by Siân Williams.
European cabaret superstar and native of the Netherlands, Sven Ratzke is known around the world in some very glamorous circles as a cabaret Diva all of his own. His personalised blend of 1920’s cabaret and offbeat humour has served Ratzke well and now sees him making his Adelaide Cabaret Festival debut with a show that pays homage to some of the 1960’s greatest divas from Marlene Dietrich, Eartha Kitt and Shirley Bassey to Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield and Judy Garland. The Clothesline is privileged to have had the opportunity to speak with Ratzke, albeit via email, about the Australian premier of Diva Diva’s.
“This is so exciting! I’ve always wanted to go to Australia. We are there just for one week, because our tour schedule is so heavy at the moment, but I am worried that I will fall in love with Australia and not want to leave! This show is also exciting as it is a little bit of a blend of cabaret with a twist of the golden twenties in Berlin, so there is a lot of musical freedom in what I can present to the audience.
“What we are bringing to Adelaide is a very personal homage to ten divas of the sixties; each of whom gave themselves totally to the audience. We had a lot of fun altering the music to make it our own and along with the stories I tell you will feel as though you have been taken you back to the sixties. Some are based on reality but a lot of my interpretation – a little bit of fantasy to mix it up!
“Our reviews have been truly wonderful, as people say to us that it is like stepping into a movie and feeling a really wide variation of emotions. Adelaide is the only city we are visiting during our time in Australia, so if people would like to experience my show this is the only opportunity to do so. I am really looking forward to attending myself this year; Australia has some truly amazing cabaret performers!”
How did you go about choosing the songs for this show?
“I wanted to do the most iconic songs, because people can relate to them, but wanted to make them my own. So people forget for a moment that they know the song already, but there is still a fragment of a memory when they hear them. I chose the songs, which I thought expressed best what the ‘diva’ stood for. It was fun to explore the different strengths of the performers – Judy Garland’s sense of tragedy, Shirley Bassey’s volcano-like power – it is very liberating to be able to perform so many styles.”
How did you and pianist/musical director Charly Zastrau come to be working together?
“We have worked together since 2007 and met while he was playing in a big band in Amsterdam, where I did a few gigs. Our collaboration developed through the years. He is now Musical Director for all our projects, such as productions like The Threepenny Opera of Brecht/Weill and even shows I do which are a once off; local talents or other personalities.”
Your biography is extensive, and highly impressive. In 2009 you were honoured to receive the St. Ingberter Pfanne – young cabaret artist’s award. Was this a career highlight for you and what have been other high moments in your musical experiences?
“Getting prizes is, of course, very nice. But, for me, it’s more about the audience and the freedom I have as a performer. That was always my goal; having the freedom to do the things I am most interested in. I think overall everything has travelled very nicely for me so far! I have wonderful opportunities to travel the globe and work with some amazing people in such a wide variety of shows and performances. This month alone I have performed in NYC, Vienna, Amsterdam, Zürich and now Adelaide! I must brush up on my language skills; I need to remember to speak a different language wherever I travel!”
Are there any places on the map you have your eyes set on? Do you aim to deliver to a target market or take work onboard that is ‘of the moment’ and of interest to you for its own artistic merits?
“I have heard of so many people falling in love with Australia, so I really wish we had longer than a week to be there. I really love Mexico and this is somewhere I aim to return to soon. Argentina is also a wonderful place and when the time comes, naturally I would like to be one of the first to perform on the moon! This may sound zany but I love the diversity of my work and it is exciting to imagine that I’ll someday have the opportunity to return to the places that I fall in love with; half the fun is not really knowing when!”
You work with an eclectic group of people, including circus performers and musicians from many genres. Have you encountered many musical influences growing up, or is there a particular attraction to the varied people you work with?
“I grew up with hippy parents, so Bob Marley was always around but the great thing of meeting and working with all these different people is that you learn so much – touring with the Tiger Lilies or opera star Claron McFadden – there are some amazing people out there; being around such personalities can be life changing.
“And I never wanted to be boxed: oh that’s a cabaret artist or that’s a so and so artist. I think we have so many emotions, and can express that in different musical styles and inspire each other.”
Your costumes look absolutely gorgeous. Do you choose or design your own outfits or do you have a particular designer working with you?
“Thank you so much! The costumery is obviously a very big part of the show but as a person, very important to me also and we take a lot of pride in the designs. I am very fortunate that for this show we have been styled by Frans Molenaar, who is the most famous designer in Holland, I guess the equivalent for you would to liken him to Karl Lagerfeld so you understand the magnitude of the quality! Frans has a gorgeous and authentic sixties feel and style, similar to Dior or Chanel, so everything we have from him suits our show absolutely.
“On the other hand, sometimes I have a moment of creativity myself and think up my own costumes and I simply get someone to make it for me – whether it is a golden glitter suit to a blue smoking suit with feathers.”
What are your plans after this show and in the near future?
“We are doing so many great projects at the moment so I’m very happy. Next year I plan to bring a completely new musical to a famous theatre in Berlin with an amazing line up of people and we will also make a new solo show. Maybe I will come back here then! I am also touring with Hedwig And The Angry Inch.
“I really am looking forward to the Cabaret Festival in Adelaide; it looks like such a fabulous event. Make sure you all come along to see us this time and we will be back again soon!”
Sven Ratzke performs Diva Diva’s at Space Theatre at various times from Fri Jun 6 until Sun Jun 8.