By Darby Turnbull
As a longtime fan of Le Gateau Chocolat and Adrienne Truscott from across the equator the opportunity to see these two bold, brash performance artists up close was too delicious an opportunity to miss.
Grey Arias is a chance to spend an hour in their chummy, bluntly oppositional and devoted company and the best moments come from feeling like we’re just palling around with these two eccentric, culturally erudite people plus singing and nudity-delightful. John Jarboe as credited Director and Dramaturg stays true to the fast paced vaudevillian nature of the performance with some frequently amusing and pointed sight gags.
The performance is marketed as being divisive, tasteless and controversial and whether that’s your experience will depend on your litmus test for how you sit with complex expressions of feeling and exploring ambiguous or ‘grey’ areas of discourse. Maybe I’ve become somewhat immune to shock these days but the performance wasn’t quite as audaciously confrontational as I was expecting. It holds space for discussions about how their identities; a large, Nigerian visibly queer person and a middle aged white feminist exist in the intersections of their cultural, social and professional experiences. Both have experiences of sexual abuse which they explore with amusing candour and Trescott delivers one of the most incisive abortion punchlines I’ve heard in a long time. Both defying the patronising expectations for such disclosures by exploring them with matter of fact humour.
Carmine Covelli does some fabulously witty work with projections onto the stage; incorporating Truscott and Gateau’s email correspondence regarding the creation of the performance and their shared or opposing exasperations with social discourse such as Gateau having to consistently educate people about their racial bias and Truscott’s experiences with misogyny and rape culture.
Using Puccini’s Madama Butterfly; an Italian opera about a 15 year old Japanese geisha impregnated, abandoned by an American solider who ultimately suicides after he returns to claim her child to raise with his (white) American wife; as a framing device to explore the complexities of intersecting identity politics. Madama Butterfly is almost never out of operatic repertoire; it’s currently being performed in Sydney in a piece of amusing synergy; featuring an inarguably glorious score the content features disturbing connotations that Truscott and Gateau explore with incredulous wit; European imperialism, Cultural appropriation, date rape to name a few. Gateau as a trained opera singer and classical actor has made strides in both mediums both in and out of drag whilst also being pointedly excluded from them; excels in blurring the lines between ‘high’ and ‘low’ artistic expression. He also pays a touching tribute to Leontyne Price; one of the first African American sopranos to receive international prominence who incidentally played Butterfly to great acclaim whilst middle aged white women were predominately donning yellow face to play the role. Gateau himself spends the performance in a kimono and various Japanese inspired wigs; Eugyenne Teh once again reasserts his camp costume couture credentials with his creations for this piece.
The themes of Butterfly are transparently in conflict with Truscott’s own work; she frequently explores rape culture in her multidisciplinary performance work and acts as a shrewd counterpart to Gateau’s dreamy romanticism of the opera. Likewise her own experiences of racial bias are cheerfully and bluntly pointed out in an opportunity to explore our own. Each expose how experiences of oppression can often emerge into competitive one upmanship at the expense of allying ourselves across identity markers.
Whilst Gateau has some of the showier performance pieces where his rich, velveteen bass is lent to several musical numbers, Truscott herself is allowed to let rip in an early burlesque routine that pays tribute to an early performance as the title character in Annie that utilised her dance skills but not her voice opting instead to dub her. She reclaims that slight with increasingly madcap results bringing Annie and Butterfly together for an unexpectedly gorgeous mashup.
Connor Lovejoy’s recreation of Amelia Lever-Davidson’s lighting is attractive and eclectic, complimenting the fibres of Teh’s costumes and Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers and Carmine Covelli have created a soundscape that feels like a third character within the piece.
Grey Arias is a breezy good time that asks many complicated questions for which any resolution is elusive because it just raises more. Ultimately it’s a grand opportunity to sit with shameless complexity with two world renowned performance artists.
Image: Tamarah Scott