The talents on display in Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett recall the heyday of Victorian freak shows and carnival sideshows, but with a slight twist in which the gawking audience imparts a kind of power to the performer as they writhe, twist, and spin on stage. As the Ring Mistress, Bernie encourages a dissolution of barriers between the weirdness on show and that hidden in the audience for a rompy, rowdy night of sensual debauchery.
Visiting Sydney from Germany, Bernie Dieter and the Club Kabarett met the Victorian circus tent aesthetic of the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent with the underground punk scene of Berlin. Costume designer Kraken & Edgely mixed feathers, sequins, and leather for an edgy and cool gloss atop the unusual talents of the performers that ranged from aerial acrobatics to sword-swallowing. Then, under the bright and pop-y lighting design, the band added another layer of grunge with a selection of rock covers and original songs by Bernie, including a polka drinking song as homage to her Oma.
Bernie opened the show with some crowd-work to get everyone in the mood for intimacy before introducing her collection of talented co-stars. To ease the audience into the evening’s theme of oddity, Jack Dawson began with a flirty contortionist routine full of unbelievable backbends and splits. Later, both Dawson and the second half of the Cirque de Soleil pair Reed Kelly performed aerial acrobatics on a trapeze and a hanging hoop. These tricks, with their combination of flexibility and balance, were particularly impressive as Kelly performed balanced upside-down on the trapeze in a bit of a corporeal optical illusion and Dawson spun unbelievably over the crowd.
Behind each of the acts, Bernie used her powerful vocals as supporting music, except in the drag king-turned-burlesque routine of Sugar Du Joure. Clad like a fancy cowboy in sleek black to match her mini moustache, Sugar Du Joure began with a failed seduction of an audience member, complete with balloon inflation, before transitioning into a fully-floral number for a traditional burlesque strip tease. The following pole dance routine by Blue Phoenix equally prioritised skin exposure as he shed a graffitied leather jacket for thigh-highs and a leather harness. Blue Phoenix’s balance between strength and elegance as he flipped, spun, posed, and split around the pole made him a crowd favourite.
If these performances weren’t unusual enough, the final two acts turned the dial up a notch with an added element of danger. Absolutely smothered in gold sequins, performer Lucky Hell brought the grotesque to the stage with her sword-swallowing act that included swallowing a simple single sword as well as a combined duo. It was really something, though, when she introduced a glowing sword that you could visually follow through her skin as it made its way down her throat. To close out the evening, Bernie slowed the pace down with a melancholy ballad before Fancy Chance entered in a flowing white dress with which she performed an undulating fan dance. That is, until she was seamlessly clipped to a dangling rope and swung through the air by her hair like a mesmerising moth.
In a production reminiscent of the thriving underground queer, feminist, or punk scenes of past generations, Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett embraced its marginalised position as weird, odd, unusual, as a celebration particularly of queerness, in more ways than one. But the cabaret and its performers backed up their freakish personae with highly professional performances of their equally freakish talents for an all around pleasurable experience.
Bernie Dieter’s Club Kabarett is running at Runaway Garden’s Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent from August 16th – September 25th as part of Sydney Fringe Festival
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