During the opening act as I watched Eve Gordon float effortlessly up an aerial silk, I found myself holding my breath. It was not the last time I did so during the 90 odd minutes that was Love & Money at Downstage.
The Dust Palace has developed this work so they can branch into performance beyond straight circus, to include dramatic storytelling and create what they call cirque-performance. While it’s less an overarching narrative journey and more a selection of snapshots into the lives and relationships of exotic dancers, this is by no means a negative; switching between moments of confession, flashbacks of ‘first times’, interactions between dancers and clients, and straight up circus performance. The overall experience is a collage of short stories and stunning visuals. The time that we’re with each thread may be limited but the mixture of theatre, dance and circus allows for deep emotional moments to be explored to our satisfaction. Personal highlights included a dancer coming home to her partner, playing the intimacy of relationships in a dance on and around a chaise lounge, and a glorious reinterpretation of Flashdance that brought the house down.
The performers shine both in their solo pieces and in their group scenes. Eve Gordon is a powerhouse, she possesses a compact and vibrant strength that delivers a graceful and emotive aerial dance on silks in one beat and an hilariously macho performance in denim and cutoffs in the next. When she dons her wig and mo and leads the male cast in a glorious performance of a Backstreet Boys’ hit, I’m only momentarily aware of the differing bare chests before we all go crazy and wild for the lads. Ascia Maybury brings both vulnerability and strength to her role as Claire, and also great comedy with her wonderfully subtle high heeled tap dance and enthusiastic audience engagement. Mike Edward’s silks performance was utterly moving, and Geoff Gilson and Edward Clendon bring humour and heart to their supporting roles.
At times I got a little lost in the implications of the subject matter and the idea that this subject was the obvious choice in terms of finding stories that connect circus performance to theatre; but this work does not present stripping without critiquing the job and people’s attitudes towards it. A scene where a dancer defends her moral choices and desire to dance to a client (who really needs to consider his own moral part in the game before questioning others) is beautifully contrasted by the accompanying chair balancing act; where in the former the dancer is alone, justifying the risks she takes, in the latter she is surrounded by the cast as spotters and yet the risks are just as present. Thanks to prior commitments I could not take advantage of the post-show party with the show’s cast, but I suspect many conversations took place exploring the ideas the show raised, such as the opportunity for empowerment, and the dangers of emotional manipulation.
Love & Money offers cabaret seating and table service ‘as per the early days of Downstage’. While the cabaret seating certainly adds to the look and feel of a strip club, allowing for delicious moments of audience interaction during performance, I personally found the table service very distracting, with glowing eftpos machines carried about and whispered conversations right up close to the action.
Overall a grand night out; stunning circus, intimate relationships, hilarious banter and food for thought.
Love & Money is on at Downstage until August 24.
To book tickets, visit here