Le Gateau Chocolat is performing at the Sydney Opera House as part of the world premiere of Taylor Mac’s Bark of Millions on 20th October. He spoke to QNews about his creative journey and why he loves coming back to Australia.
It’s hard to put Le Gateau Chocolat into a box.
The British artist has been described as an opera singer, drag artist, and even a larger-than-life music phenomenon, but he prefers the simpler term of ‘performer.’
He explains that this allows him to collaborate across various genres and effortlessly adapt to changing opportunities and paths in life, forming the very essence of who he is.
Born George Ikediashi, he pursued law studies in Brighton, and it was during this time he began attending a regular club night and stumbled into a world that would ultimately become his home.
“Every Thursday I would go to Dynamite Boogaloo, and they had cabaret with a game show and a lot of songs. It was my first experience of the possibility of an alternative lifestyle,” he tells me.
“I played the game a couple of times, and they heard me singing once and asked me to guest with them, and that’s kind of how it started.”
These origins also formed the very foundations of what Le Gateau Chocolat is all about.
“It was always alternative; it was never about female impersonation, and it still isn’t. It’s sort of an elevated sense of self and performance, like the lines are really blurred,” he says.
Once Gateau began his career, it was hard not to notice him. He stands at six-and-a-half feet tall, dresses in elaborate outfits of gender fuckery, and often sings opera in his deep baritone voice.
The immediate impact he has on an audience has been both a help and a hindrance in his career and in life.
“All humans are an amalgam of people’s projections. People will see me and make up their minds about what they think I do or what they think I offer,” he says, before sharing a story of a run-in with London police conducting a stop and search.
“They pulled me aside to check my bag, and in there was a pink flowy nightie, white heels, a blonde wig, and a bag of makeup. They turned bright red and had no vocabulary to deal with what they saw,” he says while chuckling.
“It’s funny, but actually it isn’t. Because what then happens is if you don’t actively engage with it or deconstruct it, you start to understand that you take on people’s projections. So every time I hear a police siren, my heart rate will go up.”
Ultimately, his success stands as a testament to his remarkable impact and talent. He has graced the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe, London’s Royal Albert Hall, Shakespeare’s Globe, and played a pivotal role in the Olivier-winning production La Clique/La Soiree.
Gateau also holds a special place for his performance alongside Basement Jaxx and the Metropole Orkest at the Barbican, which he fondly recalls as a personal favourite.
A love for Australia
Gateau has travelled and performed in Australia on many occasions, however, it was his first visit in 2008 that had a profound impact on him.
After honing his skills in the UK, he took Le Gateau Chocolat to the world.
“When I felt ready, I debuted my first show at Adelaide Fringe, and I think this is the artist that I know that I am and I can share. That is why I have such an affectionate and cordial relationship with Australia, and that’s why I’ve come back so many times,” he says.
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During his visits, he was also able to perform at the Sydney Opera House; however, like many things in Gateau’s career, it wasn’t a bucket list item but an opportunity he took and relished.
“There’s a picture of me the night I did my solo show at the Sydney Opera House, and I was in a state of euphoria. I was like, ‘I’m in Australia, and I’m in one of the world’s most iconic venues.'”
Working with Taylor Mac
Gateau will return to the Opera House in October to perform in Taylor Mac’s Bark of Millions, and even that comes full circle to his early years in Brighton.
“I went to see Taylor’s show when I was at university. I just saw a poster with a face covered in googly eyes, and I was like, ‘I actually don’t know what the fuck this is, but I’m going to buy a ticket.’ I never thought I would become friends with him.”
Taylor Mac in turn has been hugely inspired by Gateau, sharing with QNews:
“Gateau is possibly my favourite drag performer in the world. The timing, the style, the intellect and humanity, and the voice. We also found drag roughly around the same time. He says I inspired him, but I say he inspired me, so I feel we’re part of a sisterhood; a lost generation of queens fitting somewhere between the AIDS epidemic and the Rupocalypse; forging our own way outside capitalism and with few progenitors to guide us. It’s been one of the great honours of my life to share the stage with this divine human.”
The two friends did perform together when Gateau made a guest appearance in the UK edition of the 24 Decades of American Pop. However, this was only the opening act, offering a preview of the full 24-hour marathon show that Taylor Mac performed as a one-off event in New York in 2016.
Bark of Millions
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Although patrons of Bark of Millions won’t be expected to prepare for such a lengthy performance, the show will still bring an emotive punch when tackling queer history.
The production will stage 55 original songs – one to mark each year since the Stonewall uprising.
“It’s a show that hopes to correct, provoke, invite or rewrite some aspects of history that pertain to queer culture. We call on ancestors, ancestral queer beings who connect us, regardless of our race, our gender, or our sexuality. It’s like the alternative response to history being written by the victors,” Gateau says.
Although Stonewall may be the influence on the quantity of songs, Gateau explains that the content of the show goes much further back in queer history.
“One of the songs I sing is in ancient Egyptian. The duet is of two gay men who were called the keepers of the fingers, and they worked in the palace, which is why their queerness was protected. Because they had the royal seal of approval, when they died, they were buried together, and it’s the most extraordinary thing to call on them and to understand that somehow they’re part of my ancestry,” he says.
Hope for the future
Gateau tells me that these stories will feel familiar to queer people as we still fight to exist today. He also shares his hope that shows like Bark of Millions won’t be needed in the future.
“My hope is that years from now, people would have stopped fighting to be seen, trans people wouldn’t be killed, trans children wouldn’t be denied access to health. That is the hope, but for now, we want to remind people that we’ve always been here and the future might be in a history museum, where it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Despite the importance of the production, it truly is a celebration that Gateau is thankful he gets to do with Taylor Mac and the team.
“As Taylor’s crafting the show, he is never not my friend. After seeing his show in Brighton twenty years ago, I’m making one with him, and it’s surreal and most pleasurable that this is how I make a living,” he says. Before continuing with a bellowing laugh, “thank fuck I didn’t become a lawyer!”
It’s clear that being open to every opportunity in his career and personal life is the secret ingredient to Le Gateau Chocolat’s success.
And that je ne sais quoi should never be kept in a box.
You can see La Gateau Chocolat perform in Bark of Millions – a one-night-only extravaganza at the Sydney Opera House on 20 October, as part of the 50th Birthday Festival. Visit sydneyoperahouse.com for details.
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