TelstraClear Festival Club, Wellington

02/03/2012 - 18/03/2012

Festival Club, Aotea Square, Auckland

06/03/2013 - 24/03/2013

Fletcher Building Festival Club, Christchurch

22/08/2013 - 31/08/2013

New Zealand International Arts Festival 2012

Auckland Arts Festival 2013

Christchurch Arts Festival 2013

Production Details

Dripping with vaudeville, acts of unbelievable daring, the shabby-chic of speakeasies, Cantina delivers its audience some truly ‘skilled-up and deliciously twisted entertainment’ (The Guardian). Six characters, each with a freakish talent to take their bodies to the limit, test the fine line between pleasure and pain, timidity and brashness.

Featuring an outstanding team of circus performers from La CliqueCircus Oz and Circa, backed by haunting melodies from live piano-accordion and ukulele, Cantina hits Auckland after seducing audiences in Edinburgh, Holland, Wellington and Adelaide, and most recently a season in London during the 2012 Olympics.

Cantina is the dark-chocolate of cabaret – it’s a little bit naughty, a little bit nice and you’ll long for more, every night. Indulge your desires.

# In a nutshell: An intoxicating spectacle of skilful, dangerous and sensual circus.

*Contains male nudity, simulated violence and smoke.

Performers: Chelsea McGuffin (Circa), Mozes (acrobat), David Carberry (Circa), Daniel Catlow (Tom Tom Crew), Alexandra Mizzen (Legs on the Wall) , Trent Arkleysmith (Von Trolley Quartet, Austria)

Co creators: David Carberry, Daniel Catlow, Henna Kaikula and Mozes 

Producer: Penelope Leishman
Company Manager: Josh Sherrin
Original Sound designers: Nara Demasson & David Carberry
Rigger: Simon Mitchell
LX Designer & Operator: Abby Clearwater

1 hr

Provocative and enormously thrilling

Review by Elizabeth O’Connor 25th Aug 2013

This much-heralded and nearly sold out show is a circus cabaret, with just a few extraordinary physical performers, an equal number of talented musicians, a tiny stage and a whole lot of panache.

There is no printed programme for the show – you absorb what you see.  Fine.  I did read the overall Festival programme and the Cantina graphics were far more dark and dangerous than the show is in practice.  But their show is still provocative and enormously thrilling.

Live music greets the audience, and underlies the daring acts of the performers.  Men and women challenge each other in the conventions of the 20th century, in 1930s costumes.  TheCharleston ensembles are terrific.  Then the performers proceed to throw, thrust, lift and catch each other in an enthralling array of encounters, each with specific dramatic or sexual tension, each with specific endgames that the audience delight to see and applaud.  The grace and artistry of the physical acts is always accompanied by character and intention, even if fleeting or trival.

The publicity oversold the dark side of the event – but the actual show is well balanced, with women and men combating on equal terms and violence and sex yielding to comedy.

The Spiegeltent  is a venue beloved by many Arts Festival faithfuls.  Great to see it accommodating such a bold show.  Go, if you can.  You will never be closer to a dynamic, physical theatre event.



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Dark and Steamy

Review by Frances Morton 07th Mar 2013

As he writhes at the peak of the Festival Club’s spiegeltent it’s hard to tell why the chiselled acrobat bothered to wrap his head in a blindfold like a hooded Abu Ghraib detainee. The elegance of his precise twists and leaps on the rope are wowing enough. Then he tumbles towards the stage and the moment is all the more staggering and terrifying for his blindness. It’s the same reason that the gymnastic partner dances portray violence and manipulation, not romance, and sinewy actress balances on one hand above a bed of shattered glass. [More


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Rough-housing, insouciance and disingenuousness

Review by Jenny Stevenson 07th Mar 2013

If a culture of unease is at the root of all cabaret performance – Cantina, the show delivers – and then some.  A small company of highly skilled circus performers and dancers from Australia use their polished bag of tricks not only to impress, but also to display a knock-about brand of rough-housing that is just rescued from being sadistic by the prevailing air of insouciance and disingenuousness.   Even the moments of humour were tinged with an edge – leaving you wondering if you should be laughing at all.

Tight-rope, acrobatics, acro-balance, adagio and apache dance, corde lisse aerials and magic are all presented in a non-stop format bound together by music and song, with the performers throwing themselves around the impossibly small stage – just inches away from the audience’s up-turned faces. The top of a player-piano also provides a narrow platform on which to perform and balance.

The 1930s era dictates the music and instruments, the props, the costumes and to some extent, the accoutrements that accompany the circus stunts.  There are very few moments for the audience to relax – mostly the action consists of feats of daring – displaying strength, balance and suppleness in equal measure.  The performers double as musicians and singers and present an impressive variety of skills, switching between the genres with ease.

Although the dance offerings were minimal – consisting of a jaunty Charleston with some jitterbug moves thrown in, some adagio sequences of smooth lifts and dives and an apache dance – the performers move with the grace and fluidity of dancers, throughout.  The apache dance turned the convention on its head with the woman eventually triumphing over her would-be tormentor.

However, the most impressive aspect of the show was the sheer staying power of these performers as they tested themselves to the limit and carried off their feats of daring with aplomb – never even pausing to milk the applause.   

The two women showed amazing flexibility, balance and concentration but impressed most with their trust as they were lofted on high or literally hurled around by the men.  They charmed with their ditzy personalities and throw-away asides to each other.  The three male performers demonstrated a casual strength that belied their slender bodies and thrived on displays of macho one-upmanship.  The ever-present musician created atmospheric backgrounds to the action on an endless array of instruments and the equally present minder came and went, in between.

In a show of many highlights, the blind-folded man spinning on the aerial rope was extraordinary and terrifying in equal measure but there were many other similar moments to choose from and to marvel at.  Male nudity determines an adult audience, but the show will leave you in a child-like state of wonder.


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A gluttonous, scrumptious feast for the eyes

Review by Caoilinn Hughes 03rd Mar 2012

Seeing Strut and Fret Production’s Cantina the night after Ronaldo’s Circensus added an interesting perspective to the show. Although Circensus did not aim to present incredible feats of physics, anatomically absurd acrobatics or mind-blowing physical prowess (as it is not a traditional circus), if it had, it would have paled in comparison with Cantina’s dark, dangerous dexterities.

Cantina’s cast is comprised of experienced and well-respected Australian circus performers, previously from C!RCA, La Clique, Acrobat, Circus Oz, Tom Tom Crew and Cirkus Cirkör. So the show presents these performers’ physical strength, skill and showmanship from a more artistic angle, encompassing choreographic, theatrical, visual and perhaps emblematic elements.

The routines themselves are far from routine. At first the tightrope seems a low bar to set for this show’s grand opening (given the hype), but we soon double-take the stiletto-clad walker, Chelsea McGuffin. When McGuffin walks across the tops of champagne bottles later, she leaves us all feeling a little tipsy.

David Carberry and Daniel Catlow’s brute strength and brutal rough-and-tumble in their dance-fight scenes, apart from being extremely impressive, act as a kind of gradually intensifying foreplay. Are they fighting for McGuffin as they heave and toss her body about like a rugby ball?

Is this blonde ballerina about to buckle into some type of interpretive dance? Henna Kaikula does buckle alright, but somehow in the way that a discarded ballerina Barbie might. Her joints seem unreal. Contortionist extraordinaire, Kaikula bends and breaks and fixes herself in every angle imaginable. She is a master of her body, and is treating it viciously. Is she the masochist, or are we the sadists? As she breaks and remakes herself, we are aghast, squirming deliciously, hedonistically.

Aside from the circus-theme and influence, there is a strong sado-masochist throughline to the performance, but it is difficult to pin down what it saying or where it is going. The mise-en-scene is a 1930s depression-era ‘cantina’ where circus/ burlesque/ vaudeville acts are taking place to live and recorded ukulele, pianola, music-box and vocal backing track; evoking a smoky, underground Chicago bar.

The set, costumes, lighting, music lyrics and performer interactions suggest that there is a narrative underlying the piece. But what is it? Is the story related to the setting, or is the setting just an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for some absurdist acrobatics and a bit of skillful, seductive spanking?

Marketing materials and previous reviews talk about a variously 1920s/30s/40s narrative that “explores the hardship and passion of that time”, describing a “sinister place where vaudeville glamour fades and dark desires emerge from the shadows”; “a 1930s speak-easy, where the line between passion and pain is never quite clear.” It is never quite clear. It is not clear enough.

Where does Mozes’ clown sketch with the handkerchief magic trick fit in (narratively rather than anatomically)? It is quite out of place, given the consistency of the sado-masochism throughout the rest of the show. Even his swinging from a rope by his neck sketch, though very impressive, is a hard to assimilate. Is he playing the circus clown or the acrobat? Where is the ringleader? Why does a happy-go-lucky Jazz Era tap dance open and close the show? It seems antithetical to the macabre that characterizes the rest of the show.

Nonetheless, Cantina is a gluttonous, scrumptious feast for the eyes, if not for the mind.  


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