Spiegeltent to mirror cabaret of life in Canberra first
David Bates, owner of The Famous Spiegeltent. Photo: Wayne Taylor
It is a quiet patch of Canberra now but come late February the Old Parliament House rose gardens will be buzzing with energy.
The Famous Spiegeltent - well-known for its naughty cabaret, breathtaking trapeze acts and ostentatious surroundings - is coming to town.
The 1920s Belgian mirror tent has been on the international festival circuit for almost a century but it has not been to Canberra before.
And that is surprising, because its owner, David Bates, identifies as a Canberran.
''There hasn't been an appropriate event, really, that I've been willing to bring it back for - and if it's ever going to come to Canberra, the centenary has got to be the perfect year to do it,'' Mr Bates said.
Mr Bates first came to Canberra at the age of 11 and stayed here into his 20s.
''I had a fantastic young adulthood in Canberra and have always been defending Canberra ever since, particularly in the arts,'' he said.
Canberra had a ''flourishing'' arts scene in the 1980s, he said, and he was deeply involved, performing regularly as a pianist and running the well-known PITS (Pie in the Sky) theatre and bar at the Rex Hotel.
But his love of the arts drew Mr Bates overseas and, in 1987, he found himself performing in a jazz cabaret band at the Edinburgh Festival within the Famous Spiegeltent.
He has been captivated by the structure ever since and managed to buy it in 2001.
''It kind of took over my life,'' he said. ''It wasn't a plan, it kind of accidentally happened.
''It was a situation where I used it for one year and hoped I wouldn't lose any money - and it was a successful year and then that snowballed into another year and another year and, in the end, it's become my business, a full-time business, taking it around to events and festivals around the world.''
There are only a handful of the beautiful Spiegeltents that come to Australia and Mr Bates' Famous Spiegeltent is the largest of them all, at 19 metres in diameter.
The ornate canvas structure is decorated with mirrors (''spiegel'' is ''mirror'' in German), leaded glass, velvet and brocade. It seats up to 300 people.
''Even though it's called a tent, it's not anchored to the ground. Spiegeltents stand in their own weight and they feel permanent when you're inside,'' Mr Bates said.
Mr Bates' Famous Spiegeltent will be erected in the gardens next to Old Parliament House for about three weeks from late February.
The acts have not yet been finalised but Mr Bates is determined to showcase the local arts scene.
''We're not just going to be bringing people back but we'll also tap into what is happening locally,'' he said.
''It has a flexible program, a moving program, all kinds of things from cabaret concerts to children's activities and those kinds of things.''
Mr Bates believes interest in the arts has come to Canberra in cycles and it will return in abundance during the centenary year.
''It will start with next year - generally the whole year is going to be a very exciting year of activity and trying to get the message to the rest of Australia about how interesting and diverse and fascinating Canberra actually is,'' he said.