Man does not live by (visual) art alone, so part of yesterday’s adventure was an evening at the Darwin Festival and a double dose of the performing arts.
First on the bill was Cantina, from the Strut and Fret Production House. Cantina will be playing most nights at the Festival between now and August 20 and if you’re in Darwin, you shouldn’t miss it. It’s the circus as you’ve probably not seen it before: it’s all acrobats and contortionists, strong men and magic, with a music hall sound track. But it’s not one you’ll want to bring the children to. The darkness below the jazz age imagery will keep you on edge even as you laugh and marvel at what you see on stage. (The opening tightrope act is engaging enough; then the second performer takes to the wire in four-inch heels and your heart doesn’t leave your throat for the duration.) The threat of violence is never far away, the promise of sadness is ever present. But the performance is astonishing, gripping, and transporting. It only lasts an hour, but it felt like a shamanic trip to an alternate universe. Standing up when the crew had taken their last curtain call was a disorienting experience.
After emerging back into Festival Park unscathed, we immediately queued up for the evening’s second performance, ninety minutes of drag with Melbourne’s Drags Aloud along with the Tiwi Islands’ Sistagirls. If you saw the doco on the ABC earlier this year, you’ll know that Foxxy Empire has had a professional career in drag down south. Last night marked the debut of an expanded lineup as Sistagirls Bimbo and Laura joined Foxxy onstage for their first performances.
The evening alternated numbers between the two troupes until the rousing finale, a jointly performed medley of hits from Aretha Franklin, the Supremes, and (ahem) Nancy Sinatra. The Sistagirls got an enormous howl from the audience the moment they took the stage for the first time, and the reception continued to be as warm as a night in the Wet until the stage closed down at half past midnight. On the theory that a picture tells a thousand stories, here are the truly fabulous Sistagirls on stage.