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Performance and venue review: Elegant, VIVA

Melbourne has a new cabaret venue that offers food and drink as part of its entertainment offering.
VIVA. Elegant. In front of shiny red curtains, four female dancers pose on the stage, three downstage and one on a higher platform. They are all dressed in burlesque costumes, including thigh high boots.

Billed as Melbourne’s new “Spiegel-cabaret”, this venue, tucked away in a nondescript, industrial North Melbourne laneway, offers a fine dining experience as well as two live performances, Elegant and Exotic, which feature all the characteristics of quintessential glitzy-glam showgirls. Think feathers, corsets, lingerie, sequins, bare skin, tottering heels and plenty of attitude, as a troupe of singers, dancers, acrobats and aerialists shimmy and contort their spangled hearts out.

The venue, just a week old, is not quite finished. The space features a horseshoe structure around the stage that consists of plush red seating and dark grey tableware. More booths are due be installed to fit around 150. The decor and mood lighting whisper luxe and romantic-sexy. Two bars have been installed, which seems excessive at first. One is positioned right outside the performance area and one within the dining space. The reason? Anyone wanting a cocktail will have it made in the outside bar so the noisy crush of ice does not interrupt the show. It’s a thoughtful gesture showing respect for the performers.

Regular theatregoers will know how annoying it is to have to quickly snack on something small and not particularly nourishing before or after shows that are almost always scheduled at dinner time. Rushing to eat at 6pm or 10pm is not conducive to good digestive health, so to be served a meal (and drinks) while you’re watching a live performance is ideal for one’s entertainment requirements. Who isn’t automatically in a better mood when food is involved?

The menu at VIVA ranges from hors d’oeuvres to mains and dessert, with the usual list of alcoholic beverages. All that we ordered on the night (which included fried edamame, sushi sandwiches of grilled wagyu and tofu and lamb ribs) were as beautifully presented as they were delicious. They did not have mocktails listed, but when I asked for one, the bartender kindly concocted one for me. Attentive waitstaff – dressed accordingly in shimmering costumes – added to the sophisticated and rather decadent ambience.

As to the shows, only one was seen on the night we attended, the first offering: Elegant. It was designed and directed by Jason Coleman, who previously worked on the Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony as well as Hair, Hairspray and So You Think you Can Dance. So there were high expectations he would deliver in this more intimate setting.

And deliver he does. Elegant has eight female and two male dancers being introduced by a faux Frenchified host who trades in innuendo. His sleazy schtick becomes tiresome as the night wears on, but the performers themselves are entertaining indeed. Highly skilled and gorgeously costumed in a vast array of shiny, tight outfits, they dance, prance and grind away to short, sharp segments. Circus-style rope work, video projections and an array of props (a chaise longue, a bed, a motorbike), as well as the steady thump of music and dramatic lighting all contribute to a night of high-octane merry-making. The dancers all have jewel-related pseudonyms and so go by names like Onyx and Citrine. They are as glamorous and athletic as you’d expect.

Read: Theatre review: World Problems, Southbank Theatre

Elegant lasts for about an hour and a half, with the segment after interval more creatively interesting. It consists of VIVA’s time capsule to honour powerful women of the ages, so there are tributes to Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Rihanna, Beyoncé, Madonna (pointy-bra era), Kylie Minogue, Elle Macpherson, even Olivia Newton-John (watch out for the roller skates), as well as nods to Chicago and Moulin Rouge.

If you want your shows even more risqué, opt for the Exotic offering, which is slated at a later time slot.

All in all, VIVA is a sparkling addition to Melbourne’s night life, a good spot for date nights, parties (on the night we attended there was a 30th birthday celebration) and simply for anyone who wants to indulge in a few hours of escapist spectacle.

Elegant and Exotic will be performed at VIVA, Melbourne every Friday and Saturday, with half-price shows starting on Tuesdays from 21 May 2024.

Thuy On is the Reviews and Literary Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her debut, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was released by University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP). Her second collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Her third book, Essence, will be published in 2025. Twitter: @thuy_on Instagram: poemsbythuy