The Winter Soulstice Gala (23 June) was a reflective snapshot of Artistic Director Ali McGregor’s 2018 Adelaide Cabaret Festival; it was a celebration of the record representation of established and emerging South Australian artists, but also a conscious continuation of the controversy that has raged since critical reviews were posted about the festival’s opening gala.
In its 13th year, the Adelaide Cabaret Festival hosted more South Australian performers than ever before; stars such as Johanna Allen and Michaela Burger, and the four participants in the festival’s Space to Create artist development programme: Ajak Kwai, Eric Santucci, Louisa Fitzhardinge, Michelle Braiser.
In their gala performances, Johanna and Michaela’s refined musical theatre vocal chops were utilised to stunning effect, as they performed tracks from their critically acclaimed new shows, 'Cake', and 'A Migrant’s Son' respectively.
Each of the 'Space To Create' participants performed at the gala too, with Louisa’s fluid amalgamation of multilingual singing and sign language merged with audience participation being a highlight of the evening.
Another locally based artist, Dublin-born emcee Eddie Bannon, injected self-deprecating mirth into proceedings as Ali’s sidekick, and he often stole the show.
US star of stage and screen, Jason Kravits, wowed with an improvisational display of creative prowess, as he delivered the cabaret equivalent of a freestyle rap, crooning rhymes on the fly.
The impassioned vocals of gay romcom star Adriana Cappaletta and the gospel quartet from Mission Songs were moving and poignant.
The evening was imbued, though, with some of the animosity that arose when a duo of local and established arts critics passed judgement upon Ali McGregor’s choice of attire for the festival’s opening night.
That criticism, based as it was on personal appearance and therefore themes of female body image, sparked a war of words on Twitter. Ali used her final public appearance as Artistic Director to deliver a pointed retort.
She used her patter to deliver a jibe at one of the critics, Peter Goers, and included a medley that paid tribute to South Australia’s women’s suffrage movement, which was relevant both in the context of the feud but also as a contribution to the debate arising from the murder of Eurydice Dixon, which she has been an active participant in.
The women’s rights segment was immediately followed, though, by crude sexual humour from Tommy Bradson. Ali said this was to “balance the estrogen with testosterone”. Perhaps this was a commentary upon the relative merits of each hormone or a rebuke of toxic masculinity, but the offensive and abrupt tonal shift did see some audience members immediately make their way to the exits.
Ali McGregor’s three-year stint as Artistic Director of the Cabaret Festival, shared in the previous two years with Eddie Perfect, did seek to challenge the status quo and pre-conceived notions. As such, the finale was a fitting swan song that was perhaps clumsily executed at times.