REVIEW: With a Stranger (The Dust Palace)

An Aerial Extravaganza [by Sharu Delilkan]

Mike Edward and Eve Gordon's bodies just meld into one another.
Mike Edward and Eve Gordon’s bodies just meld into one another.

Arriving at TAPAC, which was dimly lit like a darkened bordello really helped set the tone for the evening from the get-go. This equally mysterious ambience was mirrored when you entered the theatre, adding to the excitement of what would ensue.

We have seen a number of circus cabaret shows in the last couple of years and last night’s performance of With a Stranger is evidence of why this artform is gaining in popularity.

Highly physical aerial work, gymnastics, danger and saucily sexual overtones all combine to sort-of-tell the story of love, lust and jealousy with six characters. All the ‘acts’ were skilful without a weak one amongst them – the six characters combining and recombining to showcase how trust and incredible teamwork can blend perfectly, with extreme physical movement and control.

Very early in the piece we are treated to an impressive gravity-defying performance by Zach Washer on the Cyr Wheel, a single large metal acrobatic hoop. His ability to stay ‘afloat’, despite body crunches and alternating balance sequences was equally remarkable.

Much of the show entailed aerial ribbons sans safety-net action – keeping the audience spellbound with occasional smattering of applause at the more gaspy dangerous bits.

The audience didn’t seem to care that the naughty narrative that started off as a deep and meaningful story didn’t result in a big reveal. And rightly so because we were all wrapped up in gawking at the amazingly sculptured bodies on display and the weird and wonderful positions they managed to get into in front of our very eyes.

The electric-charged acrobatic performance simulating a steamy sex scene with The Dust Palace’s founders Mike Edward (Shortland Street) and Eve Gordon (The Almighty Johnsons) was one of the evening’s highlights. I must admit I never tire of seeing these two acrobatic genii demonstrate their expert moves effortlessly on stage.

Adding to the authenticity of the raw and real performance was the fact that some of the pieces didn’t quite go to plan, making everything seem more live and immediate. This was heightened by the proximity of the circular central stage to the wine laden tables of the audience, thus adding to the thrill of the experience.

Edward Clendon, who is becoming a familiar member of The Dust Palace ensemble, exhibits his jaw-dropping aerial skills relying on the deftness of just one hand.

New to The Dust Palace line-up Rochelle Mangan was an interesting addition to the feminine-flavour of the show, which has previously been Gordon’s sole domain. Her rubber-like body that resulted in contortionist performances that peppered the show were impressive and entertaining. Mangan’s hand-balance performance with Washer, however skillful, lacked the sexual-charged performance that we have come to expect from The Dust Palace. While it is great to see another skillful duo working effortlessly together on stage, this lack of chemistry paled somewhat to The Dust Palace Edward-Gordon dynamic duo.

The transparency of seeing the guy on the counterweight ladder, Adrian Smith, was a refreshing change from the circus performances that usually have this element of the show behind the scenes. His amazing skill and timing enhanced each performance and accentuated the overall skill they brought to the fabulously fun spectacle.

I particularly liked the choice of music which complemented the visual aspect of the show perfectly, thanks to Gordon and Drew McMillan’s sound design.

If you haven’t seen this cabaret-circus artform before I would thoroughly recommend With a Stranger. And if you have, you know it is something that you don’t want to miss out on. As always The Dust Palace show is original, varied, naughty and highly entertaining.

The Dust Palace presents With a Stranger plays at TAPAC until 22 June. Details see TAPAC

SEE ALSO: review by Raewyn Whyte

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