Kylie's party pinnacle
13 February 2012
Party, parade, film festival, Queer Thinking, theatre, arts and the 2012 Mardi Gras rebranding controversy
KYLIE Minogue will perform not just one song as expected at the Mardi Gras party but a medley of hits from her 25 years of recording in a 20-minute audio-visual spectacular, it can be revealed.
Minogue, backed by 16 Australian dancers and other surprise performers, will sing hits from her first album released in 1988, simply called
, which included
I Should Be So Lucky
, through to her most recent album,
, which spawned the hit
All the Lovers
, at the post-parade party on March 3.
The 43-year-old star will sing for the entire performance, in a show whose backing track and arrangements are unique to Mardi Gras, co-choreographer Ash Evans of Australian production team
The Squared Division
said during a break in rehearsals with the dancers. Minogue is believed to still be in London.
Not every partygoer will get into the Royal Hall of Industries (RHI) to see Minogue’s live performance, however. Some 15,000 tickets are expected to be sold to the party but the RHI, like the Hordern, has a general admission capacity of roughly 5500. Screens beaming the show live will be erected within the party outdoor area for ticketholders who can’t get into the RHI.
Evans said he was “sure the show won’t be too late in the morning” and hopes Minogue might make herself seen elsewhere at the party. “Why wouldn’t she want to?” he said. “But it’s up to her.”
Minogue’s management finally signed off on her party appearance five days ago, after it was announced in late January that the gay icon would feature in the parade. It will be Minogue’s third performance at Mardi Gras. She sang
Better the Devil You Know
in her last appearance in 1998.
Her first Mardi Gras performance, in 1994, was dramatic: ten minutes before the show, as crowds swelled the RHI, the programmed lighting show malfunctioned, and whole lighting desks were ripped out and improvised lighting substituted as Minogue skipped out in a burlesque pink outfit singing
What Do I Have to Do
amid dancers with heart shapes affixed to their bottoms. Revellers were unaware of the backstage mayhem.
“Being part of Mardi Gras this year is so important to me because I know that so many of my fans make up the amazing community it represents,” Minogue said in a statement. “Performing at the party is my way of saying thanks for 25 amazing years together. It’s been a really beautiful relationship that has always been filled with overwhelming support and a lot of love.”
Oh Kylie! Australia's pop queen will not only perform at the Mardi Gras party, but it will be a 20-minute medley of songs stretching from her first album to her most recent, Aphrodite.
Minogue's song arrangements are completely tailor-made for the show, to be held in the Royal Hall of Industries at an unspecified time during the night, backed by 16 dancers, all Australian, more men than women (but of course!). But which songs? That's a surprise.
Diverse music styles and more performance art mark this year's party, with '90s sounds fashionably strong. Long, leggy drag singer RuPaul is confirmed. The '80s and '90s were the times the Mardi Gras party reigned supreme in Sydney, before it had to contend with a plethora of other parties and festivals.
The newly appointed party director, Damien Eames, says thousands of partygoers surveyed late last year urged reinvention. There will be more diverse musical choices that will appeal to a "younger and queer and alternative audience, gay and straight", who are more likely to seek electro and R&B, Eames says.
"There's no doubt that a lot of younger gay people are more likely to be socialising with their straight friends," he says. "They size the Mardi Gras party up against the other big festival events that are on but so do their straight friends ... we are gunning for new audiences with what we are doing musically."
As the Entertainment Quarter becomes the Mardigrasland "theme park", there won't be merely more bars, better toilets and new airconditioning in the happy, clappy but sweaty Royal Hall of Industries - courtesy of 8000 revellers throwing their hands in the air - but also the promise of "more distinct" musical styles.
The RHI ("Candyworld") will, as expected, be "very gay and 'anthemy', poppy", Eames says - lessons have been learnt from past attempts to change that formula - but the Hordern Pavilion ("Oz"; think more Dorothy than prison drama) will journey from a dark sound to pop to trance. More "spot" drag performances will enhance but not halt DJ sets, Eames says.
DJ Sveta Gilerman, who has played many Mardi Gras parties, says the Hordern program allows for broader appeal, including a mini-concert from Sneaky Sound System, while the Hi-Fi ballroom will display a different sort of retro this year - less tongue-in-cheek and instead aimed at the "cool person", featuring Horse Meat Disco and Lady Miss Kier (of '90s dance act Deee-Lite). Both play lesser-known '90s tracks.
"Retro comes into fashion every 20 years," Gilerman says. "I play New York every year and at the moment Lady Miss Kier is one of the hottest DJs in the world."
There will be the female-oriented space, the Shangri-la, and a "scary backlot" in the Dome, a warehouse of old rides and freaky fun-house mirrors. There will be an hourly parade down the main street, including floats from the earlier parade along Oxford Street.
Secrets and rumours? Not so many. Most performers and DJs have already been announced, including Chicane, and most times and places for shows will be available in advance on the website -
Gilerman says she "never forgets what the party might mean to a young person who doesn't have much connection to the community". But change is important; young people are now in "more fluid" communities, straight and gay partying together, so Mardi Gras needs to create comfortable spaces for that diversity.
"The gay community have always been leaders in dance-music history," Gilerman says. "For a little while, [other] people caught up and were able to re-create the formula but forge ahead. Mardi Gras have really taken the advice of many people in the community, including myself as a person who plays to young people all the time, about what kind of acts appeal to young people."
The first Mardi Gras party was at Paddington Town Hall in June 1980. Entry cost $4, concession $2; alcohol was BYO and the bands were the Widgies and the Layabouts. The first at the showgrounds was in 1982.
Partners Greg Berry and Larry Singer, who have been together for 20 years, have both been to every Mardi Gras party since 1983, including the past 19 parties together. "[It's about] feeling like being gay is the most normal thing in the world [because] at the party we're surrounded by people like us, who are gay and lesbian," Berry says, "and now more of our supporters are coming."
Singer says: "It's a time when we're the majority, when it's all about us." He says in the '80s and early '90s Mardi Gras was the only big dance party. Tensions over straight people coming bubbled over and membership - for a long time the only way to get tickets - required declaring your sexuality on a form.
Singer attended a Mardi Gras meeting in the early '90s when a vote barring bisexuals from membership was carried, "to the community's shame", he says. "I'm proud to say I voted against that motion."
The doors have swung open this past decade. "Now, a lot of people who go to the party are part of our community," he says.
"They're friends, they're supporters; they're welcome."
DEPENDING on who you ask, the new Sydney Mardi Gras symbol is a butterfly, two love hearts, wedding rings, breasts or bottoms.
Much more passionate, sometimes furious, has been the debate about the axing of the words "gay" and "lesbian" from the festival and parade's title. (While, a little confusingly, the organisation's name changes from New Mardi Gras back to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.)
Musician Brendan Maclean - who will perform at Sidetrack Theatre for Mardi Gras on March 1 - argues the rebranding brings "clarity" for younger people who want to join the Mardi Gras community because "you don't have to choose what sexuality you have right now".
Seeing his first Mardi Gras parade at 16, Maclean thought he might have been "queer"; now, at 24 and with a male partner, he identifies as gay but says the name change makes the festival "all-inclusive and about people accepting themselves and each other, no matter what their sexuality".
Brenna Harding, who identifies as heterosexual and is being raised by two lesbian mums, says: "Taking those words out isn't going to change the meaning of it." The 15-year-old, who will march this year with the anti-homophobia youth group Wear It Purple, adds: "Now that everybody knows what Mardi Gras is, it's probably a perfectly right thing to do."
Others argue history is being sidelined and criticise a lack of consultation before the name was changed. Gay broadcaster Doug Pollard says "gay and lesbian" gave Mardi Gras a "unique selling proposition" compared with, say, the Rio Carnival. He says making the event "a bit less gay" seems financially motivated. "Governments have to take account of voters and voters whinge at paying for perverts on parade. That means chasing the corporate dollar."
The Joy 94.9 announcer acknowledges the previous festival and parade title omitted other sexual and gender identities but criticises Mardi Gras' solution "to leave everyone out, which is somehow supposed to include everyone in".
Stephen Colyer, who is directing
The Paris Letter
at Darlinghurst Theatre during Mardi Gras, says he is part of a "bridging generation" between gay liberation and the generation with little knowledge of what gay liberation was about.
"I have enormous admiration and gratitude for what was achieved through the struggle of the generation before mine," he says. "I have never had an issue with the words gay and lesbian as part of the Mardi Gras brand and I question whether society has become so inclusive that sexuality is indeed a non-issue or whether assimilation is being offered on the proviso that distinctness is sacrificed."
The chairman of Mardi Gras, Peter Urmson, says the festival's brand has "evolved" and been "modernised" in line with the organisation's constitutional recognition in recent years of a broader community, including bisexual, transgender and intersex people.
"It wasn't necessarily that those groups felt detached from the organisation or being part of the festival," Urmson says. "We did get feedback that certain groups within those sexual identities did feel that but then again we also get that feedback probably more broadly from gays and lesbians, who feel they weren't connected to the organisation."
Urmson says corporate interests had nothing to do with the rebranding. "We're an organisation that already has Google, ANZ and Virgin Australia as sponsors. They're pretty significant brands - why would we do something to change sponsors when we already have good sponsors?"
Urmson says Mardi Gras has very strong support from the City of Sydney and the O'Farrell state government through Destination NSW, which he declines to quantify.
Young same-sex-attracted people identify less strongly with the identities "gay" and "lesbian" than older generations do or have done, he says.
"Yeah, that absolutely did come through in our research," Urmson says. "That played into the rebrand ... certain elements within the youth [community] want labels and to identify with being called gay [but] there's also very strong arguments and feelings from quarters ... that they don't necessarily want to have a name attached to them. They are more proud of who they are as individuals."
Does dropping "gay" and "lesbian" from the title mean such young people are more likely to come to the important revenue-raising events such as the party, and bring their straight friends? "I think that would be part of the case, yes," Urmson says, but he adds that those questions were not part of the thinking behind the rebranding.
Steve Dow is the author of Gay: the Tenth Anniversary Collection (Kindle/iBooks).
Sydney's own Trevor Ashley has been reading up on Dame Shirley Bassey, but how much of his intriguing findings will emerge between
The 31-year-old singer has impersonated the needy and emotionally fulsome Liza Minnelli - in
Liza (On an E)
- and played the crazy, paranoid Natalie Portly in
. He's been Tina Turner, Cher, Dusty Springfield and Bette Midler.
But Bassey? The imperious Welsh diva with the mighty range remains unknowable to many, so that allows a little licence. In
Diamonds Are for Trevor
at the State Theatre, another Ashley collaboration with writer Phil Scott, this Bassey, backed by a 14-piece band, will perform Adele's Rolling in the Deep.
Ashley first really listened to Bassey when he saw Jane Horrocks (Bubble in
) perform in the movie
. "I went with my girlfriend," the gay performer says, "so it was a
He bought the soundtrack, which included Bassey's
Ashley then saw her play the State Theatre and the Sydney Entertainment Centre, about the time he began his own career playing divas. "I was so completely blown away by that woman; I bought her live album and then all of her albums and now I know every song backwards," he says.
Audiences know Bassey's songs but not the full personal story. Ashley learnt that Bassey, now 75, was born above a brothel in a slum to a family of six children. She loved her mother, who may have been a bigamist who had had other children. According to a credible 2010 biography, Bassey's late Nigerian father, Henry, who shovelled coal in the engine room of ships, was deported to Nigeria in 1943 for repeatedly raping a child.
"This is something Shirley Bassey has never, ever talked about in an interview," Ashley says, intrigued. "I'm not sure whether I'm going to talk about it [on stage]. She wouldn't, so I don't think I will. But it's something you find out and you go: 'Oh my god!'
"There's a lot of issues in the way she grew up. Being in poverty and sleeping in a bed with two of her sisters - that's what we're talking about. Where she started her life, to living in Monte Carlo with millions of dollars, it's a little bit different, you know?" He laughs.
"Liza came from Hollywood royalty and Bassey came from poverty, so it's a very different character of a woman."
Does Ashley ever suffer an identity crisis? In December, for a World AIDS Day concert, he performed a duet with pal Paul Capsis of a Judy Garland number; Ashley was meant to be Liza. "I was getting confused, because he was singing away, going 'Clang, clang, clang went the trolley', then as Liza I'd do the line in Liza's voice, but I had such a hard time not slipping into Judy because it's a Judy number.
"It was a very big crisis of the diva."
Beyond outrageous hand actions, Minnelli and Bassey are very unalike in their performance styles.
"Liza is so desperate for attention and love; she wants to give you everything all night," Ashley says. "There's a fragility and a real need to be adored. Bassey is completely opposite; Bassey doesn't give a rat's arse, like, she really doesn't care what you think of her because she's Shirley Bassey, you know? ... You come away from her concert thinking she's absolutely amazing - but so does she."
Meanwhile, over at the Darlinghurst Theatre for Mardi Gras, Stephen Colyer will direct
The Paris Letter
by Jon Robin Baitz, the creator and producer of television's
Brothers & Sisters
series. The story tracks the lives of two men who had an affair in the 1960s.
One undergoes extensive therapy as a young man to "correct" his sexuality, Colyer says, and the other manages to become a mostly well-adjusted gay man.
Colyer sees parallels with a former married NSW state minister becoming a news story for visiting a gay sex venue a few years ago.
"What seems most relevant, with gay marriage being hotly debated, is the example of how far gay liberation has travelled since 1962, but how inequality and discrimination plague people's lives and prevent them from becoming their authentic self," he says.
Diamonds Are for Trevor is on March 2, see
. The Paris Letter runs from February 24 to March 25, see
Real sex, transgender frontiers and the largest documentary selection in more than a decade mark the 2012 Mardi Gras Film Festival, with the theme Projecting the Future.
Opening night on Thursday features the coming-of-age film
, directed and written by Abe Sylvia, starring the English actor Juno Temple as a promiscuous southern American teenager who pals up with her outcast gay classmate, Clarke. Together, they go on a road trip to find her father.
The story, set in 1987, will create a "fun and dirty vibe" for the opening, says the festival director, Lex Lindsay. The film is being screened simultaneously at two cinemas at Hoyts Entertainment Quarter, with an outdoor party afterwards.
The closing-night film is the German drama-comedy
, about a romantic relationship between Lukas, a 20-year-old trans man (transitioning, in this case with hormones but still pre-operative, to bring the female body into line with the brain's perception as male) and Fabio, a closeted young gay man.
The film's director and writer, Sabine Bernardi, says she wanted to "tell of the courage of a young person to live what he feels he needs". Lindsay says Romeos' queer and modern take on gender fluidity and love - including sexual identity changing along with the body - is made realistic by the lead actor transitioning between genders while making the film.
"It's so wonderfully queer in all the right ways," he says. "It just had to be the way we close this festival."
In between, there's the documentary
, about the life of Sonny and Cher's child, Chastity, who became Chaz. The film is honest in its portrayal of Cher's reaction - she wasn't happy - and the downside of testosterone making Chaz occasionally morose.
"For so many years we've looked at male-to-female transgender experience," Lindsay says. "And we've got a long tradition of celebrating the drag queen or, for want of a better term, the trannie, but there's a real political force coming out of the trans-men community."
Real sex embedded in a narrative is another queer-film frontier: Francois Sagat's star turn in
Man at Bath
may yet attract the censors' ire.
But Lindsay is keen to program what others won't touch - film that is genuinely queer and confronting. "It is how we identify and share our bodies with other people that differentiates us from the rest of the community and is responsible for prohibitive and exclusionary laws," he says. "There is something political and powerful about putting real queer sex on the screen."
How to choose a Mardi Gras parade theme or float idea? Put a banana and cherries on the season poster and floats turn decidedly fruity. Call the theme, say, history of the world and the global choices may be overwhelming.
So much attention will be paid to the float that promises to be the "biggest ever", celebrating and starring one Kylie Minogue, that you're going to want room to be noticed.
So this year the idea is "infinite love" - a thread that pulls the parade together but is neither too loose nor too tight on creativity.
The parade producer, Vicktor Petroff, and the consultant artistic director, Ignatius Jones, are back on deck and the workshop in Wattle Street, Ultimo, is firing up for parade night on March 3, with about 120 floats.
Not surprisingly, marriage equality will feature heavily again.
"For us, there's no such thing as an idea that's over-the-top," Petroff says. "It's about the criteria: if you're a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex group or subgroup, you can say whatever you want to in the parade.
"If you're a non-LGBTQI group, you have to say something that is related to LGBTQIs. So you couldn't be a mining company going up there, saying, 'Fracking is fantastic,' or 'Coal-seam gas is the way of the future.' But, if it was a formal community group, or a group of LGBTQI friends, they could go up there and do it, because the parade is all about LGBTQIs being creative and getting out there and being themselves."
In the parade, 20-year-old Scott Williams will be wearing purple, the colour of pride, as the co-founder of Wear It Purple, a youth anti-homophobia group that aims to increase participants from 80 people in its first Mardi Gras last year to 120 this year, most of whom will be under age 26.
The group was formed after the 2010 suicide of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, who threw himself off a bridge in New Jersey after his room-mate used a webcam to spy on Clementi's private embrace with another man and then boasted about the spying to other people.
Williams, who identifies as gay, says same-sex-attracted and gender-diverse people are many times more likely to attempt suicide than those who identify as heterosexual.
Wear It Purple, which this year is sponsored by the Metropolitan Community Church but is a secular group, is open to people of all sexual and gender orientations. "Young people don't always identify with a label and can find the label offensive," Williams says.
"Over time, Mardi Gras has developed from when people weren't having their rights recognised to being a celebration of what sexuality is; all the different permutations of it."
ONE of the coolest Mardi Gras spots this year will be the Blackcat Lounge at the Sidetrack Theatre, Marrickville, with an opening-night extravaganza on Valentine's Day featuring snippets from 20 upcoming concerts from queer Sydney musicians to be staged until March 10, including Brett Every, Brendan Maclean, pictured, and Lauren LaRouge.
At the Seymour Centre,
, the annual AIDS fund-raiser, is on tomorrow and Britney Spears: The Cabaret offers song and satire from Wednesday to February 25. Bob Downe's
moves from being a Mardi Gras post-parade party fixture to a new incarnation as a tea dance at the Beresford Hotel on February 26.
Neil Watkins, a 33-year-old gay man with a Jesus complex, stars in
The Year of Magical Wanking
at Sydney Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday and the stars of La Clique go crazy in La Soiree tonight at the studio, Sydney Opera House.
Visual-arts highlights include
six artists capturing Mardi Gras at the Kerrie Lowe Gallery in Newtown, and
Wilde in the Country
at South Hill Gallery, Goulburn, featuring work by William Yang and others.
Wilfulness is a "political art", British-born, Australian-raised academic Sara Ahmed says, and wilful sexual disobedience has in the history of ideas placed queers as "swerving atoms" straying from the "straight path".
Ahmed, a former University of Sydney lecturer and now a professor in race and cultural studies at Goldsmiths University of London, will speak on February 25 in the Everest Theatre as part of Queer Thinking, the annual day of lectures and talks at the Seymour Centre.
Sessions in the Everest Theatre will begin with
Growing Up Other
at noon, in which five grown-up children, aged 21-31 and of same-gender parents, will talk about bullies, privacy, language and sperm donors.
Then, ACON's Asian gay men's project and the
Pride in Colour
group will discuss what it's like to be an Asian gay man in the
Do You See Me?
session, at which a new magazine,
, will be launched.
Later, Sydney's Pride History Group will celebrate the 30th anniversary re-publication of the ground-breaking 1972 book
Homosexual: Oppression & Liberation
with a panel of historians and activists, including the book's author, Dennis Altman.
Downstairs in the Sound Lounge, the topics of race, sexual identity and religion will begin the day at noon as Alyena Mohummadally, a Melbourne lawyer and social-justice activist of Pakistani background, discusses reconciling those three areas of her life as a queer Muslim.
The Sound Lounge will also host a celebration of 30 years of Sydney's Bookshop Darlinghurst, one of the few surviving queer-oriented bookstores in the world, presented by the shop's owner, Les MacDonald, and author Graeme Aitken.
As part of that celebration, author Andrea Goldsmith will read from her work and the work of her late partner, the poet Dorothy Porter, and the former Sydney Festival director, Brett Sheehy, will read from the Wherrett brothers' memoir,
Richard Wherrett, a big supporter of Mardi Gras, died of an AIDS-related illness a little more than a decade ago.
"What frustrated me was a general lack of understanding that a generation was being decimated," Sheehy has said about the '80s and '90s when the disease ravaged his circle.
Meanwhile, two sessions in the Reginald Theatre will take a commercial approach to the future: sponsor Google will conduct
Activism in the Internet Age,
demonstrating Google+ technology as a tool for queer activism. The Mardi Gras festival program manager, Sam Sweedman, says it will be a "live, interactive experience for the audience".
Following this session, the internet behemoth is sponsoring another session about targeting queer consumers.
There will be a satellite Queer Thinking session this year at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta on Saturday, including Welsh-born sociologist Jeffrey Weeks speaking about
The World We Have Won
. Weeks is one of the academics from the earliest days of gay men's studies, joining Britain's Gay Liberation Front in 1970.
Sweedman says Queer Thinking provides audiences with access to ideas.
"The way that we work it, it's basically getting community organisations and speakers and academics and institutions involved in putting together the program," he says.
"So it's very much from the community and what they would like to think about; obviously there's a programming element to it but it rises up from what the community would like to speak and hear about. It's providing a platform for the community to connect."