Metropolis 2040The art of burlesque is most often associated with a kind of old world glamour – voluptuous ladies luxuriating with feather fans and so forth – but Metropolis 2040, the latest burlesque extravaganza to scorch the stage at Red Bennies cabaret bar, turns that on its head.

Named for the 1927 film Metropolis by Fritz Lang, a science fiction classic in which a robot seductress helps oppress the masses of an art deco supercity, the show promises a “peep show into the future”. Expect flirty fembots, sultry cyberwomen and naughty astronauts. This is not a wholesome future where people zip about in flying cars and everyone wears silver jumpsuits; rather it is a world of decay and dehumanisation where the garment of choice is the nipple pastie.

The crowd is warmed up by a black and white film in which oppressed female workers throw off their shackles, as represented by their outer layers of clothing. This is followed by a parade of retro-futuristic dance acts from ladies with handles like La Viola Vixen, Vesper White and Frankie Valentine, interspersed with elaborate noir-esque prose from a man in a black coat called only Jack. Poor Jack has a hard time getting heard over the Friday night Chapel Street crowd, who pause their conversation for no man (a scantily clad woman maybe…) but his interludes describing a nightmare vision of the future are worthwhile, written with a good ear for noir stylings and performed with hardbitten aplomb.

The true standouts of the night though are the circus-style acts. Anna Lumb, channeling the Metropolis robot with gold suit and staccato movements, delivers a virtuosic hula hoop performance, while Lauren Skopalova’s graceful aerial gymnastics are utterly mesmerising. Sparkarella ramps up the raunch factor with what can only be described as erotic pyrotechnics using an angle grinder and a metal crotch plate, while Rosy Rabbit’s aerial performance as a stripping astronaut is a pitch perfect homage to 60s sci fi kitsch.

As you might gather, the connection to Fritz Lang gets pretty tenous pretty quickly but it hardly matters. From its beginning to the triumphant three fembot finale, Metropolis 2040 is a truly unique spectacle.

Being burlesque, it does rely heavily on the attention grabbing properties of the female form, with many acts building toward a time-honoured dramatic climax (SPOILER ALERT – the ladies show their pasties) but there is enough creative imagination at work in this show to set it apart from simple strip tease.

Burlesque is at heart a nostalgic art form and beneath the display of decadence there is an underlying air of regret for all the grand visions of the future that never came to pass and all the dark ones that did. “How did we end up like this?” asks Jack and there is a sense he could be talking about the real 2011, not the fictional 2040. Mind you, lounging in a bar watching dancing fembots, you can’t help but feel that the future is in some ways at least living up to its dreams.

Metropolis 2040

Venue: Red Bennies | 373 Chapel Street, South Yarra, Melbourne
Dates: 2 – 17 September, 2011
Tickets: $20.00 – $25.00

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