Left – Anni Davey. Cover – Gabi Barton. Photos – Ponch Hawkes
The smoke machine is working overtime as people take their places in the cabaret style seating at fortyfivedownstairs. Multiple stages dot the room. One is curtained with Venetian blinds, making it resemble a set from a film noir, another with glittery silver streamers, giving a kind of low budget sci fi effect.
It is a fitting clash of aesthetics for a show called Retro Futurismus. It is the brain child of sisters Maude Davey (The Burlesque Hour) and Anni Davey (Circus Oz). Maude Davey officially retired her burlesque career last year with retrospective show My Life In The Nude and this show is billed as “post burlesque”. The structure and aesthetic of the show is similar to a burlesque cabaret but don’t expect any flirtatious fluttering of feather fans.
Retro Futurismus presents an anarchic mash-up of imagery from dancing robots and forlorn astronauts, to soulful songstresses and gasping screen sirens. It is by turns hilarious, provocative and melancholy and more often that not wildly outlandish.
Gabi Barton (The Town Bikes) creates joyfully bizarre physical spectacles, rolling out in a plastic bubble or puppeteering a silver ventilation duct from within to make it perform an eerily beautiful dance. Teresa Blake’s strongwoman acts are in contrast more jarring bursts of weirdness, striking balletic poses while showering herself with sparks from an angle grinder or parading in a brick bikini.
Other acts dig at your emotions, such as Anna Lumb’s strange and powerful response to Lana Del Rey’s Young And Beautiful, in whichshe strips herself of beauty while tottering on the uncertain footing of a rotating pedestal, or songs by Stella Angelico, whose voice cuts to the heart on every note. Maude Davey’s rendition of Antony and the Johnsons’ Other World is mournful and divine.
A particular highlight is the performance by Leah Shelton, from Brisbane based dance troup Polytoxic, who performs as an exaggerated movie heroine, lip syncing to classic death scenes from the cinema, only to be reborn and made to die again. She is like a screen siren version of the Eternal Hero, except the Eternal Victim. While it is hilarious to watch, it is also a powerful statement on the representation of women in film.
While Retro Futurismus is frequently playful, there is a real sense of anger underlying the show. In drawing inspiration from retro images of the future, the show is mourning a loss: the loss of optimism about the future, the loss of the brighter future we might be living in were it not for backward thinking and the weary repitition of ancient societal vices such as greed and sexism. There is a strong theme of isolation – being stranded in space, confined in a bubble, caught in a loop. “No man is an island,” sings Angelico, “but every woman feels like one.” It is like a postcard from a dystopia, except the dystopia is here and now.
For all the strange and dark spaces it takes you to Retro Futurismus still manages to leave you on a high, largely due to how much joy the performers are taking in their work. Seeing the rapport with which the Davey sisters perform together is a particular delight. The cast rotates week by week, so while you will miss out on Shelton and Angelico, you may catch singers like Joseph Chetty (The Sovereign Wife) or Simone Page Jones or dancers like Benjamin Hancock (Chunky Move) or booty dance duo Glitter and Snatch. Doubtless it will still be a gloriously bizarre and provocative experience.
Maude Davey, Anni Davey, Anna Lumb & Gabi Barton
Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: 10 – 28 June 2015
Tickets: $38 – $30
Bookings: 03 9662 9966 | www.fortyfivedownstairs.com