Sunday 5 February 2023

HOUSE OF THE HEART: Cabaret Review

What: House of the Heart
When: 5-12 February 2023
Where: Museum of Chinese Australian History
Created by: Moira Finucane & Jackie Smith
Performed by: Paul Fabian Cordeiro, Shirley Cattunar, Zitao Deng, Moira Finucane, Dave Johnston, Sophie Koh, Rachel Lewindon, Lois Olney, Raksha Parsnani, and Xiao Xiao

Lois Olney

It has been just over a year since Victoria's strict pandemic lockdown and work from edicts ceased. Yes, we are moving on, and yes, society's rhythms are returning - slightly retuned but beginning to play at something approaching vivace if not the preceding prestissimo. In the midst of our fermata, however, we had the opportunity and the will to take a look around us and consider what is important to us. Locked in the little cells of our domeciles we also took stock of what is house and what is home. Finucane & Smith have taken this intensely intimate introspection we all faced and created a cabaret study called House of the Heart. Intriguingly, and importantly given the state of the world right now and our internal political struggles, they are performing it at the Museum of Chinese Australian History.

Finucane & Smith have a long and (in)glorious history exploring China, performing in and with the Chinese, and working with Chinese diaspora artists. It is exciting to hear Moira Finucane speak to this history in the preamble as she introduces us to the famous dragons watching over us in the Dragon Gallery and as we look to the luck the Year of the Rabbit foretells.

House of the Heart has a tempo which is a bit different to what you may have come to expect from Finucane & Smith. It is a gathering of people, a gathering of stories, a gathering of intimacy, sharing, and love. In keeping with the theme of the venue, there is a Chinese conceit to the evening, but what brings it all together and completes the circle is the Indigenous presence. On the night I was there it was Lois Olney (with guitar virtuoso Dave Johnston) singing blues classics by the great Nina Simone as well as sorrowful but loving tunes about her family and a lullaby in native language.

House of the Heart invites artists who have come to this country to tell their story however they best express themselves. There is often debate around Australia as home to immigrants. House of the Heart does not try to take a stance. The show is just about looking at the ways and whys of how the Chinese diaspora find themselves living on these shores and some of the experiences they have had. At the same time, we are asked to look inside our own houses and think about what make the heart of our homes. 

Sophie Koh begins the singing and, as the evening progresses, she introduces us to the first Chinese pop song sung in English. She is accompanied by the softly incandescent Xiao Xiao on cello and Zitao Deng on backing vocals. 

Mesmerised by Xiao Xiao's first unique composition, Finucane reveals the swift tattooed on Xiao Xiao's arm. The swift is a fitting theme for the evening and Finucane explains just how far a swift can (and does fly). In it's lifetime a swift can fly up to 2 million kilometres - enough to fly to the moon and back and more than enough to fly to Australia. In a rare, but on brand, moment Finucane lets us in to see the true heights of her acting talents and writing brilliance in a little piece called 'The Swift'. Some people do not belong in our heart and in our home.

Paul Cordeiro tells us - first through voice and later through dance - of his family's migration story and the strength and wonder of his older brother, before Zi Tao sings his first self-composed song. Belonging in Australia is a complicated state of being. Hearing Zi Tao's painful cry 'Taipei is not my home' over and over, resonating between the walls, the floors, the audience, and the dragons, is one of the most powerful moments of the evening.

There is deep sadness in House of the Heart, but there is also great freedom and love and hope which is embodied in Raksha Parsnani's explosive belly dance. The intimacy of the space ensures we all feel enveloped in a warm dragon hug and ensures our sense of communal sharing and caring. 

Towards the end of the show we are asked to share what is in the heart of our own homes. My list began with the soft belly fur of my kitten, and my friend has dragons and orange light in the heart of her home. What is in the heart of yours? Come to the Museum of Chinese Australian History this week and share. After all, isn't this what community is all about?

4 Stars.

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