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Antigone

Empire

The latest installment of the Spiegelword series is full of stylish, constantly amazing acts.

By New York City
A scene from Empire
(© Thom Kaine)
A scene from Empire
(© Thom Kaine)
The Spiegeltent is back in town with a vengeance, thanks to Empire, now at Spiegelworld Tent in Times Square. New Yorkers have seen a similar if dazzling mash-up of French Canadian cirque, Berlin cabaret, and New York burlesque in such past Spiegelworld shows as Absinthe and Desir; but in those productions, the wow factor usually rose and fell over the course of 90 minutes. That's not the case with this consistently amazing show.

Indeed, Empire is perfectly structured, right up to the astounding climactic performance by Swiss artist Mädir Eugster, a mind-boggling work of performance art that borders on the spiritual. Eugster is not merely a Decroux- and Lecoq-trained performer, but a sculptor whose primary media are driftwood, giant palm leaf ribs, and air. It's unlike anything you've ever seen.

Jonathan Taylor and Anne Goldman are back as Spiegelworld emcees. Taylor plays a rich impresario who, supposedly, is trying to claw his way back from the recent Wall Street collapse, and while he lacks the dangerous rock-and-roll edge that Voki Kalfayan has brought as Spiegelworld's notorious Gazillionaire, he's still very funny. Moreover, he shares Kalfayan's -- and Goldman's -- gift of knowing which audience members he can shatter boundaries of appropriate behavior with.

If the other acts are more familiar in design than Eugster's, they are no less impressive and beautiful. A pair of brothers, Tariku Degefa and Yonas Alemu, do a classic Risley act in which Degefa juggles and spins Alemu on his feet. If Alemu is as young as he looks (no more than 15), it is doubly impressive, because a typical adolescent growth spurt would wreak havoc on the split-second, daredevil moves that these two have mastered.

A trio of blonde women in kinky getup -- Anastasiia Gavrylenko, Anastasiia Permiakov, and Olena Lomaga -- perfect an astonishing act in which they literally use each other's contorted limbs as balancing beams. And to label Spiegelworld veterans Roma Hervida and Sven Rauhe as skaters is a little like calling Danica Patrick a lady who drives a car.

Josh Zangen and Matthew Hodges have created set pieces that evoke Manhattan skyscrapers, the game Monopoly, and the Occupy Wall Street movement, and costume designer Angus Strathie provides his own sexy decadence to this theme.

Don't read too much into these images, which are largely red herrings for a simple but stylish variety show. Still, there is a moving theme buried within Empire of a society striving to regain its balance.


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