Edinburgh Fringe 2013
In Flagrante. In flames. Red handed. Sexy, sophisticated, knives-out choreography complimented by killer designs, realised by six supremely talented performers from New Zealand. A dub-tastic hour of wickedly intricate cabaret that hits with the impact of a truck, with a pleasant aftertaste. Not to be missed.
In Flagrante is a work of neo-cabaret, set to the strains of Klaus Walldeck’s Ballroom Stories, that highlights, through a series of vignettes, the wide world of stereotypical roles women are cast in with a sharply critical eye (and the occasional cheeky slap). Brainchild of celebrated kiwi choreographer Mary Jane O’Riley, In Flagrante is topical but not preachy; critical but not shaming. This is a playful piece of theatre that delights as it reproaches. Titillating, scintillating, appropriating, the six dancers (Megan Hughes, Amanda Macfarlane, Molly McDowall, Sofia Mcintyre, and Maria Munkowits) assume control of their roles, unaided by compare or MC, with performances of exquisite delicacy and stunning precision and control.
I’m a fan of the traditional cabaret venue. The intimacy of chairs clustered around small tables, lit by the flickering of tiny tea-lights; cocktails perspiring in a low-lying haze of smoke, the gentle murmur of hushed conversations as performers contort and servers glide by, unnoticed in the dark, to deliver more drinks. Assembly Roxy has none of this. Row after row of stadium seating marches steeply uphill away from the stage like ranks of mourners at a state funeral in the dizzying heights of the cavernous room where the audience sits, cut off physically and ideologically from the performance space. I bring this up just at the start because this complaint may well be the only negative thing I have to say about this otherwise outstanding experience. In all other respects, In Flagrante delivers. This is cabaret that excites the mind and calls on its’ audience to question.
The dancers own the performance from the start to the finish. As mechanical, Geiger-esque, living mannequins; bound, bleached-blonde Barbie-dolls, and parade-ground horsies (among other roles), acting matters here: we are whipped, slapped, and beaten in one moment only to be released from our bonds in the next. Through largely silent performance, the ensemble trot out all the old standards of oppression, shake them out, and re-conceive them before our eager eyes, subverting patriarchal structures of control and casting doubt in their wake where there was only the desire to look and to consume before. They are having a good time – working of course, but enjoying every minute of it. And when they prance out kitted up in restraints and bondage gear, there is no question of who is the more powerful in our relationship. There can be a sense of entitlement that accompanies buying a ticket to an event, a status: some perception of being the ‘served’ party. In a corporate culture where the ‘customer is always right’, where middle managers scurry to refund checks because someone didn’t care for the flambé or the service wasn’t quite snappy enough, we are bred to view ourselves, our desires, as infallible. In Flagrante bites its thumb at this, takes the reigns, and leaves no doubt as to where the power lies. We sit, at times anonymous in the darkness, stripped of our identities and reduced to quivering bundles of nerves, suddenly plunged into the light as the women before us step forward to take a look at us. Simultaneously aware of the Gaze, and of being observed in our voyeurism, we are reminded that, though we have paid for the privilege, we are capable of being judged and found wanting.
But while In Flagrante has a message, it’s not didactic, and there is no shame in looking, in desiring to look. We are given permission; invited to play by women who smile with abandon as they smoulder, aware of the ridiculousness of the sexy. Were it not for this sense of enjoyment, it would be easy to feel wrong or inappropriate for sitting and watching as they dance for our pleasure, but it’s clear they are dancing for pleasure; ours is a happy coincidence. There is joy to be had in the absolute precision of every muscle. No movement is out of time. This is dance that has been rehearsed so many times that it’s lost any sense of rehearsal. It’s second nature. It’s so well learned that the dancers can play with it, revelling in the sheer delight of the compressions, isolations, rises and falls of the choreography.
All this is not to say that the dancers are the only stars. Costumes are revealing and tantalizing; the sound design and musical choices perfectly suited, and the lighting is absolutely fantastic. LEDs provide coloured washes from every angle, casting contrasting shadows across muscles stretched tight, and above, high in the air, a necklace of glittering stars hangs, a reminder of strings of pearls that have hung, delicate collars, from the necks of women in years past: mute signals of ownership. There is neither too much, nor too little. Craft is brought to this production, something often lacking in Fringe shows (whether from lack of funds or of artistry). The artistry compliments and supports the dance, disappearing into the background it creates and reinforcing the underlying messages.
This is a celebration, an extravaganza. A thoroughly enjoyable hour of beauty, politics, and down and dirty fun, In Flagrante will not let you down. Whether you’re a veteran of cabaret or a newcomer to the genre, this is an accessible performance that’s got teeth, but knows how to purr. And though you may think you’re the one at the wheel, these women will remind you that they’re the ones setting the course.
The revolution will not happen between these thighs.