Nikolay Titov, Nikolay Shapishnikov,
Anton Smirnov, and Evgeny Belyaev
in Desir
(© Joan Marcus)
Nikolay Titov, Nikolay Shapishnikov,
Anton Smirnov, and Evgeny Belyaev
in Desir
(© Joan Marcus)
Tempting as it may be to stay home and immerse yourself in the Olympics, not even watching that spectacle on your 80-inch HDTV can compete with the up-close-and-personal combination of athletic daring-do, hot bodies, and not-so-subtle erotica that come together to make Desir the most successful show to play the Spiegeltent in the three years since its began its residency at the South Street Seaport.

Let's just sum it up this way: To the best of my knowledge, NBC has yet to show Michael Phelps being covered in Reddi-Whip, a fate that happily befalls the amazing contortonist and hand balancer Olaf Triebel shortly after he completes his awe-inducing act.

While the 80-minute, intermissionless show, created by director Wayne Harrison and choreographer John O'Connell (of Moulin Rouge fame), bears some similarity to the Spiegeltent's other main show Absinthe (now in its third edition), it has wisely eliminated its unctuous emcee. And unlike last year's late and unlamented La Vie, Desir jettisons an unnecessary storyline to squarely focus on the feats of unbelievable skill and athleticism by a troupe of super-skillful performers -- often wearing close to as little as the law allows. Yes, Desir claims to very loosely borrow its structure from La Ronde, and some of the performers are meant to resemble real-life figures like Josephine Baker and Joseph Pilates. But the show is really just an extraordinary visual spectacle to be savored moment to moment.

As with Absinthe, there's also a strong aural component to the show. The "soundtrack", created here by Josh Abrahams, is an eclectic mix of recorded music -- ranging from "I'm Your Man," and "Bolero" -- to live vocals provided by the sultry Victoria Di Pace (who shines on, among other tunes, Bombay Dreams' "Shakalaka Baby"), outfitted in a series of gorgeous costumes and Boucheron jewelry.

Of course, not even the most blinding bling can outshine the talent of Desir's stars. Nimble-as-can-be aerialists Annie-Kem Dehry and Marieve Hammond are simply a marvel to behold; the wiry Marco Noury works his way with a strap like few others; exotic Marawa Ibrahim's talent with a hula hoop -- or one should say, many hula hoops -- is truly impressive; and a quartet of Russian teenage acrobats -- oddly clothed in what appear to be adult onesies -- dazzle with their strength and agility. (Just watch them build a four-person human tower.)

The leonine Antoine Auger proves equally adept in many segments, including a rather silly bit as one of the "Bravo Brothers" and a sizzling "Apache Dance" that would earn 10s across the board from those nitpicky Dancing With the Stars judges. As for the aforementioned Triebel -- a clear crowd favorite -- he proves to be a double-threat at evening's end when he tackles the aerial ring, in female drag no less.

If there is one slight advantage to watching the Olympics in your living room over seeing Desir is that you can run and take a cold shower immediately afterwards. (Jumping into the East River is definitely not recommended.) But having to take a little extra time to cool off is a small price to pay for being part of one of the hottest evenings in town.