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May 29, 2014

Adelaide Cabaret Festival

There’s more to celebrate in June than the Queen’s Birthday; like the world’s largest cabaret festival. And, before you rule it out because you’re not into feather boas and vaudeville entertainment,it might pay to think again. These days cabaret’s so much more.

  • Words: Emma Waterman
  • Main image: Local Carla Lippis debuts Brenta's Bad Thing at the Festival

If you happen to walk out of a cabaret show before the curtain falls, don’t be alarmed if Artistic Director Kate Ceberano chases after you to get your feedback. It’s something, she says, that’s part and parcel of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. 

“My finest contribution [to the festival] is being able to be a walking, living host, accessible to the audience…to host a whole cultural experience,” she tells CityMag.

It seems Kate’s curatorial style is not so different from the essence of the festival itself.

“If you look at cabaret by definition, it’s an intimate setting where an artist is free to invent their work, improvise, respond and relate to an audience in real-time. But most importantly, it’s an up close and personal experience.”

The beauty in the definition is that it leaves so much up in the air. The breadth of what fits the cabaret mould is illimitable. Unfurling her program full of comedy, satire, music, storytelling and more, Kate says cabaret is truly ‘sans frontières’.

Opening for a fortnight from 6 June, the 2014 festival boasts the largest program to date, with 470 artists filling intimate city haunts.

The cast of Hail to the King

The cast of Hail to the King

And, if CityMag can give just one piece of advice, it’d be to expect the unexpecte­d. This year’s theme, Not Your Usual Suspects, conveniently aligns with this idea.

“Cabaret artists by their nature are trying to provoke and stimulate new conversation. So, even if they’ve been here before, they don’t become common; they’re transforming all the time, like a chrysalis.

“We can go from Tim Rogers, to an avant-garde group from Melbourne, to a transsexual from Berlin. This kind of breadth is liberating for an audience.”

Kate’s guest list has a strong Australian presence – including local gals Johanna Allen, Kate Fuller, Catherine Alcorn and Carla Lippis – a sign she says of Australia’s cabaret renaissance. With a swelling pool of talent emerging down under, the festival doesn’t have to rely solely on importing the big acts in from America and Europe.

The misconception that has surrounded the cabaret scene in Australia, and often deterred younger audiences, is that cabaret’s only about smouldering wo­men draped languorously across pianos, singing Broadway classics.

“With my programming, I’ve been trying to get something more alternative for a younger public, so they can see how cabaret fixes itself to a contemporary pop culture and see how relevant it is.”

The Raah Project’s Ryan Ritchie

The Raah Project’s Ryan Ritchie

What’s more, it has to be said that cabaret caters quite well to egotistical personalities of the 21st century.

“Today the audience often considers itself more interesting than the actual ­act – which is why cabaret is perfect because the audience is integral to the perform­ance.”

With three years under her belt, Kate’s content with what she’s achieved, – in particular, the steady growth of box office figures.

As for next year, who knows? There will certainly be some surprises under new artistic director Barry Humphries. But that’s the beauty of cabaret; it’s where anything goes.

Whet your appetite with Kate’s top picks

Hail to the King –
Sex sirens serenade Elvis Presley.

Melanie Safka – 
Seventies folk songstress brings the sounds of Woodstock.

Dan Finnerty & The Dan Band –
ABBA, Beyoncé, and Salt-n-Pepa: no task’s too tough for these lovable larrikins.

The New Score –
The Raah Project curate sounds of soul, jazz and electronica, with Kylie Auldist (The Bamboos), iOTA (Smoke & Mirrors), Kate Ceberano and the Adelaide Art Orchestra

Vandemonian Lags –
A Tasmanian criminal-musical featuring Aussie-rocker Tim Rogers, originally commissioned for DARK MOFO.

Paul Capsis,
Little Bird – 

The modern face of cabaret explores the dark side of fairy tales.


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