By Emily Chu
An evening at the theatre usually involves a traditional concert hall or performing arts centre. But Freespace at Taikoo Place takes performance outside typical confines and into the private dining room at Mr & Mrs Fox with David Chong’s Acrobat
, an unforgettable dinner party described as a “cultural mosaic” of music, food, and storytelling.
Originating as one of three “Dining Room Tales”, a series first developed in Melbourne by artistic director Xan Colman, Acrobat
was previously performed in private homes. The recipe is, explains Chong “somebody tells you a story, somebody performs and shows you an artform, and the same person will cook your meal.”
was developed three years ago – but it also took Colman three years to convince Chong to sign on. “I thought, no way! I felt incredibly embarrassed and never thought my story would be interesting,” says Chong. But after three rounds of refusals things changed. “On the eve of my 50th birthday I rang [Colman] and said, I think it’s about time for me to do this,” Chong explains.
Developing the show was a year-long process, during which Colman tirelessly sat with Chong to sample his menu and weave his tales and recollections into a cohesive story. The result is an evening where, over authentic homemade Brazilian dishes accompanied by songs composed by Chong and guitarist Nathan Slater (both part of the jazz band Tatu Rei), Chong delves deep into his heritage, identity, and upbringing. His narrative spans from his roots in Hong Kong, to moving to Brazil with his circus-performer parents, then later, relocating back to Australia. “Acrobat
celebrates my family, my story, and the meaning of how my story goes,” he says. Despite his tales of unconventionality, however, the show “is just about being human.”
Chong wears many hats; he’s a musician, a cook, a psychologist and a performer. His eclectic background makes him what he calls a “hybrid”. “I talk about the challenges and the absolute delights of being a hybrid,” says Chong. “I’m very Chinese when I need to be, I’m incredibly Brazilian when I need to be, and if I need to be Australian, [that also] suits me, whatever works!”
And then, of course, there’s the food. First, you’re serenaded by Chong and Slater over a delicious entrée of pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread), piping-hot and mochi-like in consistency. Chong’s passion for life – and pride for his identity – extends to how he prepares his dishes. “I’m celebrating Australia by using Australian botanicals in this quintessential Australian dish,” he says of his pavlova, in which he uses ingredients such as fragrant lemon myrtle essence, and Australian bush mountain pepper. “This is me playing with flavours, and I don’t play safe,” says Chong. “I’m letting loose, I’m letting my hair down!”
Calling Chong charismatic is an understatement. Often effusive, he bellows in contagious laughter – while the next minute he's near-whisper, talking about the true necessities in life. His personality, no doubt, allows him to fully engage his audience (guests, rather). Past shows have been emotional, and not just for Chong: “At the end of the performance, people have come to me to share their own stories. It’s such a unique privilege.”
Chong has performed sold-out seasons of Acrobat
in both his “homes” of Melbourne and Brazil. When the offer came to take the show to Hong Kong, “I thought, ‘Seriously? You’re closing the triangle?’” he says. “I keep getting surprised [by] so many amazing gifts that I have received from the universe. And it just keeps getting better.” And that, he emphasises, is the whole point of the show.