was completely out of context and executed without the style or necessary skill that enables a performer to get away with such forceful material. The content, while maybe somewhat acceptable in a truly late night, boozy venue was completely mismatched to a Monday night tennis crowd. The result of The Gazillionaire’s extended ranting ensured that Absinthe got off to an awkward and uncomfortable start.   

This tense atmosphere was soon dissipated by the performers as Japanese dancer Kenichi executed a stunning display of physicality, his incredible articulation evoked a style that was hip hop meets martial arts meets eighties robot.

Local act Anna ‘Pocket Rocket’ Lumb showed off her impressive trapeze skills and Olaf Triebel’s ethereal pole balancing saw him floating through the air as gracefully as a ballerina, all the while performing the most incredible feats of contortion and control. Duo Sergio upped the ante in terms of sex appeal with their strongman acrobatic act and the Anastasini Brothers presented daredevil feats of child juggling that were bound to plant the seeds of curiosity in any parent in the audience.

Clowning, satire and sexuality are at the basis of burlesque, cabaret and vaudeville traditions and New York performance artist Julie Atlas Muz brought some innovation to the so often one trick nature of burlesque with her cheeky and sexy act I put a Spell on You.

It will be interesting to see how much the content of the show alters after the backlash from opening night, but if you are expecting a night of family friendly entertainment after a day of tennis, I’d suggest staying well clear of the Spiegeltent.

Though it was off to a shaky start, there are truly wonderful, gasp out loud moments in Absinthe. It is always a pleasure to watch bodies at the height of their physical prowess executing feats of strength, beauty and agility that most can only dream of.


Absinthe

Venue: Spiegelworld | part of the Australian Open Live Entertainment program
Dates: January 19 - February 1
Bookings: www.australianopen.com or www.ticketek.com.au

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