Article | Interview | Laura Money
If you are a regular participant in Perth’s annual FRINGEWORLD celebrations, you’re probably familiar with the St George’s Cathedral precinct. Last year (2017) saw the full activation of the area, including use of the Burt Memorial Hall and speigeltent placed in Cathedral Square. Its program included twenty-six shows of dance, physical theatre, cabaret, comedy, and theatre – culminating in the ultimate expression of the festival, the third annual Cathedral Cabaret.
Under the leadership of the remarkable artistic director of St George’s Dance and Theatre, Jay Emmanuel, FRINGEWORLD 2018’s program is pared back into a sophisticated expression of dance, music, and movement. It’s a celebration of powerful women, of hope, love and joy.
This year, I took only four shows. And I considered them all very carefully…with such simplicity comes great responsibility.
They all needed to fit in with the aesthetic of St George’s Cathedral. The body is the temple of the soul, and the Cathedral becomes a metaphor for the artistic soul of the festival…
Since 2016, Emmanuel’s eye for simple, beautiful stories that champion women have coloured the programming of St George’s Dance and Theatre. One only has to recollect on Biryani and Maa to see a cohesive theme running throughout. With such a large program in 2017, this thread got a little tangled, but Emmanuel has untied the knots and simplified his program to celebrate the simplicity of story.
Returning to the program was Exposing Edith, a show Emmanuel first saw in Adelaide that reduced him to tears. “Michaela Burger is singing, she’s telling stories but essentially, she’s being Edith Piaf and Michaela herself. She takes care of the audience, and nurtures them.” It’s a magical show, and the Cathedral itself is, too. Moving from the Burt Hall to the Cathedral proper, Exposing Edith is about bringing two magical things together to create a beautiful show. Burger’s emulation of Piaf lends itself to the new setting perfectly, as Piaf was such a diminutive woman, yet could create a sound that was both all-encompassing and intimate.
Emmanuel tells me that it was always Piaf’s dream to sing in a cathedral. After a miraculous visit from a saint in her youth that allegedly restored her eyesight, Piaf vowed that she would sing in a cathedral to give thanks. Unfortunately, this dream would never eventuate as Piaf had been raised in a brothel. In a moment of pure serendipity “We allow her that dream.”
Syncope is another first for the cathedral. Presented by the wonderful Western Australian company, Kinetica – Emmanuel wanted to show everyone how talented we are here in the West. It’s a work that is tailor made for the cathedral – and marks the first time ever – in 150 years – that circus has been performed inside St George’s Cathedral. Its sweeping arches and vast height activates the space in a way it never has before.
The performers can really spread out and feel free to be big…
Every aspect of the show’s aesthetic has been carefully rendered, from colour-matching the bricks, to the make-up and costumes reflecting the marble statues.
Syncope is the medical term for ‘fainting’ and the show explores the different changes your body goes through when you faint and then recover. Rebecca McMahon of Kinetica explains that
we really wanted to be in a theatrical environment. In Syncope we explore the extreme things you can do with the human body. It’s a simple aesthetic, and part of the inspiration of the show was the type of sensations people feel when they are overcome by fainting. It’s all of the experiences of the performers that come together to create the show.
As the audience look up at the performers, dancing and moving elegantly in the air, their eyes are aligned with the beautiful stained-glass windows of the cathedral. It’s a truly magnificent look. Everything, including the soundscape and the simplicity of the show enhances the experience and combines with the architecture to create a truly memorable moment.
A lot of art is deeply aligned in spirituality, and Emmanuel is only too happy to bring that connection back. As a venue and through his program, he wishes to start that conversation.
We need to start seeing spirituality through the lens of art.
For a more intimate show, Sofia Pratt – winner of FRINGEWORLD 2017’s Best Dance & Physical Theatre award brings a flamenco show Tableau/Tablao to the Lower Burt Hall – yet another first for the cathedral. Emmanuel considers Pratt to be a stunning dancer – “I saw her last year, and the command she had over the technical work, is something you usually only see in Spain, so it was remarkable to see it here in WA.”
Pratt got into Flamenco kind of by accident! She had been a ballet dancer but retired after school, where she was guided by her sister to ‘give this Spanish dancing thing a go’ and she has never looked back.
I felt with Flamenco there was a passion and a freedom that wasn’t there in ballet. It’s a very personal art form – you can bring who you are to it. It does require a lot of discipline, because it’s percussive – so you’re not just a dancer, you’re a musician at the same time. You really need to respect the rhythm.
Pratt informs me that Flamenco has roots in family – the mother in the kitchen, the father singing and the children dancing. It travelled through Spain and across Europe, but also expanded through Asia and has Indian influences.
Tablaeu/Tablao is about Pratt’s own journey to and relationship with Flamenco as an Australian woman. One of her students is in the show, and she represents the ‘elusive ideal of Flamenco.’ It’s a personal project. She pays homage to her French childhood and Australian identity.
Choosing Tableau/Tablao provides the cathedral with a rare opportunity to see as Emmanuel puts it: “strong women displaying the talent of Western Australia.” Contemporary Flamenco still incorporates traditional elements of the art form but it’s starting to move outside the lines. This will be a rare opportunity to see the very best of contemporary Flamenco outside of its native Spain, by someone who has been trained by the masters.
Finally, Emmanuel is very pleased to return Cathedral Cabaret from three sold out seasons! This year, he’s hedging his bets and running the show for two nights. Each of the lucky six acts are plucked out of their respective FRINGEWORLD 2018 shows by Emmanuel himself, who is only too happy to play talent scout. He essentially invites people whose acts are different, or speak to him, but mostly he chooses acts that align with the wider values of the St George’s Dance and Theatre program.
This year’s theme – celebration and magic!
Whenever I choose an act, it’s about attraction. I love my audiences and always think about what would be a treat for them. When I go and see a show it’s about falling in love. I go in with an open heart. If I see something I think can be developed, then I go and have a chat.
Cabaret and political comedy isn’t the first genre that springs to mind when one thinks of the cathedral, yet Emmanuel assures me it can be the perfect setting. “Parody and comedy is the best way to unpack the issues of the world. What better way to do that, than cabaret?”
Interestingly enough, Emmanuel sometimes waits until the eleventh hour to decide his line-up. He just announced the MC for the show, two days ago, the hilarious Dr Ahmed of Cabaret Consultations a show about the funny side of being a doctor. The show is going to be out of this world and I urge you to get a ticket ASAP, because if the last few years are anything to judge by, this is going to sell out.
Jay Emmanuel’s embracing programming of St George’s Dance and Theatre is wonderfully diverse.
“It doesn’t matter what type of art you do, we are open to all sorts of art forms and ways to express emotions.”
You can purchase your tickets for CATHEDRAL CABARET here: https://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/cathedral-cabaret-fw2018
And get your tickets for TABLEAU/TABLAO here: https://fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/tableau-tablao-fw2018
See our 5 STAR review of SYNCOPE here: https://fourthwallmedia.wordpress.com/2018/02/02/fringeworld-2018-syncope-5-stars/