Famously selected for a New York festival curated by David Bowie himself, international citizen Meow Meow graces Oz for the creation and launch of Vamp – commissioned by Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Opera House.
Whilst Meow Meow has always spent a lot of time researching and perfecting her work, Vamp offers a new experience. “There’s a lot of work for this because there’s a big creative team and Micheal Kantor’s going to attempt to direct me and Shaun Parker – a beautiful choreographer – is going to come down from Sydney to do the choreography. I have to be a little bit vulnerable in terms of the other creatives on board. I don’t want to be entirely unwieldy all of my life,” she says – although, if anyone can tame her, it’s this team.
“I love all of the different brains on this piece, I feel like I’ve got fantastic allies and we all trigger each other in different ways. It feels very much like a collaborative dream team really.” She speaks especially highly of Musical Director Iain Grandage “Why I love him is he’s an expert genre-hopper. He’s got salon music from the turn of the century and then a vicious tango and then he’ll pull it into some mad punk rock thing. He’s disgustingly talented because he does all of this on the piano and actually his first instrument is the cello.”
Watching Meow Meow stalk her audience with feline grace and the voice of an opera star, academics does not necessarily spring to mind. But for Meow Meow, it’s an essential part of creating the performance. “I do have a very academic bone. As ridiculous as I am on stage, I really like the meatiness of it. I’m sort of obsessed with history. I think you’ve got to know where you’re coming from,” she explains.
It’s not uncommon for Meow Meow to drop in on professors who are experts in her chosen subjects. “I’m around the world enough to go to them and there’s a certain lee-way about being an artist which doesn’t require you to hand in a thesis at the end of the time. I’m a big one for footnoting and putting as much detail in as I can, my brain needs, I need, substance to my research. I hope it comes out in the work.”
Meow’s enthusiasm for her subject matter is obvious: “I love the image of the vamp. I’m looking at all the earliest images of the vamps and vampires and blood so it’s all quite visceral… the mythologies of the femme fatal, who are either full of heart or heartless depending on your viewpoint. I like that all my work’s sort of about beauty and desperation because they’re all mixed in and I find a lot of that eastern European vampire mythology really fascinating, where it sort of blends in with politics and that fear of the other and that bleeds into contemporary politics. The body of course is my only political playground really, that’s all I’ve got – so I’m using my legs and my voice and my brain and my heart (if I can find it, yes she’s still there).”
She continues passionately, “I’ve always been interested in Anita Berber, who was an exotic dancer from Weimar, Berlin and there was a book published fairly recently about her with the tantalising title The Seven Addictions of Anita Berber; it’s fantastic. I’ve got all this material that I’ve gathered on her over the years from Berlin. I was going to do this gig in San Francisco at MOMA and I thought ‘oh, I’m going to be near Berkeley, I’ll just write to the professor that wrote the book.’ He’s an expert in Russian theatre but he’s really a most interesting, naughty professor who publishes these books about erotica on the side. It’s been fantastic. He was very generous and he’s shared a lot of material with me and he has done the program note for us. I think the internet makes it easier too and the fact that I’m on tour and I can say, ‘want to come and see me in Berlin?’ I’m in the privileged position of being permanently jetlagged but having a very interesting life.”
Despite Meow Meow’s fame, it’s hard to put your finger on where you might find her, or where she came from. “I’m really based in my suitcases, my suitcases and I’m sort of based in New York, I do just exist in my bags,” she says.
Her past is just as intriguing: “I’ve always been very shady about my past. I did have a Russian classical ballet training which was really beautiful long lines, very old school and operatic voice training, so I definitely came from, I guess, a classical tradition. But there were healthy huge doses of circus and fantastic performance art that I was exposed to, so it felt very like it was all – there really was no division between high art and gutter, as it would be. It’s always been a case of – one night I’ll be at the oldest drag bar in New York and the next night I’ll be the Berlin philharmonic. I really love the ostensible incongruousness of all of that and for this piece with the Vamp show I’m sort of doubling up, you know the ostensible glamour of it all and being this wicked veracious woman.
“It’s very Meow, but I’m very excited because the music is so exquisite but it’s quite bloody. I’m really excited about a new piece with new music and well, either high poetry or doggerel depending how you like my lyrics.”
Cabaret seductress, vocalist, multi-award winning chameleon par-extraordinaire Meow Meow premieres her new dance hall delight Vamp at the CUB Malthouse’s Merlyn Theatre September 4 – 22. Tickets are $15 – $49 +bf, for bookings and further detail contact Malthouse Box Office 9685 5111/ http://www.malthousetheatre.com.au