Olaf Triebel in Absinthe
(© Joan Marcus)
Olaf Triebel in Absinthe
(© Joan Marcus)
There may be some nifty roller-skating going on at Xanadu and some sensual stripping over at Gypsy, but the acts in the quasi vaudeville-circus Absinthe makes those feats -- and pretty much all else in New York -- more than pale by comparison. This ultra-eclectic show has returned to the beautiful Spiegeltent -- an authentic glass-and-wood performance space temporarily ensconced at the South Street Seaport -- and even if this year's edition isn't quite as successful as the first one, it still provides 100 minutes worth of often-dynamic entertainment.

Exhibiting both of the aforementioned talents is Nate Cooper, the only performer to return from last year's show. The tall, gangly Cooper is once again amusing as he appears to be in a constant state of almost falling off the stage -- a particularly unnerving state of affairs in the moments when he's holding a trio of juggling knives. About halfway through his act, he begins to doff his tuxedo, revealing a white slip-dress underneath, which is soon accessorized by a wicked pair of silver platform shoes -- and eventually a pogo stick!

The evening's true skating thrills, however, come from the Willers. She's thin, blonde and pretty; he's a tad portly, and together -- as they skate at seemingly superhuman speed on a small rink in the middle of the tent -- they are truly a thing of beauty to behold. One of their most interesting routines -- which involves some audience participation -- is set to a singalong of Elvis Presley's "Now or Never."

Taking it all off -- well, almost all -- is NYC burlesque favorite Julie Atlas Muz, who ends up in the nearly altogether inside a giant balloon. It's a neat trick, and much more entertaining then her second-act number, which involves a fake hand. There's not quite as much male flesh on display, although Olaf Triebel, a truly amazing contortionist and balance artist, eventually loses his pajama top, while the well-built, bald-headed Adil Rida takes off his t-shirt during his acrobatic act with a pair of boxing straps. (Nice as he is to look at, I really miss last year's bathtub guy, David O'Mer.)

The show's strongest contributions -- in every sense of the word -- come from the marvelous aerialists Marieve Hammond and Annie-Kim Dery, who are breathtaking in their individual acts and unbelievably stupefying when they team up together. Their flexibility is absolutely mind-boggling.

Rounding out the evening -- and not doing anything too physically stressful -- are the androgynous singer Paul Crespis -- who is far more effective singing "The Windmills of Your Mind" than doing a second-rate Judy Garland imitation -- and a pair of truly obnoxious comedians who call themselves The Gazillionaire and Penny (real names Vofi Kalfayan and Anais Thomassian). Their vulgar, offensive shtick isn't worth two cents, never mind the price of admission to Absinthe.

-- B.S.L.

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Isabelle Chassé in La Vie
(© Joan Marcus)
Isabelle Chassé in La Vie
(© Joan Marcus)
"Even the dead aspire to live again," says one of the characters in La Vie, new to this year's Spiegeltent. Created by the Montreal-based 7 Fingers, this circus-meets-burlesque show has as its concept that both the performers and the audience are no longer among the living. Host Sebastien Soldevila occasionally reads from case files to introduce certain acts, with the manner of death figuring into the way the acrobatic act is constructed.

When this works, it's breathtaking. Isabelle Chassé is absolutely riveting as she performs an aerial act utilizing tied-together white bed sheets. (She was attempting to escape an insane asylum, but was a few sheets too short.) Not only is her extremely flexible routine mesmerizing, the intensity of her performance captures the manic desperation of her character.

The show's concept, however, is only sporadically realized and the majority of performers are unable to create consistent characters. Moreover, as the show's host, Soldevila lacks the necessary charisma to provide a strong spine for the evening's entertainment. Still, most of the individual acts are fun to watch. The duets between Soldevila and Patrick Léonard -- which include juggling, balancing, and mandolin playing -- are funny and vibrant, thanks largely to Léonard's infectious energy. Samuel Tetreault's balancing act shows off his impressive physique, while Faon Shane does some cool tricks with a length of chain.

Although it runs an intermissionless 95 minutes, the performance feels too long and could use some trimming. A fairly boring tango act involving Tetreault and three of the female performers could easily be excised. DJ Pocket's human beat box, performed while making a clay pot, starts out promisingly but grows tiresome. Even the more successful acts could be shortened in order to provide a more powerful punch. La Vie should leave the audience screaming for more, rather than wishing there was a bit less.

-- D.B.