You might recognise the name Emma Dean. Hailing from Brisbane, this lady's been around the block: from performing in the Kate Miller-Heidke Band in the early 2000s to supporting major musical acts such as The Dresden Dolls and Teddy Geiger. To those a little more familiar with the decadent side of cabaret, Emma's a known performer with Zen Zen Zo's Cabaret. She works with musical collaborator and also highly respected cabaret performer Jake Diefenbach as Geppetto, and the two of them are currently playing together in An End to Dreaming.
Described as a 'pop-cabaret-fairytale', there's little saccharine here. Housed in Chapel off Chapel's Loft, the black box theatre is empty of extraneous prop or imagery save grand piano and keyboard. The chatter dies when Diefenbach and Dean enter, cloaked like figures out of Red Riding Hood, and in darkness.
The story is a minimalistic mishmash of a dozen familiar fables. Starkly different from the breezy humour of other cabaret performances, Geppetto's piece is a fragmented representation of a journey into innocence lost, wounds suffered and the path back in a harsh society. Dean and Diefenbach take the metaphor of a fairytale unapologetically: they provide snappy narrative of their two characters heading down a winding journey, battling their inner demons, doubts and disparaging remarks from others, and moving on with the scars they have gained. However, it's not the narrative that matters – it's the universal ideas expressed. Geppetto convey a deep insight of what it is to be imperfectly human. While the haunting sounds are the night's highlight, Dean and Diefenbach don't fail to deliver physically as well. They move with a clear precision and unnatural stillness that is so at odds with their off-stage personas.
While the morals of the story are important to all who have found themselves beaten down, it is undeniable that it is the music that truly shines in this performance. The two are unrelenting forces of genius, working seamlessly together in a tour de force of instruments. Piano, keyboard, violin: there seems to be very little they are incapable of mastering. The tunes they play start off simple: the kind of gentle rumbling, easy up and down on the scales that unfolds into a sweeping sound scape that defies proper description. A discordant note here and there turns what could be a peaceable song on it's head, unfolding a whole new layer of loathing or love that wasn't there moments before. There's no break, no pause: the duo are in utter command of their music and they know it. The occasional use of synths and more uncanny instruments, broken, screeching chords, allow their music to transcend the kind of easy poppiness that's still infectious in their tunes and transform it into the kind of music Tim Burton would love to get his hands on.
Diefenbach is endlessly talented upon the piano: an encore performance only demonstrates his prowess. Each time he executes a solo, the acoustics of the room only enhance the dark-infused music's capability to break hearts. His uncannily androgynous voice blends easily into Dean's precisely performed choruses wherein the two bounce off one another. And it's clear why Dean has met with such great success in the past. Her voice is endlessly powerful. There's no doubting that no matter what riffs or loops she puts it through, it will meet the mark and bypass it. Be it soaring and swooping into unnatural heights, echoing in frighteningly beautiful harmony to Diefenbach's, or gutturally ripping through the lower notes, Dean possesses complete control of her instrument. Dark and seductive, it will be difficult not to compare future performers against her.
The kind of bouncing chords and unusual riffs and instruments that might be found in a circus punctuate their work. A transition into slower music, softer dynamics reveals a whole new side to both character and the stark and intelligent lyrics penned. Great maturity oozes from the tongue-in-cheek, poetically brilliant songs. A particular note must be made of Won This Game Before: it holds the kind of sweet, melancholy hope for a new day, the inspiring and fast-paced chords that resonate with the piece's message of moving forward.
It's the song you half know from memory – a child's tune. It's a rich tapestry of discordant chords and darkly intelligent lyrics. It's Geppetto, and there's no denying that these two will go far and deserve many a re-watch. Keep an eye on them.
Geppetto (Emma Dean and Jake Diefenbach) present
AN END TO DREAMING
Venue: Chapel Off Chapel
Dates: 13– 14 July, 2012
Tickets: $33 - $30
Bookings: 03 8290 7000