Review: BRIEFS head out of this world with Close Encounters at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival

Seated at a table at the end of a catwalk thrust out into the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, two girls in their mid to late-20’s take up seats around the same table, wide-eyed and chattering excitedly. A well-dressed bearded man dances his way over to the table holding a silver bucket, singing to the disco music playing over the PA. He asks them if they would like to buy a raffle ticket, to which the girls happily produce gold coins in exchange for the tickets.

“I would buy 50,” I hear one say, as the bearded man sashays away.

This was their first introduction to the crazy, ridiculous BRIEFS world and by the end of the show – the raffle prize equated to a lap dance in the ‘Briefs Barber Shop’ – the bewildered expressions plastered across their faces would have been worth the ticket price alone.

Mine happened way back in 2012. I met Artistic Director Fez Fa’anana at WOMADelaide that year – we were drawn to each other over a mutual recognition, we were the only Samoans in the wider vicinity, it seemed, and since then I have been making it a point to see any Briefs Factory/Polytoxic affiliated production that made its way to Adelaide. What began as an interest in how our culture was worked into the production (whether it be in costuming or dance influence), grew into a full blown love for this changing cast of talented, hilarious and gifted performers from a variety of backgrounds.

So here I find myself, seated at this table and preparing to experience the latest production the Briefs Factory have created – Close Encounters. The show is only a month old; having enjoyed a stellar debut at the Brisbane Powerhouse, Close Encounters arrived in Adelaide for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival this weekend for three shows before packing up and heading to Europe for stints in Madrid and then London. Having spoken with Fa’anana earlier in the year about the show’s creative development, I knew to expect a raised bar and an embrace of the eclectic and the weird (more than usual) and as per, the company has delivered.

It’s not without its changes, however. Briefs fans will note the absence of beloved cast members including the Evil Hate Monkey, Valerie Hex and Lachy Shelley. However, stepping into the fun house for Close Encounters are a trio of brilliant dancers and entertainers in Thomas Gundry GreenfieldHarry Clayton-Wright (who also appeared in Club Briefs) and Dale Woodbridge-Brown. The three are natural fits with the Fa’anana, Mark ‘Captain Kidd’ Winmill, Thomas Worrell and Louis Biggs – with each trashy, comedic moment, there is a moment of subtle beauty within performance that establishes a strong dynamic that is introduced to the crowd early on in the piece.

We’re plunged into this interplanetary world Close Encounters traverses with an opening number that proves to be a feast for the eyes. And get your minds out of the gutter – I’m talking about the choreography and costuming. Extravagance is found in feathers and Shivannah’s majestic grass skirt, which was accentuated with each twist and Tahitian-inspired move. We’re firmly reminded that we are in aboard their Mothership and the best way to handle it, is just to relax and enjoy the ride.

There are moments of familiarity for those return customers; Biggs’ nerdy boylesque routine exemplified a combination of naughtiness with goddamn talent for physical co-ordination, while Captain Kidd’s aerial work and moves with three hula hoops were also a welcome return sight – he’s filthy, he’s hilarious, he’s cocky and he’s mesmerising to watch spinning around, suspended in mid-air. Once more Worrell proved to be a crowd favourite; the cerceau master delivering routines with unconsummated strength and beauty.

The inclusion of Clayton-Wright and Greenfield to the cast is an inspired one and it was a pleasure to see the two partnered up at various points of the evening. Clayton-Wright, well-known British writer and provocateur, is a perfect partner and foil to Greenfield, who comes to Briefs with an impressive Expressions Dance Company/Bangarra Dance Theatre career behind him. There’s a particular moment that stands out as one of my favourites of the whole production, that sees the duo perform a routine to Kate Bush‘s “Running Up That Hill”. There’s a physical comedy that permeates the piece, but the intensity that comes with each lift, leap and turn highlights the delicate nature that is also present within the choreography.

As it sits within the wider Briefs body of work, Close Encounters is as manic as its predecessors. However, there is something little more sophisticated about this production compared to The Second Coming, say. This isn’t to say that the troupe have dialled the sexiness and decadence down any, but there’s a more pointed nature to each of these chapters that make up Close Encounters as a whole. This is an offering that sees the company continuing to flourish and the best part about it is, this ain’t even their final form yet.

Photo by John Tsiavis.