Feathered and Fierce and Facemeat - Thursday 7th September
The HPG Festival Hub feels like a hangar. Gargantuan in dimension, the empty real estate could house a number of lightweight aircraft, but parked instead are tables of Fringe patrons eating, drinking, idly chatting among brightly lit inflatable features. Darkness stretches beyond their fluoro-coloured oasis. A distant sound check echoes off the high ceiling. The letters of SYDNEY glow with promise in the black.
Earlier today a friend suggested that there is a challenge in bringing to a Fringe show audiences from beyond friendship circles. Tonight, alone and beyond my own radius of comfortable artforms, I can see why she thinks that. The crowds around me seem to be awfully familiar with the performers.
“What are you expecting for the show tonight?” a stranger next to me asks.
I’m in the aluminium bleachers at Stage One to see Feathered and Fierce, a dance show inspired by the work of champion samba dancer and coach Amy Mills. The seats are packed with people sipping sparkling wine and beer, and the way they bop to the heavy beats on the PA show that some of them know rhythm. For me, I’m guessing that there will be dance, a little bit of Latin samba costumes, and some more stripped back moments.
“Oh,” my new friend says and holds a piece of paper out to me, “I’m new to Sydney and my friend is in the show, but I didn’t think that this is what she did.”
The paper is a series of instructions for Mongrel Mouth’s immersive show Undertaking. Alarmed, embarrassed, the again-stranger clutches bags to their chest and awkwardly crowd surfs out from the middle of the audience.
Feathered and Fierce is a choreographed montage of the work hidden behind the jewels, feathers and tanned skin of samba dance culture in Sydney. Book-ended by stereotypical polished samba acts, the real heart of Mills and her award-winning team lies in a series of staged vignettes showing workout routines, downtime, competitive and friendly dance battles, and breakdowns. In counterpoint to the precision and polish of what an audience will usually see, the choreography demonstrates a range of skill levels and moments where performers drop out, unable to keep up with their more experienced partners, before being brought back into sync with care and compassion. It’s a heart-warming experience, moreso for the audience around me who are all taking photos of their friends and family performing on stage.
“We’re not starting the show until you all have a drink, go on, there’s some in the corner, grab a drink.”
Musician/lawyer/performer Dave Sattout doesn’t look like he’s joking. Once our plastic cups are all charged with what might be apple juice, Dave summons The Baker Boys band with the beating of a drum. This is Facemeat, and we’re at a Lebanese wedding.
Sattout, proud father of the bride, licks back Chivas Regal in time with our juice and reads out the speech he has spent the best part of his daughter’s life composing. Where paternal wisdom stumbles, he offers cautionary advice from his own quixotic life, and this is both supported and punctuated with a melancholic score from the wedding band. It is loose in the way one wears a bow tie at the end of the evening – still dapper, still charismatic.
In the finale, Sattout the Father toasts his daughter alone. But for Sattout the performer, he spies friends in the crowd, even new potentials like me.
“There is a bar out there,” he says, pointing back across the dark hanger to the distant oasis, “come join us, I haven’t had a chance to see you all yet!”
[Tomorrow night is all things haunted as part of the The Observer Hotel's Ghost Tour]
Written by James Dalton