Fifteen minutes into Illuminopolis I was happy I had chosen a seat far away from the front row: it meant there was more room between me and the woman licking fire on stage.
Plus I could watch the startled jumps and contortions of people sitting in front of me each time Malibu the performer brought the flames close to her tongue. This was a show within the show, which was a cross between cabaret (our host Shortstaxx introduced the entertainers) and burlesque (Miss Joule traded her white gown for her birthday suit in one of the last scenes). In between there was some great music by The Sweater Set and cool visual effects by the dancers.
Lights were kept low to bring out glow-in-the-dark pieces of costume: two blue stars shooting up from Shortstaxx’s headband bounced around and brightened each time the lights got darker. Lights within performers’ skirts intensified as the stage faded to black.
One of the best moments happened during Miss Joule’s first solo when her costume glowed while her face remained hidden. Holding two yellow scarves, one in each hand, she spun her arms until the fabric became a blur of yellow moving itself across the dark stage. Another highlight was Na’la’s solo that looked like a belly dancing performance until the lights darkened to reveal her body wrapped in glow-in-the-dark bands. In both of these scenes the combination of movement and lighting enhanced the sense of transformation: parts of the women’s bodies disappeared into blackness to produce new species of beautifully coordinated creatures.
The evening progressed with Shortstaxx introducing each act (a solo or duet) and performers alternating appearances. When The Sweater Set came out I wondered how their singing could fit into this theme of luminosity. Sure enough: one song talked about a guy who bought his girlfriend a star through one of the “Name a Star” businesses. Although it was fun to see them join the mix of crazy costumes by adding lights to their dresses in their second set, their music is so awesome I was happy just to hear them play and sing. And thinking about it afterwards, their lyrics make sense in a show about illumination: these two women tell it like it is. Their songs are witty, clever, and catchy.
And Malibu, with two balls of fire swinging from her hands, was memorable as well. Although each of her scenes was captivating – I thought the first part when she licked sticks of fire was more exciting than the second when she swung an umbrella that was on fire – it was the last scene with glowing globes that was really spectacular. I liked how she glanced casually at us – a room of people in a relatively tiny theater – and then swung these dangerous objects vigorously around her body.
Shortstaxx said at the beginning of the show “Here in Illuminopolis we take trips of many kinds…” These performers do the same for us: they take away momentary worries or concerns as we board their flights of fancy. The costumes are fantastical and the artists’ sense of adventure is infectious. They made me realize why audiences and performers loved vaudeville about a century ago. It’s live, uncertain, and driven by a desire to connect people for a fleeting moment.
Toward the end of the evening Shortstaxx suggests Illuminopolis is not a physical place but a state of mind. It’s one state I’d like to visit again.
Illuminopolis has 4 more performances at The Warehouse, 645 New York Ave, NW, Washington, DC.
By: Tilted Torch