by Alessandra Izzo aka Ally Cat
Back in the old days (say, 9+ years ago) in the Aussie pole community, there were two national pole competitions. As a Victorian, you might have flown interstate to watch them if you were feeling adventurous but fortunately MPDA ran a state heat here down here. A handful of studios also did in-house comps (I went to Pole Divas Unleashed the year Miss Filly won, and I hadn’t once attended a Divas class at that point – I was just so hungry to watch a pole show!), but that was it.
Those were the days when it was nigh on impossible to see high calibre artists performing on poles. It was such a treat for us passionate polers when it happened! Even though ‘high calibre’ back then was nowhere near the spectacle it is now, we all wet ourselves over it.
Suddenly around 2013, what seemed like an avalanche of competitions started exploding on the local scene. Everyone was thrilled with all the opportunities we suddenly had to see our pole family and our idols stepping on stage in front of us. So many of us were attending every competition, though it really didn’t take long (maybe a year or two) before we all started suffering from ‘comp fatigue’.
But, in that heyday when everyone was still attending all the shows and organisers could afford the most elaborate staging and production, we were gifted the first of the Rising All Stars and Aerial All Stars shows. Rising All Stars is a semi-pro competition where the winner goes on to compete in the invite-only Aerial All Stars professional competition. These were the first ever competitions to feature both pole and aerial apparatus, with a truly astounding production quality.
I’ve written before how these shows inspired me to create my own series of local pole and aerial showcases (Pandemonium), because when I saw the first large scale production at The Forum Theatre in 2014 I was gobsmacked. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before in a pole show. It became the benchmark against which, even now, I measure pole competitions. And I can tell you, the only other comp which I could compare it to would be the MPDA finals at the Enmore.
The All Stars shows are created by Kennetta Hutchens, founder of Pole Divas, who was the original producer of Miss Pole Dance Victoria until 2012, as well as Pole Divas Unleashed (yes, I’ve been following her work now for over a decade!), and more recently creator of Frisk.
Initially, as a producer, I was completely intimidated by her. She truly is a force to be reckoned with! But now, I’m just openly in awe of her abilities. I’ve never had the honor of competing in one of her events, but the reviews from literally every person I speak to (from amateur to pro) are unreservedly glowing. The professionalism is not surprising, when you consider the outstanding level of production in every one of her shows.
The next Rising All Stars competition is being held at the end of this month, on March 30th. Those of you Melbournites who have been before, no doubt you’ve already bought your tickets. But if you’ve never been to one of these shows, I urge you to go. We are genuinely so lucky to have a pole competition of this measure in our home town, and if you are only going to see one competition this year, Rising All Stars should be it.
I recently discovered that Mitchell Hunt, co-producer and event partner for the first few years at All Stars, is now Technical Director for the Cirque du Soleil production Luzia. He teamed up with Kennetta and became her production mentor, together creating both Aerial and Rising All Stars from 2013 until 2017. When I found this out I wasn’t surprised, somehow All Stars shows have always reminded me of a Cirque show – albeit with some obvious differences.
When Mitchell began his stint with Cirque he left his team and the production in Kennetta’s capable hands. She told me that this year he will be in the audience at Rising All Stars, and that she’s nervous about it, because it’s the first time he’s seen one of her productions without being part of it (I personally don’t think she has anything to worry about, I’ve seen many of her solo productions).
Even though Rising All Stars is a semi-pro competition, somehow it’s always been more exciting to me than watching the pros. Anyone who has gone to a semi-pro competition in the last couple of years would know, the tricks can be a higher level of difficulty than some of the pro competitors, and the dedication to their performances is always exceptional.
For anyone feeling a pang for their idols though, the opening to Rising All Stars this year has been choreographed by the one and only Carlie Hunter, who’ll be performing alongside Amy Hazel, Gracie Buntine, Adam Lin and Lisa D. I’m gagging. That’s three Miss Pole Dance Australias, two Australian Pole Champions and a two-time Mr Pole Dance, doing a show you will only have one chance to see. Say what?
I asked Carlie if she could give me a hint at what we might expect, but all she said was “No, you’ll just have to come and watch!”. She did say it’s going to be a mix of sensual and contemporary, and that it’s her first fully choreographed opening number ever. But that’s all I managed to get for you, I’m sorry. I can’t wait for the big reveal on the 30th!
The night is going to be MC’d by pole royalty, the Stripper Next Door herself Miss Suzie Q. I am also beside myself at excitement that we will be treated to a finale from Suzie and her unbelievably talented fiance Toby J on the trapeze. Those of you newbies to the pole scene will probably know these two from their stint on Australia’s Got Talent, or their winning routine from APC. If you’ve been around a while though, you’ll remember Suzie’s solo career. I can honestly say she’s one of my all-time favorites (Chilli Rox told me the same thing for the Aussie pole history book we published last year), both as a performer and as an MC.
The thing I love the most about this night is the sheer variety of performances. Competition is fierce, all the competitors bring their A game, and some of my all-time favorite shows have been on the Rising All Stars stage.
I asked Kennetta about her most memorable performances – two of them were the same for me, and happened at the last show – the circus doubles Gemini2 who won the Aerial Art Duo’s division on the LED lyra (to this day, one of my favorite performances ever), and XOR who won the Circus Art category on corde lisse with her creepy alien character. Known for her exceptionally unique style XOR will be a guest performer at this next show, debuting a new pole routine which I’m also gagging for.
Rising All Stars only runs every two years now, and we haven’t seen an Aerial All Stars since 2015. Rumor has it that Aerial All Stars will be back next year, and it might even have Mitchell Hunt back on board for a cameo appearance! In the meantime, make sure you get your tickets for Rising All Stars at the end of this month. I can tell you with my hand on my heart, it’s going to be the most spectacular pole event you’ll see in this state in 2019. It sure is a great time to be a Victorian right now, but it’s not too late to get yourself on a plane either… Hop to it!
Rising All Stars will run at the Clocktower Theatre in Moonee Ponds on March 30th
Thanks to all the competitors who got in touch with me to give me some of their back stories for this article. I had so much to say about this wonderful event, and for the sake of brevity I couldn’t include more about them all, but the field is literally bursting with seasoned performers who are undoubtedly all going to blow our little minds. Here’s a brief overview of some (not all) of the competitors I’m most excited about:
Mark MacLauchlan, a former Cirque du Soleil alumnus and First Runner Up in Pole Art 2017. He’s back to show off his flawless technique and jaw-dropping tricks to try and take out the title once and for all.
Kristy Lee, owner of Pole Divas Caroline Springs, who owned several competitions in 2018 with her polerskating 50s diner routine – easily one of my favorite routines from last year. This woman is a force to be reckoned with, and definitely one of my top contenders for the title this year.
Peita, who has also taken out her fair share of sashes in the last couple of years, is another one I can’t wait to see. Her musicality is always on point, and her style is dynamic and fierce. This woman is a real contender, but I know whatever she brings I’m going to love it.
Duality, doing pole doubles, they have always been one to watch for me. Conceptually Duality always bring it, they are a really creative team and I’m a sucker for unique and interesting performances.
Gemma and Eliza – the only two people to compete in every Rising All Stars since 2013. Gemma has competed each time in the aerial division on lyra, and Eliza, who has competed twice on pole, this year will be her second time on lyra. Last time Eliza took out the people’s choice award in the circus division. She is best known for her slinky, sexy style – and told me she’s “performing a style that she loves” (cagey much?!) so I personally can’t wait for that one.
Another one of my personal favorites, Cassandra (she took out Floorplay Semi-Pro a couple of years back with a showstopping routine to “Be Italian”) has temporarily jumped ship from pole and is doing an aerial hammock routine. I’ve been told that this year she’s being coached by her dad who is the Chief Ballet Master and Head of Artistic Operations at Queensland Ballet (which explains her flawless dance technique). I can’t wait to see what she’s created with him.