Cabaret as a performing art originated in France in the 1880s primarily as a reaction to its prudish, conservative society. Subsequently, the Germans pursued it purely because it was a liberating art form that numbed their senses to the dismal political situation in their country.
With roots in social and political rebellion in Europe, cabaret was difficult to tame. It could not be boxed in by rules and formats… that would have defeated the purpose for which it was created. Cabaret tested the boundaries of entertainment by fusing elements of song, jazz, dance and theatre – a refreshing change that helped blur the lines between the high and low classes, artists and the audience – whisking the viewers away from reality for a little while.
It was the ‘no rules’ concept that gave it wings to fly. Cabaret could link musical ideas to play on a theme or tell a story, it could be bawdy or burlesque, gently risqué or radically rebellious. But whatever the theme of the performance, it was essential for the artists to maintain an interactive rapport with their audience.
With the increasing popularity of cabaret, Bohemien venues started springing up in every nook and corner where musical entertainment became an extravagant treat to guests who would gather to eat, drink and make merry.
Quick on the heels of its success in Europe, the cabaret made its way to the United States during the prohibition era of the 1920s. But, in America, these shows served a different purpose and was never overtly political as its European counterpart. Cabarets and jazz concerts went hand-in-hand at ‘speakeasy’ clubs and were primarily a distraction from the mobsters who covertly flouted prohibition rules, including the illegal dealing of alcohol.
Being ‘Down Under’, Australia was cut away from the cabaret revolution that swept through Europe and America. Cabaret made its way to Sydney purely as a form of entertainment in the 1980s,when there was a sudden surge of interest in performing arts and variety entertainment.
With the introduction of Sydney Showboats to Sydney Harbour and the creation of a cabaret stage at Tilbury Hotel during the late 1980s, cabaret as a performing art firmly planted roots in Sydney soil.
Though likened to the world-famous French Moulin Rouge, Sydney’s cabaret shows toned down the stereotypical seductive routines and made them livelier with music, dance and comedy being the highlights of the performance. But, they went all out to deliver a daring theatrical statement with extravagant stage settings and showgirls dressed in flashy sequined costumes, corset tops and feathery headgear. These cabarets revolutionised the entertainment scene in Sydney and have been nothing but pure delight to Sydneysiders as well as tourists.
Though cabaret has evolved over time and the purpose of the performance has changed, it still remains an art form that cannot be boxed in by rules. So, there is no saying what direction modern cabaret will take… it all depends on the performing artists and their creativity… and with creativity, there are no boundaries and the sky’s the limit!
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