The lights dim. An electronic version of Yann Tierson’s "Comptine D’un Autre: L’Apres" Midi starts up and the crowd around me erupts into excited murmurs. Scattered among us are various beautiful creatures in corsets and tulle ballerina skirts, heavy makeup that places them in another world, another time. They walk among us, but not with us. We all look up as a hoop drops from the ceiling and two lithe, beautiful women, barely clad, instantly, instinctively grasp on to the hoop and ride it up to the ceiling, pausing to make the audience below gasp as they dangle together, hands outstretched, perfectly in sync. Seemingly unaware that we exist; twirling beauties rise and descend in a blur above us as they twist their bodies in inhuman positions. These are the ladies of the Lucent Dossier Vaudeville Circus.
Bearded Ladies! Midgets! Fire Eaters and Contortionists! All this and more is promised by the Lucent Dossier Vaudeville Cirque. But don’t confuse them with traveling sideshows like the Jim Rose Circus: this show isn’t about shock value or a modern freak show. It’s an invitation to stretch the imagination, leave the banal real world behind, and step into a fairytale world for an evening.
Granted, this is partly accomplished via the absinthe the ‘Green Fairy’ girls peddle on the floor. Stay away from the ‘mixed’ ones: lemonade, absinthe, and olives are as revolting together as they sound. However, a majority of the ‘magic’ in the performance comes from the troupe’s desire to blur boundaries between performer and observer. The troupe has taken up residence indefinitely Wednesday nights at the Edison, formerly Los Angeles’ first power plant, which has retained its sense of old Hollywood glamour and speak-easy vibe, making it the ideal location for their early-twentieth-century theme of flapper contortionists. Performances are scattered around the bar: a rope dancer may descend from the ceiling at any given moment, muscular, handsome men exhibit their spectacular upper arm strength and mental discipline on metal catwalks flanking the space. Private rooms give peeks into staged absinthe tea parties which visitors are free to join.
Unfortunately, as of my last visit, safety regulations prohibited the fire-swallowers from doing their act. But a recent Halloween performance at Bar Sinister gave me a chance to see it, and it was both impressive and beautiful; most seductive was a voluptuous Asian woman who managed to suck the flames from one torch and light another with her breath. Once she scaled a platform, a flaming saber balanced on her head, never flinching or trembling, she had completely showed up the regular Goth dancers, whose moves now reminded us of the embarrassing and desperate ‘fangbangers’ on HBO’s new series, True Blood.
This is not Criss Angel, or The Amazing Lifto. What we're witnessing encompasses physical discipline, dedication, skill, talent, and an intense amount of concentration, and the end result is a gorgeous, haunting performance that stays with the audience long after the last torch has been doused in an open mouth. And trust me, that’s not the absinthe talking.
As a side note, the Edison employs a dress code: no sneakers, and I’d recommend taking advantage of the theme of the night and indulge your inner bootlegger or Josephine Baker.