Beloved Muse - Emilie Flöge. By Penny Black. Directed by Heidelinde Leutgöb. The Street Theatre in association with the Austrian Embassy. The Street Theatre. September 13-15, 2018 at 7.30pm (in English), September 16, 2018 at 3pm (in German). Tickets $25-$39. Bookings: thestreet.org.au.
What is it to be a muse? Famous muses throughout time have possessed beauty and charm in abundance, the Edie Sedgwicks and the Françoise Gilots of the world.
What about the lesser-known, almost forgotten muses of the art world? The ones only speculated to be behind the famous artworks, whose identities haven't managed to float out of the canvas and into the public's consciousness.
One such muse is Emilie Flöge, the woman long rumoured to be the woman in Gustav Klimt's masterpiece The Kiss. Born in 1874, Flöge possessed the usual suspects of beauty and charm, but she was also an innovative fashion designer, businesswoman and radical.
Austrian-Australian actress Maxi Blaha will give a history, a chic aesthetic and an unwaveringly feminist voice to the enigmatic Flöge when she performs Beloved Muse - Emilie Flöge in Canberra this September.
While her presence in The Kiss is only speculated, Blaha is certain. "It's the most famous painting in the world. More so than the Mona Lisa. And there's only two people on this painting: Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge. And nobody knows about her.
"She was not only his muse, but his best friend. She was also a very radical fashion designer."
Blaha, who was in Canberra three years ago performing Soul of Fire, has already enjoyed success with Beloved Muse. After being asked by the Gustav Klimt Foundation and the Belvedere Museum to create the play, she went to London to seek out playwright Penny Black to write it.
They've since enjoyed 25 sold-out performances in Vienna and performances in New York at 5th Avenue's Neue Galerie. After her stint in Canberra, Blaha will perform at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, then in Japan, Washington and Paris.
It never stops for Blaha. "I feel spoilt. My life is special this year, for the next two years. It hasn't always been like this, and won't continue to be. These performances for me are the raisins in the cake."
And the icing? Australia, presumably. Blaha loves it here.
"I'm happy to be back. I go to Paris and London to perform, and being in Australia is a different feeling. The people are so laid-back. I like the spirit. Europeans can be uptight when it comes to culture and theatre."
With a father from Melbourne and a mother from Vienna, she admits her "two-passport life" gives her a unique perspective. Especially when the name of the two countries sound so similar.
"People always mix up these two countries. We have t-shirts in Vienna that say: 'We have no kangaroos in Austria.'
"We have a lot of tourists who come, asking for kangaroos and we have to tell them no, it's the other country. We're the one with Mozart, the mountains and the alps."
In bringing Beloved Muse to Australia, she hopes audiences will identify with the "the European connection" as well as the feminist aspect.
"Flöge led a fashion salon with her sisters and mother in the first half of the 1900s. They had no man in the company, which had never happened before in Austria. You needed a man to go pay the taxes weekly.
"The topic of radical feminism and trailblazing is always important. Especially when women don't enjoy the same rights as men. Currently in the arts field they are underrepresented and don't earn the same amounts of money. And this is the case in Canberra and the world over."
Blaha says she needs to connect with the roles she takes on. After performing in more traditional productions for 20 years, she's ditching the Shakespeare and Schiller for more renegade roles.
She's recently performed as Nobel Prize winners Bertha von Suttner and Efriede Jelinek, both iconic Austrian women. Flöge is no different.
"Those days in Vienna, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria was wearing a corset, so everyone was wearing a corset. Emilie was the first one in the fashion world, in Europe, to throw that away. And it was scandalous back then. She was radical and brave."
It's an intense two-hour preparation for Blaha to have her hair made stage-ready, as she didn't want to wear a wig. She wanted Flöge's authentic 1900s hairstyle, so they even use a vintage curling iron.
The dress she wears is called a "reform dress" which Flöge invented. It has no corset, of course, and is made from 18 metres of material.
"As she was designing her dresses for the wealthy Jewish people in Vienna, they were either killed in the war, in the concentration camps, or they fled and couldn't take their dresses.
"It's a shame that all her designs, her dresses, are gone. Which is why we had to bring this reform dress to life, as well as Emilie's story."