Last night I saw Spiegeltent Empire in Times Square. They are the same people who produce the hugely popular & successful Absinthe show in MGM Las Vegas where NYC’s own Melody Sweets stars in. I have been a long time Spiegeltent fan ever since they made their NYC appearance many summers ago in South Street Seaport. I went every year and have seen Julie Atlaz Muz there among many other performers who have now become regulars in the Spiegelworld family. My boyfriend at the time was from New Zealand and he used to be flatmates with one of the guys from “Flight of the Concords” (I think it was Jermaine) so we all went once together as a group along with other Kiwis. This was right before Jermaine and Brett hit it huge on HBO. I think they were in NYC for the “One Night Stand” show. Another time at Spiegeltent I saw Julian Lennon hanging out in the beer garden. Spiegel certainly transformed the seaport into a destination point for us locals and added an element of artistic entertainment and magic to an otherwise dismal tourist attraction.
Empire did not disappoint like all Spiegeltent production. It was a packed full house. A mix of artsy looking people and Times Square tourist people. I didn’t know what Empire was going to be and it was hard to explain to my friends who are non-Spiegel-ers what kind of show it was. It was not vaudeville or cabaret or theater or burlesque. Although there are elements of everything, well no burlesque at all, there were little kids there. Empire seemed to have a storyline in the beginning with a song about New York’s old name “New Amsterdam” so I realized the show is called “Empire” for NYC and perhaps an homage to NYC. The host character and his show wife established that they were showing us what was left of their “empire” so I think that was the loose narrative of the show. But the acts were so tight and the lighting production so dramatic, I didn’t care if there was a storyline or not. I was really pleased to see a few Chinese acrobats in the show along with a duet featuring two black gymnasts who got a standing-O for their act. It’s not that I go to every show “on the lookout” for minority representation but it’s just so damn unusual to see Asians in show business! And I do identify with them so it did make me feel proud to see the Chinese duet do their thing. Many mainland Chinese go into circus training for acrobatics or gymnastics from a young age. If they don’t make it into the national Olympics, they often go on world tours with people like Cirque du Soleil and in this instance, The Gazillionaire snatched them up for Empire.
All the acts were amazing. I am not going to describe them all. If you have the opportunity to see it while it’s still here or next time, I highly recommend it. There was one particular act that was astonishing. It was an older guy whose costume reminded me of “sand people” from something like Mad-Max-Meets-David-Caradine from Kung Fu. He did a balance act that I have NEVER seen before in my life. He started out holding one feather plume. Then he added another single plume and balanced it on top of the first one. From there, he gradually added bigger and bigger objects like LONG petrified wood or bone pieces until he had a huge strange & surreal nomadic sculptural piece all balanced precariously and cosmically on top of each other. The entire tent was so silent while he took his time to build this sculpture. You could see the amount of concentration and meditation trickling down his face and body in sweat and labored breathing. His movements were so slow and calculated, reminded me of the older Chinese doing tai chi’. In the end he rested the entire thing on the top of the largest piece of bone and with a deliberate gentle move, he removed the original single feather plume and the entire sculpture collapsed with a feeling of enlightened release that was palpable in the tent.
Empire was heavy on acrobatic acts, and although it is really impressive to see what other people can do with their bodies that I can’t, it got a bit repetitive in certain spots. I hesitate to compare Empire to the dreaded Quebecian-creation Cirque du Soleil, but if I had to explain it to non-users, I would say it it is an edgier and darker version of Cirque minus the awful music and faux-language plus a side of naughty humour and fun. There was something with bananas that was really amazing. In terms of seating, I would get the cabaret tables or the booths. Those have the best sightline. It was muggy last night so the tent was a bit stuffy. I saw a few tourists who can’t handle the heat leave early and many people were fanning themselves with napkins and paper towels. If there was air conditioning, it wasn’t very cool. So dress cool!
I can’t wait to see Absinthe though next Sunday when I’m in Las Vegas! I must go pack!