The spectacle of the circus meets the atmosphere of the 1920s European cabaret at the Spiegeltent, a one-stop nightclub and entertainment venue that is wrapping up a successful second season in New York. Spiegeltent hosts two critically acclaimed shows and scores of touring musical and theater acts, all performing in an original dinner theater tent from 1926 Belgium. VOA's Victoria Cavaliere visited Spiegeltent before the show moves to Miami, Florida.
Spiegeltent calls itself "decadent entertainment," because of its bawdy live performances played out in an elaborate mirrored tent. Spiegeltents first appeared in the early 20th century in Europe. They are hand-hewn pavilions used as traveling dance halls, bars and entertainment salons.
Only a handful of the original tents remain and the Spiegeltent in New York is using one of them. That tent seats about 350 people and is outfitted with a brass bar, velvet booths, brocade drapes, and, of course, mirrors. A disc jockey plays a mix of rap and classic show tunes. Outside, a garden, named the "Green Fairy Garden," looks out onto the Hudson River with breathtaking views of three bridges.
On any given night, the tent is packed to capacity. On Friday and Saturday, it can be standing room only. New Yorkers and visitors from around the world come to spend an evening dining, dancing, and taking in the two headlining shows, Absinthe and La Vie.
Sally Gibson is the executive producer. She explains that visitors do not just come to catch a show and leave, but instead they can spend an entire night at the tent.
"We want people to come down and have a whole experience," said Sally Gibson. "It is not just that you go here to see a show, you are coming here to see a show, you can eat in the garden, you can dance to the DJs, you can have just an all-round experience."
But Spiegeltent's risque shows are what draw many of its visitors.
Both Absinthe and La Vie are described by terms like theatrobatics, or cabaret acrobatics. They meld circus stunts, like contortionists and aerial performance, with theater and comical Interludes and a healthy dose of sexual innuendo.
Absinthe is a variety burlesque show. It features high-flying acrobats, contortionists, a knife juggler, a roller skating couple and a cabaret act. It sold out its first year, and has done almost as well in its second season.
The popularity of Absinthe was challenged this year by the show that follows it every night, La Vie. Performed a group of former Cirque de Soleil members called "The Seven Fingers," the Montreal-based troupe has found their niche touring with Spiegelworld.
Patrick Leonard is a juggler and has a primary role in La Vie. He says the show has earned critical praise because it has a theatrical base anchoring the acrobatics.
"The show La Vie is about death, basically," said Patrick Leonard. "We are making the audience slowly understand that they are in this space between life and death. The way we use circus and acrobatics is we use a lot theatricality in it, and also a lot of multimedia, music."
Leonard has some gravity-defying jugging routines, including one that requires him to toss and turn an urn on a long piece of rope. At the end of one scene, he ends up naked in front of the audience.
Sally Gibson says the adult themes and nudity of the shows have not stopped a wide range of people from coming to shows.
"The audience is very diverse," she said. "We have traditional theater-goers, and then we have people who would not usually go to the theater, they find out more about it through the gardens. We are attracting people who just come down to dance with the DJ's and they realize they can see a show. It is also great because, usually men tend to not be the biggest theater-goers, but when they are here they can get up and go to the bar and have a beer. We have found a really big part of our market is married couples."
Another reason for Spiegeltent's success: the intimacy of the venue. Performers wander through the audience often draw them into the act.
Samuel Tetreault has a jaw dropping hand-balancing act in La Vie. He says design of the tent and the proximity of the audience to the stage makes for a unique experience.
"The main rule here is a very intimate venue," said Tetreault. "A 360-degree tent, there is a lot of intimacy with the audience. We do not present the circus performers as some kind of semi-God creatures, therefore the intimacy is great for us because we can create this connection with the audience."
Producers for the Spiegeltent tour-called Spiegelworld - have plans to expand to other parts of the country, and eventually overseas. The tour moves down for its first-ever season in Florida starting this December.