The latest production at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts is a tribute to a decadent, bygone era.
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The latest production at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts sees Timothy Brown (Queensland Ballet, Expressions Dance Company) direct and choreograph a tribute to the bold ‘decadence’ and ‘debauchery’ of the Salon era gone by.

Salõn works best as brief escapism, with the audience stepping in from a street full of rowdy rugby fans into a so-called ‘Bohemian Divine’ – a transformed space with audience sat either side of a long runway, broken in the middle by a round centre stage. Lighting by Andrew Meadows creates a kaleidoscope of colour amongst which we are introduced to a gang of intriguing, scene-stealing, boisterous circus and dance performers. Jean (Nerida Matthaei) acts as a sort-of host and ringleader – think a bawdy Monica Trapaga – leading her troupe in a series of acts, all to impress the mysterious Marchesa (Elizabeth Whealen), who spends much of the performance perched upon a throne.

There’s a heavy dose of fantasy too – a through the looking glass, Alice in Wonderland vibe which sees the young Cass (David Trappes) and Nova (Alex Weckes-Huck) act as Tweedledum and Tweedledee types, and featuring a beautiful ballerina named Alice (Iona Marques), an innocent seduced by the dark beauty which surrounds her.

Though there’s nothing particularly wrong with the delivery, Salõn’s tired one-liners deservedly fall flat and as for the audience participation, it was amongst the most awkward I’ve seen and frustratingly, seems to exist for no purpose at all. The audience isn’t truly won over until the most daring and inspiring of physical feats. The Serpent (Travis Scott, a Pole Dancing Champion) confidently straddles a pole that swings right above the first few rows of the audience. Similarly, Nova (Alex Weckes-Huck) dazzles and terrifies in equal measure, twisting and hanging by lone limb on a single trapeze.

Salõn does, in these moments, live up to the promise of being a true ‘spectacle’. What it lacks is the advertised eroticism. Sure there are bras and bare chests and a gimp-type who looks to be wrapped in an elasticised tennis net, but it’s all a little tame to be truly ‘sexy’. Finally it would be unforgiveable not to mention vocalist Michelle Xen and her band the Neon Wild, who elevate the mood of the show with their own unique brand of live pop and electronica. Xen is such a commanding stage presence that even with a man dressed as a peacock swinging just metres above, your eyes still constantly drift back to her. And among a show of some pretty impressive costume work (though the pieces may have been picked up separately – the program doesn’t acknowledge a costume designer) it is Xen who has the most changes, and is draped in some of the more remarkable gowns in the show.

Salõn could be interpreted as a comment on modern day arts funding – artists clamouring to impress, to make a living, while remaining true to their own creative vision. But though undoubtedly eager to please, without a tighter script and that all-too-necessary heat, it can’t quite warm a crowd in from the cold.

Rating: 2 ½ stars out of 5

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts presents


Directed and Choreographed by Timothy Brown

Creative Producer: Lewis Jones

Lighting Design: Andrew Meadows

Dramaturge: Finn O’Branagáin

Set Design: Rozina Suliman

AV Designer: Elise May

Cast: Iona Marques, Michelle Xen and the Neon Wild, Anthony Trojman, Nerida Matthaei, David Trappes, Alex Weckes-Huck, Elizabeth Whealen and Travis Scott


Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts, Fortitude Valley

22 – 29 June


Peter Taggart
About the Author
Peter Taggart is a writer and journalist based in Brisbane, Australia.