Friday, February 15, 2019

Finucane and Smith’s Dance Hall

Canberra Theatre Centre

Season closed
Reviewed by Samara Purnell

Liquor. Passion. Unrealistic expectations.

Paul Cordeiro, photo by Greer Versteeg

These are the essential ingredients of “Art”. At least that’s the recipe we’re using for tonight’s show. After entering the inner sanctum of the Playhouse via a backdoor and red carpet, Moira Finucane, the dramatic and mesmerising host of “Finucane and Smith’s Dance Hall” reminded us that these three things would be experienced throughout the show. A bit more liquor might have helped the audience to jump straight in, as the expectation to sing along and join in dance moves was almost immediate.

Finucane is a stalwart of immersive and variety theatre. As well as hosting the show, she used American-diner inspiration to build the drama of an encounter with a meat pie – the meat-burn something most Aussies will relate to, although Finucane’s was perhaps more climactic. She regaled the audience with dramatic, “true” stories using words given her by audience and indulged in some mind-screwing gender antics. Her talent, experience and confidence were clearly on display and that was before the sheer, black dress with black headpiece. Despite her flippant remarks about her lack of underwear, the striking outfit would have looked at home at a Hollywood gala.

The reverse strip from local performer Virginia Fizz was mesmerising, in no small part due to her startlingly beautiful eyes and intense gaze. The routine was melancholy and whilst choreographically understated, her necklace and mask props were beautiful and demonstrated that pants are optional for downing cocktails, when accessorised to the nines.
Performer Yumi Umiumare was in equal parts fascinating and frightening with her Butoh-inspired acts and transitions from the precision of a Japanese Tea Ceremony to a dog-collared stripper, from martial arts in traditional Japanese costume, to her almost naked body covered in calligraphy, reminiscent of “The Pillow Book”. The macabre “beauty in the breakdown” to Frou Frou’s “Let Go” was unsettling and without knowledge of the performer’s background or this style of movement, may well have appeared a confusing act to include.

Another puzzling inclusion was “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by singer Willow Sizer. Sizer performed “Hotel California” in suitably quirky attire and had the audience joining in for other numbers. She had an interesting voice that deserved to be enjoyed, but there was an element in her delivery that did not instil the confidence an audience requires to completely relax into a performance.

There was no scope for error in Rockie Stone’s aerial rope act, performed almost directly above the audience and, almost unrecognisable in dark wig and “dorky demeanour”, she delivered a disconcerting act involving a relationship with a winecork that would rival most.

Esteemed burlesque dancer Imogen Kelly’s perky flamingos and impressive feathers were great fun to watch. Her routines were clever, perfectly performed and humorous, her deranged Marie Antoinette demanding that there be “poetry before p*ssy”. Her costumes were gorgeously dramatic and utilized in many different ways.

Imogen Kelly, photo by Greer Versteeg

In between “hijacking myriad art forms” as this show purports to do, were energetic dance breaks, performed by salsa dancer Paul Cordeiro (joined by the cast) to get the audience moving in their chairs and to dazzle them with silver sequins or the occasional flying accessory.

Whilst this reviewer didn’t totally love having a foot in the lap and a sweaty costume rubbed vigorously on a dry-clean only lace dress, during one of the acts, most people probably won’t mind the spattering of various liquids that make their way into the show. As it turns out, this specific production was much less dramatic than previous shows, where the audience has required plastic attire…

“Dance Hall” had a great soundtrack and used songs from Garbage, The Divinyls, Antony, the Eagles and Tina Turner to name a few.

The production was part of the ETCETERA programme presented by the Canberra Theatre Centre and staging the show in a curtained-off area on the stage of the Playhouse no doubt gave the audience a novel and interesting experience and suited the size and scale of this production very well.

Some of the acts are more conceptual than choreographically complex: All require flare, timing and confidence to pull them off, which they did. Which ticks off the passion and expectations – unrealistic or otherwise. And then there’s the liquor…hang onto your glasses!