Guy Somerset - NZ Listener
After an hour in the kinky company of Cantina, one can’t help but think Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris* would have been immeasurably enlivened if he’d sent Owen Wilson back in time to this particular 1920s nightclub. Meeting up with F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway is all very well, but doesn’t begin to compare with the S&M-tinged acrobatics of these five Australians, accompanied by the ragtime and trippily distorted Great American Songbook standards of musician Nara Demasson.
Whether hurling each other about (and indeed off) the tiny stage of the International Arts Festival’s TelstraClear Festival Club, spinning at breathtaking speed while hanging by the head from a rope tied the top of the club tent or just (just!) clambering all over one of their number’s naked torso in a pair of patent-leather stilettoes, the Cantina crew never cease to astonish throughout their hour-long show.
It’s all done with hairline precision, but Lord knows how they attained that precision: there’s probably a pit somewhere in Australia containing the twisted and battered remains of troupe members who fell by the wayside before the act was perfected. There could be a few audience members in that pit, too: the front row of the Festival Club is within centimetres of the action as it whizzes past.
Before they take to the toned back of David Carberry, Chelsea McGuffin’s stilettos see her across a wire tightrope. No less breathtaking than mono-monikered Mozes’s tent-top spin is – for very different reasons – his naked turn with a red handkerchief. As well as all the hurling, all three performers, plus fellow acrobats Henna Kaikula and Daniel Catlow, put their bodies into permutations and lift themselves to heights that seem barely possible.
Kaikula’s specialty is a bendy-ragdoll routine involving complicated contortions that are all the more wince-inducing for the joint-crunching sound-effects that go with them. Her innocent doll demeanour is put to particularly good use when she delivers a coy, quietly pleased smile to the audience after inflicting various tortures on a now-collapsed dance partner.
Men and women delighting in pushing and throwing each other about and doing harm to each other’s bodies is a recurring theme of the night, and there’s an erotic charge to their cruelty.
As the night goes on and the stakes are raised (with roller-skates among other things added to the mix), you do become a bit blasé about it all, forgetting these are physical feats and acts of violence you previously never expected to see outside a Looney Tunes cartoon.
Oh, so Kaikula is upside down doing the splits while propped by a single hand on the 10cm pinhead of a pedestal! What of it? Oh yeah, that’s probably quite difficult. And oh, look, that’s broken glass under the pedestal – she won’t want to fall on that. (Needless to say, although she doesn’t fall, she does end up on the broken glass, walking across it on her hands.)
The night ends as it begins, with Demasson and the cast singing (because, naturally, they’re singers and musicians, too) Tom Waits’s “I’ll shoot the moon right out of the sky for you, baby”, giving their endeavours the tint of valorous love letters to each other. Somehow, for those in the audience, I don’t think mere cards are going to cut it next Valentine’s Day.
By this point, my back is aching a little thanks to a combination of the seating and bad posture. Normally, I might mention so. But not tonight. I don’t think anyone would be very sympathetic.
CANTINA, Strut and Fret, TelstraClear Festival Club, Wellington, until March 18, as part of the New Zealand International Arts Festival.