September 10th, 2008

La Loge

Fish and Circuses

Two years ago, right after we moved to New York, we saw advertisements for a small circus/cabaret kind of hybrid down at South Sea Port . The name of the show was "Absinthe," and it was being held in a Speigeltent, a1920's wooden polygon with mirrored walls and columns and plenty of velvet drapery. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, watching contortionists, acrobats, silk-rope aerielists, a girl who danced on roller skates, and a remarkable Irish chanteuse whose sober evocation of a drunken artiste was a real tour de force.

We went back last year, and didn't like it so much. What had been erotic and suggestive slid over into the raunchily explicit, and there was a level of comic violence towards women I wasn't comfortable with.

This year, the Spiegeltent is offering two shows: "Absinthe," without the foul-mouthed MC that put my back up before, and "Desir," which is pure performance, with no patter at all.

We went to see "Desir" on Sunday night. Love, love, love.

The unifying conceit was a grand Parisian brothel (or possibly Cabaret with benefits) of the 1920's. There was no narrative (none that made sense, anyway), but a general sense of fluid sexuality and sensual pleasure: think "La Ronde" with trapezes. Boys wooed girls, who turned and wooed each other, then other boys. Customers who watched became the next act, watched by the last act, in a change of costume. The acts were all about balance, on tapes or stationary trapezes or rings or each other. A diminutive woman dressed up like Josephine Baker in a sequined banana skirt and vertiginous heels danced with varying numbers of hoops. Three sturdy strong men tossed a boy into the air and caught him on their crossed hands. A man with no bones and lots of muscles upended himself on poles and folded and unfolded his legs and body snakily.

My favorite act was two women on a square metal frame, hung from the tent top by four sturdy chains. They didn't swing back and forth, just moved around the frame and each other, levering off each other's bodies and swinging up through the frame in perfect unison, in a dreamy, sensual, seemingly effortless dance of perfect trust.

It was at that moment that a Story Idea came to me, cloudy and inchoate as a fresh Poloroid (anybody remember Poloroids?) snapshot.

I need to know what that square metal frame act is called. I need to talk to acrobats. I'm going to write about the circus. Not sure what the actual story is yet. But it's starting to come into focus.

Since the show was at 6, it was still sunset when we got out. We had dinner at one of the tourist traps on the pier (I can't remember the name, but the fish was excellent) and watched the sun go down. The masts of the tall ships docked at the pier got blacker and blacker against the glittering tall buildings behind. Tourists and courting couples strolled by colorfully. After we'd eaten, we followed the sounds of tango music to an instructor showing off his best students on the boardwalk between Express and a private yacht of great size and magnificence. We watched them strut and spin and dip for a while, accepted a brochure for his tango school, and came home on the subway, having had a truly New York Evening.

How could I not be a writer in a city like this?