Have you never heard of Vali Myers? Victoria Falconer wants to change that

Reading Time: 14 minutes

Victoria Falconer presents the debut of her show And then you go (The Vali Myers project) at Adelaide Cabaret Festival this weekend. We had a chat with Victoria Falconer about just who Vali Myers is, the show, cabaret, and more.

Vali Myers Victoria Falconer
LEFT: Victoria Falconer Image Liz Hamm RIGHT: Vali Myers in front of her mirror, Paris, 1953, by Ed van der Elsken, H2019.51/74 Copyright,
Nederlands Fotomuseum / © Ed van der Elsken

Victoria Falconer, your show, And then you go (The Vali Myers project), is going to be premiering at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. What can audiences expect from the show?

And then you go is a project that I’ve been wanting to get off the ground – it’s been sort of bubbling away in my brain for ages and ages, for years. All the while that I’ve been sort of a cabaret performer who exists in the festival world and the fringe world and kind of goes between directing for larger scale for the main stage musicals, and then come back to Spiegeltent and circus tents and sort of living in between a lot of different types of performance spaces and styles.

 

I am close to obsessed with the person that is at the centre of this show, the incredible iconic artist Vali Myers.  Have you have you ever come across her before?

 

To be honest, I think I had heard of her once and then when I saw your show in the programme.

You are not the only one. When I performed the first piece from research at the Cabaret Festival gala, I asked the audience whether they’d ever heard of her. And I had maybe ten people who knew of her, three of whom were on stage.

 

She’s very much a cult figure in a world where we use the word cult a lot to describe people and she is absolutely one of them because to learn about her, to know anything about her, I think. Is to take an interest in who she was. She was just such a fascinating character, such a fascinating woman and artist.

 

I’ve always wanted to do something about her life and who she was on stage, because that’s how I communicate. I suppose I’m interested in is something that, whether it’s overtly or subconsciously, ends up on stage when I’m performing. And I love to uplift incredible artists and performers, whether that is in the way that I book lineups when I’m curating shows or in the songs and stuff that I choose to perform or where I’m writing about them.

 

And Vali is somebody who I feel should be on the same iconic status as Frida Kahlo or similar. She lived out of her time, but she was also very much of the time that she was born in but was completely an outsider from the beginning. She was absolutely Australian and very, very Australian to the end so it’s amazing that not more people in this country know about her. In fact, more people know about her overseas really, than they do here.

Vali Myers

Especially in France, I think.

Absolutely! When I was living in the UK 15 years before I moved back to Adelaide two years ago, I used to pop over to Paris all the time, come back before breakfast. Being a cabaret performer on the London scene, definitely one of the perks is that there are so many amazing gigs you can go and do in Europe. Go over and do your show for few days or for a weekend.

 

Every so often I would go over and I would do a little Vali pilgrimage. I would go to the cafes that he used to hang out at. I would go to the hotel that she ended up living in for a little while. She was actually looked after in that time by the same woman that looked after Proust. It’s really strange – she just had all of these people who are iconic in literature and music, visual art in every kind of discipline, just crossing her path so it’s bonkers that she’s not more well-known.

 

She went to Paris when she was 18, finding that the scene of in Melbourne, which is where living then, and it was just too stifling. It was very conservative, it was post-war. She knew she was looking for something a bit bigger and for more people that were like her, the literally got on an ocean liner with £7 in her pocket and went over there. Of course, it was post-war where so many other people were also kind of doing the same thing. But I was very, very bleak over there..

 

She ended up homeless and on the streets. There are so many quotes from her talking about that time of her life where she said the only things that kept her alive were dancing in these clubs like Rose Rouge and Bal Negre, all of those places where you would find people that were just trying to escape the bleakness of their lives. She was doing the same thing, but she’s in her early twenties. These times have been written about so often but she’s out there. She looked after Django Reinhardt’s kids – she was basically their babysitter for a little while, when they were going on tour to Belgium and around France to the south with them. She was at gigs and hung out with Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet…

 

All the big names.

Yeah. People that I studied doing a theatre degree in London and then someone like this red-haired Australian woman was there. You do not you do not associate this broad Australian accent and this outlandish looking Australian boho chick or as I think it was Patti Smith that referred to her as the original beatnik, which is amazing praise coming from Patti Smith.

 

This time it has been ridiculously romanticised and portrayed in film and in theatre and everywhere. But she was there. Basically, what you’re going to see is Vali’s life as an artist and her development and the incredible things that she did, explored by way of various mediums that all kind of come under the umbrella of cabaret. So, you’ll see movement and dance. There are elements of circus, elements of puppetry and theatre, and it’s all original music that I’ve written with my incredible bands and I’m writing, co-writing with Jarrad, who’s an amazing arranger from Adelaide and also my partner who I work with a lot.

 

Well, it’s good that you get along in the work relationship as well!

So, it’s lucky we just we do a lot of work together because he plays all the instruments that I don’t.

Victoria Falconer
Victoria Falconer plays many instruments. Image: Sin Bozkurt Photographer

That was one of my questions actually. I have a list of instruments that you’ve played in one of your shows, and I was going to ask you a little bit about about that.

The setup is looking like around maybe 20 instruments, maybe a couple more and all of the performances. And there’s five other performers and they will all be acting as well.

 

People who have come to see my shows before know that I love messing around with lots of equipment and all of the ones that I normally use will be there. This is the fun part actually hilariously about working on bigger musicals is that for whatever reason, my carnie sensibility is very much something that is wanted at the moment on big stages. So, I’m getting a musical saw into every show! Luckily in my own show, I can definitely do what I want. The band are all multi-instrumentalists, so why not give the audience this incredible experience of seeing this ridiculous array of talent doing what they do best? So that’s definitely a driver for the show as well, as well as amplifying the life and the essence of the spirit of who Vali Meyers was and making sure that she’s well known and provoking people into learning more about her and uplifting her, but also showcasing all of the artists that we have and the amazing stuff that I think cabaret is. I think that a lot of people see cabaret in a certain light. They think they know what it is. And I think that’s often a little narrower than I believe it should be.

 

I’ve worked in cabaret with Courtney Act, so I work in cabaret a lot and then, there’s certain elements of theatre that happen when you’re directly addressed to the audience, that kind of intimacy that you can sort of garner when you really feel like you’re all in the same room and the audience are acknowledged, when you’re experiencing it like that. That’s cabaret!

 

And it’s not necessarily just somebody singing showtunes at a piano, although again, that is totally cabaret as well. I feel that people forget the spectrum that it can be.

 

Exactly. It’s quite broad.

Yeah. As an artist, Vali did all kinds of stuff. She started off as a dancer, and was a performer. But she had that cabaret sensibility when she was holding court in New York at her studio because the way that she saw her paintings was one on one. She didn’t have an art gallery representing her. She would bring somebody in the room and be like, “This is for you. This is the one that you want.” And in my mind, that’s like cabaret, you’re bringing somebody in, making them part of your world, hustling them a little bit to get them to buy the things that you are selling and making that kind of connection. So that’s why I feel like it makes sense to tell this story in this medium. And this is the one that I feel the most comfortable in so it makes sense.

 

Do you remember when you first heard about her and how?

It was when I was at uni? And this is actually it feels like it’s the way that a lot of people do hear about her. And there was a series of photos that were taken of her when she was actually in Paris. And it’s by a photographer caught in Ed Van der Elsken called Love on the Left Bank. It’s gone out of print now and I have a copy but a lot of art galleries and museums they have postcards of these photos. They are such well-known photos and this girl with this look in her eye and the huge Kohl eye makeup and crazy red hair. Exactly what a romantic uni student wants to put on their wall really.

 

I did a little bit of digging. It was in very early Google times in 2002 or whatever. And I started reading about her and was just thinking “What? Who is this woman? How do I not know about her?” I was amazed that a nerdy, artsy girl like me does not know who she is already.

 

But then as soon as you start asking other people, and there’s always somebody who’s also as equally obsessed and they know who she is and there’s usually also, especially in Australia, maybe moreso in Melbourne, seven degrees of separation. There’s somebody who knew Vali before she died. I just wish that I could have done that and I guess this is kind of my way of doing that. I get to ask the questions that I would have asked or hang out with her by doing this show. So many people did have their little story about meeting her or whatever.

 

Since I found out who she was and what she was about when I was 17 or 18 since then it’s been there. When I started doing bigger shows, I was thinking, “Oh, this would be a great subject and a great way to talk more about her and widen the audience that knows about her.” Funnily enough, she does have some surviving family that in there are all around the place and one of them got into contact with me when they found out about the cabaret festival and about the Frank Ford Commission that I won, which was amazing, which means that I could actually do the show and, they bought tickets to come and see these shows. There’s six or seven of them all coming to opening night, which is like stressful.

 

That must be an honour, but also nerve wracking.

We emailed a couple of times, so I feel that I could manage expectations knowing that this isn’t strictly like a biopic. It’s not that I’m here in the life and times of Vali. It’s a more creative exploration of who she was and what her life is and what it means to be an artist and legacy, like the stuff that she left behind. She had these amazing diaries and lots of artifacts of jewellery and stuff that was all donated to the State Library of Victoria.

 

She was interested in leaving a legacy, even though she existed as such an outsider and sort of almost didn’t want to sell her art – she ended up selling prints and things like that instead of her actual artworks because they were so precious to her. Then what you leave behind when you’ve made such an impact on so many of these household names and yet nobody knows about you and doesn’t matter. This is kind of the stuff, but that’s going to be in the show. But that’s what I spoke to them about. But I hope they’ll enjoy it. Everybody’s so beautiful and talented amazing that you can’t not. As long as I’m honouring her memory in a respectful way – I think that’s part of my job too, of course.

Vali Myers
Visual diary, Sunflowers in the shadow of my Night, II Porto Italy, Dog days, August 1977, p. 104-105, by Vali Myers, H2018.435 Copyright, Vali Myers Art Gallery Trust

You mentioned that she was a dancer and she was a painter. You also wear different hats – you created, composed, co-direct and perform in this show? Is it difficult taking on so many different roles?

I do, yes. Because it’s so close to my heart, the roles definitely blend into one another. And there’s other ways that we could do it – we could do it with songs that already exist and all of that kind of thing. But if you can do it, you can write something and you can bring people together to do the show. I just didn’t want it to be a one woman show about how Victoria Falconer is in love with Vali Myers.

 

It’s almost not overtly about me. I almost didn’t put myself in the show. I was just going to be in the band. But then I realized that I definitely needed to be one of the Valis because the performers that we have, each one of them play Valis at different points. But I have also I’ve done a lot of hat-swapping in my career.

 

With all the different instruments as well, and creating and composing and singing.

Yeah, exactly. I’m not necessarily driven by COVID, but more driven by having had such a good time in my 20s making cabaret shows, sitting around on stage, doing variety shows, traveling around, doing all the festivals, swinging from one hemisphere back to the other one.

 

Then when bigger shows came knocking and asked “Do you want to come in musical director” and that’s definitely a very different hat but I still like performing in those shows because it means that I get to experience it and live it from the creative point of view so I’m on the table with the director and the movement director and the choreographer and so on but I’m also in with the cast. If that’s happening or even just group mentalities, we’re having a tired day or whatever in the rehearsal room, but I know it from every angle. I think it enables me to help more and also glue the piece together, especially if it’s live music, which is what I specialise in – those shows like actor musician musicals and musicals where the music is definitely not just in the pit, but it is part of the act.  I think it means I have a better viewpoint, a better lens to look through, to make sure that the piece makes sense all together.

 

And that’s kind of what I’m bringing to this as well, but also very aware that this is why I’m only co-directing, and why I have outside eyes. I have an amazing network of humans that I trust to be able to tell me if I’ve gone off on a tangent or if the storytelling is not clear, or if I’m just throwing in ridiculous instruments for no reason. It’s good to have other people around to remind you of the rules that you’ve put in place and then the rules that you’re allowed to break.

 

They’re all creatives as well the ones I’ve selected are very specifically chosen because they bring an ability to devise into the room. In the creative developments, they’re being just as hands on with how we tell the story as I am. It’s not like I’m just giving them a script or a brief, and then they do it. We’re all in there with our hands in and mucking around and choosing the ways to tell a story. They’re all just ridiculously brilliant.

Vali Myers
Vali-Myers-Image-Credit: Rudi Rappold Vali and her Fox 1972 kindly reproduced courtesy of State Library of Victoria.png

 

We’ve got a person in who I realised we needed to play Foxy. He’s the only person that’s not playing Vali as he’s playing Foxy, who is one of the most significant relationships of his life, which is her pet fox that she had.

 

Of course!.

How could you not put this on stage?!

 

Exactly! It been sitting there untold and needs to be it needs to be shared. People in Adelaide may have already seen your show, East End Cabaret, for example, at Adelaide Fringe, which I haven’t had the experience of watching myself, but I’ve read some reviews and I’ve read that it’s a bit risqué. How is this show compare to that (apart from the fact it’s about someone in particular)? Does And then you go (The Vali Myers project) have similar qualities?

East End was a duo. And I think that that was kind of my first foray into the cabaret world and I toured it for a bunch of years. That was all original songs and still character led. It was super filthy, which was very exciting to be able to do, and to be able to talk about sex on stage. There is definitely going to be at the same sort of vitality about it, like the same kind of pushing boundaries, but in different ways. Because we’re telling this particular person’s story, it’s not around getting amongst the audience and making them feel like these outlandish characters exist in their world, it’s more about transporting them to a different world. It still feels like they’re there, that we’re all here in the same room. And that room would be anywhere; it could be in Italy, it could be in Paris, it could be in New York. And that same sense of intimacy is definitely a part of it.

 

It probably has a little bit more in common with a Fringe Wives Club, which is the most the other cabaret show that I did and more recently in Adelaide, that was the one that won the Cabaret award. That one was a bit educational because it was talking about real experiences in a sort of disco feminist way. The messaging was around feminism and why it’s relevant to you. Bringing people onto the dance floor in a way that was sort of unexpected and that kind of thing of showing this particular story and everything that I feel about being an artist and making art and what that means to be an artist and an audience member and vice versa, is exploring that in a way that’s sort of a same sense of I hope that the people leave thinking about thinking about things that they wouldn’t have thought about otherwise such as how they consume art and also about people and backstories and what gets left behind and whether that’s important or not.

 

The legacy that we leave…

Yeah. It’s a little bit more artsy because I’ve got a little bit more budget, so I get to do some fun things thanks to the grant.

We thank Victoria Falconer for this interview and look forward to seeing And then you go (The Vali Myers project) at Adelaide Cabaret Festival this weekend.

 

KEY INFO FOR AND THEN YOU GO (THE VALI MYERS PROJECT)

WHAT: Victoria Falconer’s show “And then you go (The Vali Myers project)

WHERE: Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, ADELAIDE

WHEN: Friday 24 June 6:30pm and Saturday 25 June at 9pm

HOW: Purchase your tickets via this link: https://www.adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au/events/the-vali-myers-project/

HOW MUCH: Ticket prices (exclusive of booking fee) are as follows:

  • Premium Adult $59.00
  • A Reserve Adult $49.00
  • Under 30 $30.00

 

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2021 in review: a year of French culture in Australia

Reading Time: 7 minutes

As we prepare to farewell 2021, we thought we’d take a look at the highlights of French culture in Australia this year on Matilda Marseillaise. We’ve had celebrations of French food and wine to art exhibitions, festivals and other events with French themes. We’ve interviewed people across many areas including international touring artists and local French and francophone people. Join us as we look back over 2021.

 

French culture in Australia: French Food days

Food is an extremely important part of French culture in Australia as much as in France. January was of course the month of the Galette des Rois which is always one of our most popular posts and has become the go-to resource for French and Francophiles in Australia to find out where they can buy this special cake around Australia.

 

We celebrated Croissant Day with a brief history of the croissant and again letting you know where you can buy croissants from French bakeries in Australia. Then we turned to a sweeter treat for Chocolate Truffle Day. Another day to indulge in all things cacao was World Chocolate Day.

 

We also wrote about Cheese Lovers’ Day for the first time with a focus on cheese subscriptions and celebrated Mouldy Cheese Day in October. As always, Christmas was celebrated with the Bûche de Noël.

French culture in Australia - food days

 

French culture in Australia: Drinks Days

You can’t have food without something to drink and we continued our French wine varietal series throughout the year with facts about the varietals and recommendations from French wine importers in Australia. We also celebrated World Bartenders Day with French cocktails.

 

We looked at French spirits and liqueurs: Chartreuse Day with a look at the history of the green drink and a day celebrating another often-green drink: Absinthe Day. In addition, we discovered strong French links in one of the most popular spirits of the moment: gin. We also celebrated another spirit that you probably don’t associate with France: vodka.

 

Champagne and sparkling wine gave us moments of celebration throughout 2021 with various festivals: Sparkling Fest, Bubbles Festival, Taste Champagne, Effervescence Tasmania.

French drinks days

 

French culture in Australia during Festival time

Australia’s borders were still shut due to COVID-19 so festival time didn’t feature any international acts in 2021. 2021 highlights instead were French themed shows or shows from artists with French links at Adelaide Fringe, Adelaide Festival and Sydney Festival. These provided opportunities to enjoy French culture in Australia.

 

Particularly strong French links were found in performances at Adelaide Fringe including music in different styles, theatre and more. The White Mouse told the story of Australian French Resistance leader, Nancy Wake. Louise Blackwell and the Paris Set took us to Paris for the night.

 

By the time June came, Adelaide Cabaret Festival was able to bring in a few international acts including Brent Ray Fraser, who paints with a very unique and personal tool. Kim David Smith gave a strong nod to Marlene Dietrich with his show Mostly Marlene also at Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

 

Auburn in South Australia’s Clare Valley was transformed into a French village and a celebration of French culture in Australia for a weekend at the inaugural Auburn Frenchfest, which will return in 2023.

 

Le Festival was held over 4 separate events throughout the year, bringing 4 weekends of French joy to Brisbane.

French culture in Australia - festivals

 

French and francophone culture in Australia: National Days

We celebrated (even if virtually for some) the national days of a number of Francophone countries: Canada Day, Bastille Day, Belgian National Day and Swiss National Day as well as Alsace Fan Day.

 

French culture in Australia via exhibitions

Fortunately, COVID-19 didn’t stop international works of art coming to Australia. Exhibition highlights included a number of exciting exhibitions with French links including: French Impressionism: From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Camille Henrot: is Today Tomorrow, and She-oak and sunlight: Australian impressionism.

 

Most recently the NGV opened the Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto exhibition and the Art Gallery of New South Wales opened its Matisse: Life and Spirit.

 

An international exhibition of a different scale and type, Van Gogh Alive also toured in 2021 and continues to tour Australia. Our Hearts are Still Open, a photographic exhibition and book were recently unveiled in Sydney and we chatted to Australian-born photojournalist Tony Maniaty about them.

French culture in Australia / la culture française en Australie

 

French and francophone film

The Alliance Française French Film Festival returned to the big screen in March and April 2021. Highlights for us included Bye Bye MoronsMiss among those that we reviewed. Countless others were also enjoyed. Because of COVID-19 lockdowns throughout Europe for much of 2020, Australian audiences were the first to see a number of films shown at the AFFFF 2021 including Eiffel and Delicious. We interviewed incoming Artistic Director of the festival, Karine Mauris.

 

One of our most read film reviews this year was for a film which is now on SBS on Demand: Roxane. With most of the Eastern states in lockdown over several months of the year, our articles about previous festival films available on streaming services were also well-read.

 

French and francophone films also featured at the Jewish International Film Festival and at the Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals.

 

French culture in Australia via music

We interviewed Sydney music duo Goldfynch on the occasion of their release of the beautiful escapist song “Ballooning over Paris” something we all longed to do with Australia’s closed borders. Baby et Lulu’s much anticipated Album Trois was finally released and we chatted to Lara Goodridge.  Pauline Maudy of MZAZA toured her show “Take me to Paris” around Queensland.

 

Sticking with the musical theme, we also interviewed Elena Gabouri ahead of her performances in Opera Australia’s Aida in Sydney and in Melbourne. Nicolas Fleury, French horn player from Melbourne Symphony Orchestra chatted with us. On the theme of opera and classical music, Pinchgut Opera presented Platée for the very first time on Australian stages.

 

Our favourite French festival So Frenchy So Chic announced a return to Melbourne and Sydney in February 2022.

French culture in Australia/ la culture française en Australie

 

French culture in Australia via theatre

2021 saw the return of French theatre to Australian stages. Brisbane French Theatre presented its original play Us and Them. Perth French Theatre invited you to the circle of illusionists and after many false starts, Melbourne French Theatre was able to present its new show, The Candidate.

 

French culture in Australia in sport

The French Rugby team Les Bleus played 3 test matches against Australia’s Wallabies in Sydney and in Brisbane. We told you where you could watch them around Australia.

 

Other French happenings

Adelaide’s Les Deux Coqs in conjunction with Holdfast Bay City council started Rendezvous Market, a European Market with foods and crafts from many European countries being represented.

 

Glasshouse Fragrances’ launched a French inspired collection just in time for Bastille Day with delicious scents of Montmartre Macaron and Sacred Heart.

 

We made sure you knew your French (and Belgian) dogs from the imposters for International Dog Day in August.

 

In November, Sacreblue, the Embassy of France in Australia’s brand new website dedicated to French culture in English was launched and we were finally able to announce our partnership with them.

French culture in Australia/ la culture française en Australie

 

Interviews 

We interviewed cabaret singer Caroline Nin and director Craig Ilott about L’Hôtel, an immersive theatrical world of French intrigue which made its worldwide debut at Adelaide Cabaret Festival in June.

 

We interviewed a man who is perhaps Australia’s most famous French television chef, Gabriel Gaté for International Chefs Day.

 

One of the first international productions to visit Australia since COVID-19 struck and closed our borders in March 2020 was The Little Prince, direct from Marseille to the Sydney Opera House. We interviewed Chris Mouron who adapted the book for stage, Ebony Bott of the SOH about the logistics of bringing an international team to Australia, and staging a large show during COVID-19 times. The Little Prince is making a return to Sydney for a limited season of shows in early January – read our interview with Lionel Zalachas and Laurisse Sulty

 

We chatted to Michael Boyd, illusionist and also show director of Cabaret de Paris which started its Australian tour with new lead, Rhonda Burchmore.

 

We spoke to Australian author Pip Drysdale about her thrilling novel The Paris Affair.

 

Most recently, we chatted with Priscilla Doueihy ahead of her performances at Sydney Festival 2022 show 44 Sex Acts in One Week; Erin Helyard about piano and French composers ahead of Adelaide Festival 2022 shows Four Hands at the Érard and Evolution of the Piano.

 

French businesses in Australia

We published interviews with founders of French businesses promoting French culture in Australia including:

 

French culture in Australia/ la culture française en Australie

We supported local French businesses by getting them to contribute their recommendations for Christmas gifts for francophiles. When many of the Australian states went back into lockdown, we let you know where you could purchase French take-away food.

 

Sofitel Adelaide, its French restaurant Garçon Bleu, and street level champagne bar Déjà Vu, were long awaited additions to Adelaide’s 5-star hotel and dining scene.

 

The French Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry held events both virtual and in person, where permitted, throughout the year including the French ANZ Business Days 2021 business forum which covered a number of interesting and pertinent topics.

 

It’s been a busy year! What have your highlights been? Is there anything you’d like to see on Matilda Marseillaise in 2022?