Sydney Festival Pigalle - photo by Daniel LinnetDisco Circus Fusion, especially the Spiegeltent variety, has become a staple at festivals around Australia. Director Craig Ilott has mastered the genre with a succession of boundary pushing, crowd-pleasing productions which include the mesmerizing Smoke & Mirrors and Velvet. Pigalle is a variation on both these shows, and while highly entertaining, lacks the originality of concept which made these shows memorable.

Ilott has assembled a first class cast of singers, dancers and acrobats, fitted them out in eye-popping costumes, added brilliant lighting design, masses of mirror balls, head-banging disco music, obligatory fog, some weird characters to provide mystery, and woven them into a clever but strangely confusing format which reflected little of the Parisian ambiance suggested by the title, Pigalle.

As the audience entered the magnificent Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent and scuffled for the best seats, it was entertained by loud disco music provided by a pretty young female disc-jockey earnestly twiddling knobs on disco equipment artfully arranged centrestage on garbage tins and wooden fruit boxes.

As soon as the last of the audience had found seats, the disco equipment was dispensed with and the full cast, including legendary disco diva, Marcia Hines, was introduced to a well-choreographed version of Randy Crawford’s Street Lights. Then in a riot of dazzling lights and pumped up sound, a series of brilliant specialty acts followed, each more jaw-dropping than the last.

Aerial artists Yammel Rodriguez and Hugo Desmarais drew gasps, both as soloists and together, with their intricate, high-risk routines performed on various apparatus high above the audience.

Cheeky Katherine Louise McLaughlin (Aka Kitty Bang Bang) could hardly wait to demonstrate how prettily she could shed her gorgeous costumes. She later surprised even more, with an astonishing fire-eating act which took tassel-twirling to a fiery new level. Violinist Sonja Schebeck charmed with her musical talents before revealing her own unsuspected fire-eating talents while assisting McLaughlin.

Easy-on-the-eye singer/dancers, Chaska Halliday and Zachary Webster, were much more than eye-candy. They changed costumes endlessly, tossed off Lucas Newland’s tricky choreography effortlessly, and provided classy backup singing for the legendary, Marcia Hines – who has never looked more relaxed and happy, belting out a succession of disco songs with the same undimmed pizzazz and authority that earned her the accolade of “Queen of Pop” more than 40 years ago.

And on the subject of pizzazz, white-faced, velvet-voiced, Iota was the icing on the cake as he prowled the stage, outrageously costumed and obviously relishing the company and environment.

It was an imaginative move to include for Bangarra dancer, Waangenga Blanco, in the show. But it appeared that having cast him, Ilott didn’t know what to do with him. So charismatic in Bangarra Dance productions, in this show, dressed in street clothes in contrast to everyone else’s disco glitter, his idiosyncratic movement style, deprived of point and purpose, quickly became repetitive, even boring. Pity, because in the finale, costumed in a natty velvet suit, he suddenly came to life.

Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent – Hyde Park, Sydney
Performance: Saturday 12 January 2019
Season continues to 27 January 2018
Information and Bookings: www.sydneyfestival.org.au

Image: Pigalle – photo by Daniel Linnet

Review: Bill Stephens OAM