EMPIRE strikes back

Spiegelworld Impresario Ross Mollison talks about entertainment spectacle EMPIRE, why Sydney audiences are loving it and why Melbourne should be excited.
EMPIRE strikes back

EMPIRE's Miss A in a Bubble. Image by Mike Emmett.

For Spiegelworld Impresario Ross Mollison, the current 2014 Sydney season of EMPIRE by Spiegelworld, which has recently been extended to March 2, is testament to the enduring popularity of the production. ‘The show was an enormous hit last year,’ he said.

‘Everywhere it went we were blown away by the level of enthusiasm for the show. There were extraordinary attendances and really appreciative audiences.’

EMPIRE had its world premiere season in New York City during the summer of 2012, where it was the first tented show ever seen in Times Square. After breaking box office records across Australia last year, the return Sydney and Melbourne seasons of EMPIRE follow sell out engagements in Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra and Newcastle that left audiences amazed and breathless.

Over 170,000 Australians to date have seen the 90-minute entertainment spectacle, which reinvents the boundaries of circus, burlesque, cabaret, vaudeville and live comedy, and features the sexiest, most daring artists from across the globe.

Under the dimmed lights of Spiegelworld’s 700-seat antique Belgian spiegeltent, MCs Oscar and Fanny guide an eccentric cast of characters including acrobats, contortionists and vocalists, who present a staggering array of awe-inducing, death defying and hilarious circus skills.

Mollison literally travelled the world to include the incredible artistry of burlesque, variety, and circus in EMPIRE in a way unlike anything seen on stage before. ‘The artists we have are from Russia and the Ukraine, from Turkey and Ethiopia. This really is the United Nations of the world’s great performers.’


EMPIRE's Anne Goldmann as MC Fanny. 

Mollison said that a number of new performers have joined the cast since it was last seen in Sydney and Melbourne. ‘There are a few changes as the show has developed in different directions. We’re really excited to see how audiences in Melbourne react, it’s getting great responses in Sydney at the moment.’

New cast members include Australian contortionist Lucia Carbines who has taken over the role as Miss A in a Bubble performing the iconic aerial sphere act and a new contortion act; Broadway star Victoria Matlock who now plays Miss Purple; and Ukrainian couple Vlad Ivashkin and Aiusha Khadzh Khamed who perform the beautiful hand-to-hand adagio act in their roles as Carrot Man and Lime Green Lady. ‘They’re stunning and their artistry is some of the best in the world. I think people will really love them when they come to see the show,’ said Mollison.

A stellar Australian creative team has been assembled for the current Australian tour of EMPIRE, including director Terence O’Connell, choreographer John ‘Cha Cha’ O’Connell (Strictly Ballroom, The Great Gatsby), and designer Angus Strathie (Moulin Rouge).

‘The most important thing for me is having a really cohesive company of artists, making sure that family of artists enjoy their time working together,’ said Mollison.

‘A lot of it is like a great sporting team, we start the season with our players and we want to see them improve throughout the year to a point where we’re just loving it because we’re such a finely tuned team of people.’

‘Working with such amazing artists is an enormous obligation to make sure we have great audiences who leave really satisfied. It’s really exciting to have all these people coming to work together on a production,’ he said. 

Evidently the global reach of Spiegelworld is moving from strength to strength. Spiegelworld changed New York City’s live entertainment landscape in 2006, when it first introduced its immersive shows that shocked and excited standing-room-only audiences.  At the core of this seductive world was a unique venue – a century-old Belgian spiegeltent.  A larrikin Australian creative team collaborated with artists from around the world to present breath-taking physical feats, outrageous comedy and seductive teases as close to the audience as they could get.

For three years, Spiegelworld was a summer institution under the Brooklyn Bridge and changed the New York City live entertainment landscape. Sold-out shows including Absinthe, La Vie, Desir, Gazillionaire’s Late Nite Lounge and Empire have fast established Spiegelworld as a place of extraordinary performance.

In addition to Miami South Beach and Australian tours, Absinthe has become a Las Vegas fixture on the Caesar’s Palace forecourt, and has been voted Vegas Chatter’s Best Show for three years in a row.

EMPIRE's Gorilla Girls. Image by Mike Emmett.

Spiegelworld now unfolds a new chapter with Vegas Nocturne at Rose. Rabbit. Lie. located inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. After an eighteen month development period, the production is being hailed as the most innovative and talked-about new live entertainment concept in Las Vegas in years.

‘This new show has been playing for about four weeks, it’s an extraordinary experiment in creating entertainment and creating a new art for our patrons,’ said Mollison.

Vegas Nocturne flows throughout the venue at all hours of operation but is anchored in three ticketed cantos each evening. Vegas Nocturne does not live on a stage or within the rise and fall of a curtain. 'You go to the space and you don’t know what to expect. There are no real rules. It is Las Vegas's Las Vegiest place,' he said.

EMPIRE will soon be departing Australian shores and continuing on its global tour. Mollison encourages audiences to catch Spiegelworld’s unique brand of spectacle before the opportunity is gone. Sydney audiences only have weeks left to catch EMPIRE before it moves on to Melbourne where it opens on 11 March 2014. 

EMPIRE by Spiegelworld plays until March 2 in Sydney under the spiegeltent, Entertainment Quarter, Moore Park.

The Melbourne season of EMPIRE opens on 11 March and will play under the spiegeltent on the Rooftop at Crown, access via Level 3, Whiteman Street, Southbank.

Visit the Ticketek website for bookings. 

For more information about EMPIRE visit the EMPIRE website and the Spiegelworld website.

The Polka Dot Woman and Blue Tarpoleon. Image by Mark Turner.

Troy Nankervis

Wednesday 12 February, 2014

About the author

Troy Nankervis is an ArtsHub journalist from Melbourne. Follow him on twitter @troynankervis