Moira Finucane has been described as a force of nature; but the performer and producer’s identity as Queen of edgy, sometimes monstrous genre and gender-twisting cabaret is a carefully crafted one, embellished over a career spanning three decades.
With her stern Gothic looks and elaborate, Goddess meets fantasy-heroine costumes, the co-creator and star of variety shows such as The Burlesque Hour is a power-station of ideas and – I’m affected by her hyperbole – an avalanche of elaborately crafted statements about her work and its place in the world.
“I’m interested in creating cultural heat, legendary work that celebrates and provokes and explores power, desire and extinction, “ she explains, about her latest show, The Rapture Chapter II: Art vs Extinction.
She’s parked in a car outside of Alice Springs when we talk, on the final leg of a development tour for the show. This has taken her to Berlin and Prague alongside the Tiwi Islands, the APY Lands, and Antarctica.
The show opens in Melbourne in early September and both it and its predecessor, The Rapture (2017) have an end-days, apocalyptic feel, in an evening that, to quote Finucane’s media release, combines “a transcendent, synaesthetic emporium of gothic-erotic dreams, rock’n’roll angels, soul searing music, porcelain icicles, couture, sculpture, skin shedding tales and total art gesamtkunstwerk.”
Does that really explain what you’ll be seeing? No, but descriptions of Finucane’s shows, often devised with her long term partner Jackie Smith, have always been hard. Her co-stars come from diverse cultures and art forms as well as ranging widely in age; Shirley Cattunar, a performer and dancer in several shows, is 82.
The process of making this show has included working with the Mudburra people of Marlinja, NT and producing an album for the singer Ray Dimakarri Dixon, who is now also part of The Rapture’s G force.
The show’s environmental themes are not a Johnny-come-lately obsession for Finucane; in a previous incarnation, and for many years, the Western Australian science graduate found herself in Melbourne as National Campaign Co-ordinator for the Wilderness Society. She lobbied in Canberra, and proselytised to the faithful from Kakadu to Tasmania.
But alongside her day job, Finucane was drawn to perform as part of a burgeoning underground cabaret scene. This flowered into an increasingly overground political and feminist performance scene in the late ‘90s.
The Burlesque Hour, later renamed Glory Box is her best-known show and has played in cities and festivals worldwide to an estimated audience of 300,000.
It began life in 2004 at inner-city venue fortyfivedownstairs and this is where The Rapture series is also being staged. Many of her other shows have also been seen here.
Finucane’s had residencies in Brazil, Norway and France and when I ask her where she might live if not in Melbourne, she names Paris and the small Cornish town of Fowey as favourite spots. But Australia is where she belongs, she emphasises;
“I’m passionately in love with the country I was born in,” she says, “this place is stunning and I feel a responsibility to do the best for it.”