Life in New York City consists of speed walking to your next destination, navigating through tourists with their cameras, office-goers on their phones, and joggers with their headphones. While riding the crowded subway with your shoulders touching the people next to you, you avoid making eye contact with people by aimlessly checking Facebook. When finally alone at your apartment, you wonder how it is possible to feel so alone and disconnected in this packed and bustling city.
The new immersive, promenade style show Queen of the Night aims to break this habitual detachment. In the extravagantly refurbished Diamond Horseshoe nightclub under the Paramount Hotel, audiences are pushed beyond the familiar to exceed their boundaries. Some—the chosen ones—are invited into private rooms to fresh kiss another audience member, bathe a naked lady in a bathtub of milk, or take off their clothing while looking into the eyes of a performer. All of these, known as “1on1” experiences, are designed with the touch, scent, sight, taste, and sound in mind to stimulate an experience unlike any other show and transform the audience through their journey and exploration.
Each evening, the Diamond Horseshoe nightclub holds an extravagant ball with handsome acrobats, aerialists, sensual butlers, and knife-throwers to tell a story created from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The attendees of this ceremony, the audience of the show Queen of the Night, are invited to the sexual awakening of Pamina, the Queen’s daughter. Upon the purchase of their tickets, the audiences are asked to dress to “please the Queen,” and many show up in their most extravagant gowns and tuxedos.
As soon as the audiences descend the vintage, grand spiral staircase, they see a topless lady enclosed in a massive glass cage elegantly writing letters to her lover on the glass wall. As the guests slowly shift their gaze away, the Butlers escort them into the grand hall, where there is a fluorescent-lighted bar facing the grand oval stage.
The Queen stoically stands on this stage and is visible from all corners of the hall. She is dressed in a jeweled mask and a cape that drapes over the entire stage. She remains motionless besides the subtle choreographed movements of her hands and fingers that give off the air that she is secretly manipulating all the performers of this space.
No one can have a remotely similar experience attending Queen of the Night and it’s impossible to see everything even after multiple visits. Revised: With so many actions happening, the audience must shape their own path by selecting what to see and where to go.
“There is no fourth wall,” says Kimo Kepano, a performer in the show. “In a traditional show, the players are tucked behind a proscenium and left to project their energy so that it may reach the seats at the back of the theater.”
Kepano explains that Queen of the Night is a 3 dimensional show. It happens all around the audience and at times even above them.
While attending Queen of the Night, audiences try to catch the eye of the performers, hoping that they will be the lucky one to be invited for a “1on1.” These are the personalized experiences, the hidden gold, and the ones that challenge the audience to open up and come to realizations, to become someone different after attending this show. In one of his special 1on1 experiences, Kepano works with what is known as the Violet Ray Machine.
“During the feast, I take a couple up to one of the private rooms,” he says. “There are shells that line the mirrored walls, feathers hang from the ceiling, and the floor is covered in sheep’s pelt. They descend down a long hallway as they are serenaded by a record player playing classical piano. They come across a cushioned flat bed and are asked to sit next to each other. They are then introduced to the Violet Ray Machine.”
The Violet Ray experience is a test of Trust, Endurance, and Love. In preparation for the upcoming evening festivities, it leaves markings, both physical and energetic, on the skin of the members of the audience, to transport them to what Kepano calls “a place of YES.”
During the experience, he sometimes has couples work together.
“They have to use the machine on each other. They must approach their partners’ body with trust and love. Then kiss the mark.”
This particular experience teaches the audience to be open to saying “yes” to the unknown. Another 1on1 asks the audience to take off all her clothes in a private room in front of a butler while looking deeply into his eyes and engaging in a conversation. Symbolically, this task instills the notion to be comfortable in her skin and body.
The banquet begins the second half of the show. The calm and club-like music that accompanies the first forty minutes is shattered when the Queen starts to break apart, literally. The Queen bends her back slowly until she hits a ninety-degree angle, and several dancers emerge from under her gown, as if pieces of her are falling apart and starts to scatter around the stage.
That is when the ceremony officially begins.
The audiences are directed to sit at the nearest table around the oval stage, and for the rest of the show, the audiences remain at their tables to dine and watch the performance. What takes place are an erotic dance between Pamina and her lover, a whip, a German wheel, several acrobatics doing tricks through a loop from the ceiling, Chinese Yo-Yos released and glided from all four corners of the hall, and an intense group piece carried out by the Butlers that involved them attaching a giant, metallic-headed codpiece. Then the Butlers walk away slowly and with dignity, and roll out the fancy diner for the audience.
The gastronomy alone attracts a crowd. Each table is served either entire lobsters, racks of beef ribs, or large chunks of meat, all enclosed in a giant metallic cage, cooked to perfection. The meat seems to come from the rawest state possible, straight from nature. Eating the uncut pieces of veal, the audience almost feels more animalistic, primal, and carnal. If the audiences weren’t lucky to get the right table, it is up to them to get up and trade for the food they desire.
The night concludes with one of the most ethereal dance by the Queen. Dressed in a sheer, white, fitted dress, the Queen carries the crowd away with her Martha Graham style movements that showcased her fragile, vulnerable self. Her decline seems to indicate the end to the story.
The night ends with a sweet delicacy. The audiences are offered a chocolate hazelnut cake baked to perfection—the only condition is the audience must be spoon-fed by the butler. One butler takes his time, first looking deeply into the audience member’s soul while stroking their face, and another tilts the spoon to make sure the every last bit is licked clean. Soft music fills the air. The gymnasts, acrobats invite the audience to slow dance by the stage and into the night, and thus officially ending the show.
Many audience members cry while slowly swaying to the music. Perhaps they are surprised at the human connections they made during the show, perhaps they learned something important about themselves, perhaps they were merely blown away by all the beauty they’ve seen during the night, or perhaps the Queen is just a conduit to transport them to a place of strong and resounding YES.
Photo credit: Cissy Shi