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Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Nikolay Titov, Nikolay Shapishnikov, Anton Smirnov, and Evgeny Belyaev.

It's no small feat to glitter in a tent. Yet somehow, Désir manages just that, with blinding success. This second and last of this year's Spiegelworld shows doesn't just blow away the first offering, Absinthe (which opened last week), but is also the most innately spectacular yet seen since the Spiegeltent first arrived at the South Street Seaport two seasons ago.

Boucheron, the luxury French jewelry house that's celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and has lent its imprimatur to Désir, would undoubtedly tout its own involvement. The one-page "program" distributed before the show claims that the scenarios constituting it were drawn from the company's own history of catering to lustful requests from the cream of Europe's elite. And one can easily envision that there would be no shortage of enticing tales (or exquisite baubles) to choose from.

Of sparkles there are plenty, but Désir derives its true power from a more scandalous source: Arthur Schnitzler's La Ronde. That tale of an illicit round-robin of Viennese eroticism, translated to mid-19th-century Paris and thrown (literally, in many cases) into the air is at the heart of the show, allowing it to examine how passion - for people, for art, for causes, for life itself - governs and enriches our lives.

A young man (Olaf Triebel) is sprawled out on a huge, round bed, awaiting a visit from a sapphire-drenched vision of Gallic beauty (Annie-Kim Dehry). She tumbles into his room, taunting and tantalizing him with alternately gentle and coarse abandon, until she dissolves again into the night. Alone, he explores the wonders of his own bed and his own capabilities, proving that balancing himself by himself (on a series of ever-higher support bars) is well within his grasp. Until, that is, a flesh-and-blood woman (Marawa Ibrahim) inspires him to engage the world around him.

True, the symbolism is so thin you could slice it with a spoon. Sophisticated storytelling, however, is hardly the goal - if it were, songs ranging from "My Man" to "Don't Touch Me Tomatoes" to (of all things) "Shakalaka Baby" would not pepper the soundtrack. But even so, the unfolding panoply of the most sensual of circuses is sufficient to captivate and communicate the affair all Spiegelworld shows share with the human body.

A voluptuous Josephine Baker type (Ibrahim) marshals a dozen or so simultaneous hula hoops, before swiveling herself aloft. A chorus girl (Marieve Hemond) and a baroness (Dehry again) consummate their relationship within and around the frame of a floating window. The baroness then, ahem, entertains a quartet of young soldiers (Nikolay Titov, Nikolay Shapishnikov, Anton Smirnov, and Evgeny Belyaev), who celebrate their "success" with acrobatic abandon until it's time for them to head out to war and face down Death herself (Raphaelle Boitel).

Yet the transitions from boudoir to battlefield and back never strain, gliding instead along the natural path of mystery that frequently weaves through matters of the heart. Dabblings into the real, the could-be real, and pure fantasy alike make for a bewitching journey that retains a bright gleam for almost all of its 80 minutes. Toward the end, a burlesque clown act (Boitel and Antoine Auger) borders on comic desperation, and the appearance of a well-heeled maharajah (Marco Noury) who guides everything back to its starting position feels like an unnecessary step backward.

But the final acts count among them the evening's most arresting offering: an apache between the spirit of Art (Auger) and a black cat come to life (Genevieve Morin). No harnesses, cables, or leaps necessary this time: Auger and Morin confine their sexual sparring to the ground, seldom straying farther than they can touch. The uncertainty, the danger, and the racing blood between them fuel their dance, demonstrating how one doesn't have to fly in order to soar. Désir itself knows this so well, it doesn't need the world's most precious gems to prove to you exactly the same thing.

Through September 30
Pier 17, South Street Seaport, South Street & Beekman Street
Running Time: 80 minutes with no intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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