by Michael Coghlan.
Yana Alana – the deluded but exquisitely brazen alter ego of multi-award winning Australian cabaret performer Sarah Ward – is no stranger to Adelaide. With performances at Adelaide Fringe and Feast Festival, Yana Alana is known for her nude, rude, drag diva, cabaret performances with a powerhouse voice to go with it. She returns – unhinged and fully clothed – with her all-female band The Paranas in Yana Alana: Covered.
We speak to Sarah, via email, to learn more about the camp, curved and completely clothed Yana Alana.
“The last time I came to Adelaide Cabaret Festival was in 2008 with the first show Bite Me,” she begins. “I pulled out my famous poetry book ‘If You Were A Carrot I Would’ve Cum By Now’. It was a hit!”
How did you end up in the world of cabaret? Was it a conscious decision or did you somehow just find yourself there?
“I graduated from acting school and realised I didn’t fit the mould,” Sarah says. “I co-created a hip hop cabaret act with Candy and Kim Bowers called Sista She and discovered the genre allowed so much flexibility. Later Yana was born and I use it as a vehicle to write, sing and dance, perform comedy, performance art and drag… all in the one genre. Yay!”
For those who have never seen one, please share what a ‘typical’ Yana Alana show looks like. “Yana is a courageous, fragile and self-obsessed diva; her shows will always celebrate diversity and difference. There’s clowning, queer politics, performance art and beautiful live music.”
You’re known for wearing very little on stage. Why did you decide to do a show with your clothes on this time?
“Yana became very well known in her last show Between The Cracks where she was wearing nothing but blue body paint and shoes,” Sarah says. “This is the only time apart from rare spots where she has appeared naked, but it’s most peoples’ introduction to the character, so for them Yana wearing clothes will be strange. It’s incredibly liberating to be clothed.”
Does it feel strange for you to perform fully clad, and how have return audiences reacted to you keeping your clothes on?
“Yes, Yana is clothed but in this show there are seven costume changes and one of them happens on stage, so she still manages to almost get naked. It’s funny because large women are encouraged to keep their clothes on, but this doesn’t stop Yana.”
There are a number of quite diverse musical artists being featured in this show, such as Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Shirley Bassey, Laurie Anderson and Joy Division. How do you decide what tunes feature as part of the show?
“It has to seem as though Yana wrote the song, that they are her words,” Sarah says. “When I find a song that fits lyrically but not melodically I play with the arrangement and this way it’s an interpretation. I like it when audiences hear the words to a song they know very well as if for the first time.”
You have been described as “without a doubt the first lady of cabaret”. How does it feel to get this kind of accolade? Do you feel an added pressure to perform at a level that justifies this ‘first lady’ tag or does it inspire you to greater heights?
“I’ve been around long enough now to take all opinions as opinions,” she says. “This is what one reviewer thought, another might think it’s crap. I try not to focus too much on it, but it is great when reviewers come out with lines like this so you can share it with the world and persuade people to see the show.”
Why do you think you have been described as ‘unhinged’ and do you relate to it? Or not?
“Well Yana is unhinged, but I’m just a regular person who is dealing with the highs and lows of life. Having an unhinged character is wonderful because it allows for moments of great comedy and insight.”
Do you always perform with your all-female band The Paranas? Is there anything you would like our readers to know about them? It’s great to have Bec Beat, Yana’s drummer back. She’s my partner in life and art and an incredible classically trained orchestral percussionist. She was the drummer for Circus Oz for four years, but now Yana has her back in the fold again, which is great because she’s an original member of The Paranas. Joining Bec [Matthews] on stage is Louise Goh who is Yana’s pianist in Between The Cracks; she’s such a talent.”
Is there anything else you’d like to tell your Adelaide audiences about Covered?
“The last time Yana was in Adelaide was at the Feast Festival Opening Night Street Party last year. She shared the stage with Conchita Wurst who backstage said ‘I wish I was Yana, what a voice, I want to be like her’. Which was hilarious because I’m not sure she realised Yana was a character!”
Sarah Ward performs Yana Alana: Covered at Banquet Room, Adelaide Festival Centre, from 7pm on Fri 24 Jun until Sat 25 Jun.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and bass.net.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.
Additional material by Catherine Blanch
Facebook: Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Twitter: @AdelaideCabaret #AdCabFest
Facebook: The Clothesline – Digital Arts Magazine