Salõn tips its fascinator to soirees of a bygone era, wherein powerful hosts welcomed underground artists into their own parlours. The show is choreographer Timothy Brown’s brainchild, developed in collaboration with its cast with the support of the Judith Wright Centre’s Fresh Ground artistic residency. (Read my recent interview with Brown to find out more.)
In terms of aesthetic, Salõn approaches the sublime. The Judy performance space has undergone several striking transformations of late, and this is one of them. Cabaret seating hugs a series of stages stretched over the space. Andrew Meadow’s lighting design evokes a boudoir decked out in indigo and red silks and velvets. Surreal costumes form the basis for haunting tableaux. In short, Salõn looks pretty damn good.
Michelle Xen and the Neon Wild, as “The Oracle”, provide the soundtrack, but there’s no orchestra pit here; the band is very much a star in its own right. Xen’s neon-electric costume changes alone could almost constitute an entire show.
As for the rest of the cast, Iona Marques ( “Alice”), a dancer trained in Rio de Janeiro, seems to be made of something more malleable than mere human muscle. She’s a charmer as she wanders between our tables; once on stage, she’s something else entirely. Das Unheimlich persists: mesmerising Anthony Trojman (“the Peacock”), perched above The Neon Wild, looks rather like the son of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Nerida Matthaei, an accomplished dancer and choreographer who has just won a place on the 2013 Australian Korean International Exchange Program, seems uncomfortable in her role as ringmistress “Jean”. Even enthroned atop her “Things” (David Trappes and Alex Weckes-Hucks), Matthaei lacks the confidence to pull off her one-liners with the panache required to elevate them above the level of cheese. Elizabeth Whelan demonstrates the redundancy of dialogue as the silent “Marchesa”, omniscient host and patron, though her talents as a dancer are sadly under-utilised.
Bridging the divide between circus and dance, Travis Scott (“the Serpent”) ensures we’re awake with a suitably sinuous swinging pole routine. Trappes and Weckes-Huck’s acrobalance and juggling provide just the right relief to lighten the moody epicurean atmosphere.
While the links between acts are tenuous and the pacing occasionally lags, Salõn has a thematic cohesion that helps it to transcend an average variety night. Brown draws on elements of Weimar-era cabaret to create a sense of decaying decadence. His choreography is as slick as his Serpent’s scales. The audience is left with a dreamy impression of colour and movement, light and neon sound.
SALÕN runs at the Judith Wright Centre for only two more nights, till 29 June, 2013.