Expecting the unexpected

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MOIRA Finucane is without doubt the Queen – intellectually and in practice – of the burgeoning Australian burlesque scene.

This enormously popular art form, which she points out goes back at least to the 15th century and derives from an Italian name, can mean all things to all people.

To some, it is about a mockery or parody of contemporary societal issues. To others, it’s a form of operetta.

But to Finucane and her collaborator, Jackie Smith, who back in 2004 created the formula (though there’s nothing formulaic about it) “it fits into a very unique place”.

The best of burlesque, Finucane asserts, “is as intelligent as it is amusing… it’s equal parts charming and alarming.” As well, in burlesque, nothing is sacred.

Mind you, she says: “If you’re an artist who just wants to shock an audience, you don’t have a place in our show.”

As for whether it’s art, in her view: “It’s a sensibility rather than an art form.”

She’s been asked to deliver master classes on cabaret and burlesque all around the country and she urges upon those who study it to cultivate a razor-sharp wit, but at the same time to “always assume that the audience is intelligent”.

“Entertainment is like an electricity cable – it can take power from anywhere,” she says, and it’s wonderful to perform.

“If people are enjoying themselves in sumptuous surroundings you feel fantastic.”

They’ve had “dancing ovations” all over Australia. Performing recently in the middle of the Pilbara, she was approached by a 70-year-old farmer who told her, “the wife made me come, but I’m bloody glad I did, you made me laugh and you made me cry”.

Finucane and Smith have travelled all around the world to many countries, but love Canberra, where they have played at The Street Theatre before. She’s promised artistic director Caroline Stacey that 80 per cent of the coming show, “Glory Box”, will be new work.

But what are her own favourites? Here are just a couple. The Queen of Hearts, a showgirl in a red velvet bikini and 150 red balloons that go off with a bang, a new piece devised in collaboration with the National Gallery of Victoria where the ceiling pours down rain, and Parisian burlesque artist Holly Durant, swathed in 20m of chiffon scarves.

So, expect the unexpected, with classical music, hard-core industrial music, Indian dance, Gothic literature, you name it.

Finucane & Smith’s “Glory Box,” at The Street Theatre, November 28 to December 6. Bookings to 6247 1223 or thestreet.org.au

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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