Striking the perfect balance between intimacy and professionalism, this show is a sensory feast of jaw-dropping acrobatics, eye-popping risqué burlesque and gravity-defying balances on stacks of chairs. It’s all interspersed with luscious operatic vocals from South Australian diva Michaela Burger.
The Rouge troupe are so charming and inclusive that the audience is immediately immersed in the performance, and every act is met with whoops, whistles and thunderous applause. Particular highlights are an aerial strap performance that becomes the catalyst for a beautifully sensual engagement between two male performers (Zach Johnson and Maui Ryan), an incredibly elegant spin round the stage inside a cyr wheel (Jessie Mckibbin), and gasp-inducing acrobatics on the Russian barre (Naomie Ding).
There’s a real sense of grassroots circus here, in the costumes, the low-tech equipment and the way the audience are drawn close to the performers through the saucy charm of their stage personas (Seth Scheuner’s adorably cheeky unicorn is a great example).
But this is vintage circus for the modern world and many outdated circus traditions have been turned upside down. Prancing ponies are replaced by BDSM unicorns, and the closest thing to a ringmaster is a whip-cracking dominatrix with a carrot strap-on.
The tongue-in-cheek nods to traditional circus acts are very funny, but there’s a serious intent behind all the malarkey. Director Elena Kirschbaum “wanted to provide space for women to be fierce, strong and powerful (and to) celebrate male performers being vulnerable with each other” (Rouge website). This is achieved in the subtlest way, with zero preachiness and oodles of fun.
Take, for example, the lamp-lady (Naomie Ding). Head invisible under a giant lampshade, she’s a reference to the “sexy lamp test”, a way of determining the agency of a female character by asking if replacing her with a sexy lamp would affect the plot of a movie.
To the melancholic lyrics of Norah Jones — “I’m just sitting here, waiting for you to come on home and turn me on” — she attempts a lacklustre hoop spin before slumping off backstage. Later on in the show she returns, fully empowered, masterfully spinning flashing hoops round her pretty-much-naked body while Nicki Minaj screams “Turn me on! Turn me on!” and lamp-shaded males gyrate around her.
The joy and exuberance is infectious and it’s the heart and soul of the Rouge experience. Nights out don’t get much better than this. Extravagant, outrageous and full of fun, it’s everything the Fringe should be.
Rouge takes place in Gluttony’s Peacock tent until March 21.
Read more Adelaide Fringe reviews and previews here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.