Sunday 21 January 2018

The Cocoa Butter Club - Midsumma Festival review

The Cocoa Butter Club has been showcasing the talents of Indigenous and/or Performers of Colour (IaoPoc) in London since its inception in 2016. In 2017, theatre maker and live artist Krishna Istha and drag king and community artist Dani Weber launched the Australian based group and for Midsumma Festival the duo have returned with a new curated evening of burlesque and performance at Arts Centre Melbourne.

Istha and Weber have brought together an accomplished list of performers that are not only thoroughly entertaining but who also use their art to leave an impact or mark on their audience and to raise awareness of the issues they're facing. Singer/songwriter Garret Lyon's three song performance was a highlight of the evening and I'm confused as to why a voice like that is not as well known as it should be. Similarly, Melbourne musician Mojo Juju had the Fairfax Theatre erupting in applause with her appearance.

Classical Indian dance and queer performance artists Raina Peterson and Govind Pillai presented an excerpt from their own Midsumma show, Bent Bollywood. This dynamic act blended Indian dance, Bollywood theatrics and queer performance in a hugely entertaining way that brought attention to the idea that different cultures, sexualities and genders can all come together. Peterson returned to the stage in the second half of the show with a timely and cutting look at patriotism and colonialism.

Zelia Rose - ranked as one of the top ten burlesque artists in the world - was absolutely stunning in her tantalising routine, and Anadiction seduced the crowd with their fan dancing act. Krista Herrington, a deaf drag performer struted her stuff to Rihanna while spoken word poet wāni performed some highly personal pieces on his own sexual assault and the effects of survivor guilt that had the audience hanging off his every word. Oceania untitled - a group of young people living within the pasifika diaspora - weaved together a mesmerising contemporary and traditional dance performance on culture and identity.

Having attended numerous productions at the Arts Centre, it was a great experience to be present in a room full of people who are rarely represented or celebrated in major performing art spaces. It's an important reminder that not only does an audience for productions such as The Cocoa Butter Club exist, but that these people exist and their struggles for equality and recognition need to be answered. As was mentioned at one point in the evening, they may be weary but they are still fighting.

The Cocoa Butter Club was performed at Arts Centre Melbourne on 19 January 2018.

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