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GET INTOUCH THIS MONTH
  • Liane Morris

Experience the Fun and Mayhem of Blanc de Blanc Encore


Images Credit: Carlita Sari Photo. Images Source: Strut & Fret.

Newcastle’s love affair with the famous Spiegeltent is set to continue this September when Strut & Fret’s ever popular Blanc de Blanc Encore returns as part of the City of Newcastle’s New Annual Festival. Hot from return seasons in Sydney and Darwin, there is no better way to herald in Spring than a champagne frolic with sexy, awe-inspiring antics in Civic Park. Packed with new surprises and new local and international artists, it’s a hedonistic, glamorous and extravagant world of vintage French flair, risqué humour, spectacular aerials, comedy and big dance numbers that will have you dancing in your seat and gasping for more.

 

The original Blanc de Blanc was staged in Civic Park in 2018, with the revised production, Blanc de Blanc Encore, wowing Novocastrians in 2022 after being cancelled due to Covid in 2019. Earlier this year, in March, local audiences lined up to see the Strut & Fret production of The Party, which has a more raucous, in-your-face, debaucherous feel.


According to Scott Maidment, Director and Producer, Blanc de Blanc Encore is “more sophisticated than The Party, much more elegant. It’s like drinking champagne. At the beginning of the evening, it’s smooth, celebratory and elegant. As the evening goes on, it becomes more intoxicating, the bubbles go to your head, and you end up dancing on the tables full of sparkling joy. It has a completely different energy – less about the raunch factor and much more high-class!”


For those that have seen Blanc de Blanc Encore before, don’t let that stop you from coming again – introduce your friends to the Spiegeltent magic and re-experience the fun and mayhem that you know is on offer. Regular attendees of Strut & Fret productions will know that no show is ever the same.


Performed almost in the round with no fourth wall, the experience enables audience members to see the faces, reactions and delight of those around them and in front of them, adding to the party-like atmosphere. Performers roam throughout the crowd, and the action is up close and personal.



“When you go to see something like Cirque de Soleil, the show never alters. It never changes. It is the same show every night, regardless of the audience’s reaction. At Blanc de Blanc Encore, the performers are so highly skilled that they can alter their performances depending on the audience’s reaction and engagement. It is fully interactive and immersive as an experience for our audiences.”


The ability to alter the performance depending on the audience’s reaction is due to the incredible talent and professionalism of the artists performing. With a cast that hails from all around the world and widely regarded as the best in the industry, Strut & Fret performers are quite simply sensational.


“We work with our cast to develop the acts that make it into the show. We go into rehearsal before each season starts and workshop the apparatus of each of the artists into the show. Our artists are like family; we grow and flex together, meaning our productions remain fresh and unique.



“We’re excited this year to have Misha (Mykhailo Makarov) joining the cast from Ukraine—one of the most flexible men in the world - insanely boneless. Specialising in hip hop, popping, and a technique known as "bone breaking", Misha pushes his body to the edge in every performance. His unusual skillset is in demand worldwide, with significant performances throughout Asia and Europe. We’re fortunate to have him. He has a considerable list of awards and accolades, including first place in the World of Dance Ukraine 2019 Awards, Winner of the Juste Deboute World Final in Paris 2018, and Experimental Champion of Juste Deboute 2017. Mykhailo also grabbed the Golden buzzer on Ukraine‘s Got Talent (2021) and was a finalist on Ukraine Talent (2022).


“He originally joined Strut just before Covid and ended up being stuck in Australia. Then when he eventually got back, the war had broken out. If he had stayed, he would have been forced into the military. We got him into a show in Paris on a Special Talent Visa. We're thrilled to have him back. He’s a member of our family now. He’s an extraordinary contortionist who can virtually turn his head almost 180 degrees behind himself! Newcastle audiences will love him.”


Joining Misha on stage this season is Jess Mews, one of only two Aussies in the cast, the other being Elke Uhd. These two Western Australian artists grew up near each other outside of Perth and even share a birth date. Despite performing at the same festivals as they grew up, this is their first performance on stage together.


“We were just young kids doing circus festivals and learning our craft,” said Jess. “We saw each other multiple times per year, but our careers took us in different directions, and now it’s wonderful to perform together for the first time.”


Jess was a shy girl growing up who tried all the usual pursuits like soccer, gymnastics and the like before her mother encouraged her to try circus skills. She began at WA Circus School in Fremantle when she was five years old, her mum enrolling her “because I couldn’t walk in a straight line, and I was terrible at making friends”.


After starting with the circus fundamentals of juggling and acrobats, she found her love of hula hoops when she was 12 years old and left home when she was 15 to join The Flying Fruit Fly Circus in Albury Wodonga. By seventeen years old, Jess was representing Australia at the International Circus Festival in Asia.




“I loved it so much; I knew it was where I had to be. I feel safe in the circus community – it’s so inclusive. No one could understand why my mother allowed me to run away from home to join the circus, but she let me follow my passion, and I’ve never looked back. I was living in an apartment on my own at the age of 16. I didn’t even know how to boil an egg. I developed a lot of resilience, and the circus community is so supportive. It’s everything to me. I’ve been able to be myself and develop my own creative pathway.”


Jess has been with Strut & Fret for seven years now after her sheer tenacity and persistence secured her place. She spins up to 100 hula hoops at a time and has performed across Australia, Europe and Canada with her fierce, memorable and sexy persona becoming famous on the stages of Circus Oz, Short Round Productions, 7 Fingers and, of course, Strut & Fret. She believes that Australian circus artists have something that others around the world don’t have.


“There’s something a bit different about Australian performers when you compare them to international artists. We can laugh at ourselves; there’s a twinkle in our eyes. You don’t get that kind of larrikin charisma or personality elsewhere. And we love working with the audience – high energy, big tricks. Sit in the front row at your own risk! I’m looking forward to Newcastle. We all love it there. It reminds me of home with its beautiful beaches and relaxed coastal vibe.”


Her fellow West Australian Elke Uhd is more famous in Germany than she is in Australia and has spent years based in Berlin and appearing on German and Swiss variety shows. A graduate of The National Institute of Arts (NICA) in 2015, she specialises in Dance Trapeze, Cyr Wheel, and Aerial Tube and has performed internationally with Palazzo, La Clique, Circus Oz, and of course, Strut & Fret. Currently performing at the Montreal Circus Festival, Elke has developed a brand-new act for the show.


Many of the Strut & Fret performers and creative team have been together since the original inception of the Spiegeltent shows. There have been over 450 performances of Blanc de Blanc Encore so far. Choreography is by Kevin Maher, who is based in LA but travels to Australia and has worked with Madonna, Nicky Menage and Justin Bieber, to name just a few. Set and lighting design is by UK-based Philip Gladwell, who has worked for The Royal Shakespeare Company, The English National Opera and The National Theatre, amongst many others. The gorgeous vintage costumes are designed by James Browne, one of Australia’s most successful and prolific costume and set designers for theatre, film and events. They are a highlight of the production and are based on 1920s showgirls. There are many costume changes throughout the show, with sometimes only 30 seconds to make the change.



Setting the scene for this opulent extravaganza is the Spiegeltent itself, a onehundred- year-old Dutch mirror tent that has become a familiar sight in Civic Park. With its stained glass, warm timbers, rich velvet and old-world charm reminiscent of European cabaret, it’s as much a part of the show as the performance. Stepping into the Spiegeltent is like transporting yourself across time and space into a magical world that takes you out of your ordinary life for just a few hours. Audience members are fully immersed in a place where the sparkles and bubbles, the beauty and the joy and the sheer thrill of the extraordinary guarantee an unforgettable night that each and every person is a part of.


The Spiegeltent attracts several Novocastrian crew members who are keen to be contracted each time the vintage tent needs to be erected. Just like a giant Meccano set, there are unbelievably no tools, no screws, no nails, no bolts and no machinery required. Originally all the pieces could be lifted by one person, and today it takes less than a dozen people to erect the tent.


“There is this wonderful sense of romantic achievement that people feel when they are a part of this traditional process,” said Scott. “It’s a beautiful heritage piece that people love to work on. It does take a lot of maintenance, though. There is always something being worked on and repaired.”



No expense is spared, and as with all Strut & Fret shows, there are very high-quality production values. The tent concept may remind audiences of a circus, but that’s where the comparison ends because the tent is so unique, extravagant, and romantic. Cabaret and variety are reminiscent of burlesque and fringe shows, but these shows sit well above that level of performance and are not burlesque. The content may be adults only, but it’s risqué, not rude, and the skill of the artists is world-class.


“Our shows have the energy and fun vibes of fringe, but it’s like fringe on steroids,” said Scott.


“The skill and talent of our performers, my creative team and our high production values set it way above that level, and it’s a show that can be seen again and again, with something new to enjoy every time you see it.”


Believe the hype because this five-star champagne cabaret is full of the glitzy, glamorous and extravagant world of vintage French flair, risqué humour, spectacular aerials, sparkling comedy and big dance numbers that we’ve all come to expect from Strut & Fret. Re-immerse yourself in this intoxicating Gatsbyesque ride that astonishes and delights with its world-renowned brand of opulent, cheeky, edge-of-your-seat theatre. The season runs from Friday, September 22 to Sunday, October 22, with tickets available from the Civic Theatre or Moshtix, starting at $74.93 for preview tickets.


The show is suitable for mature 18+ audiences only and is 115 minutes duration, including interval. It comes with a content and sensory warning. Veteran Blanc de Blanc Encore audience members know that wearing white is encouraged, and look out for the one tonne of ethically sourced white feathers!

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