Imagine a fantasyland full of sexy flowers dancing to pop music and guests dining on indulgent delicacies. Where low lights suggestive of fireflies illuminate faces sipping exquisitely crafted cocktails. Where acrobatic bumblebees swing from the rafters of a vintage Belgian circus tent and lush greenery covers the white latticework of a secret garden.
For years, this exotic world existed only in the mind of Marty LaSalle, a juggler turned businessman who joined forces with an architect, a pop artist, stylist, musical director, choreographer and chef to create the Pleasure Garden. On Wednesday, this musical performance and restaurant will open in two red velvet-draped tents with ornately carved wood and mirrored doors in Miami's Design District.
"The idea is to stimulate all the senses," LaSalle says, "so that when you walk into the tent you are transported."
LaSalle, who had a successful juggling act from an early age with his twin brother, drew on his experience under the big tops of Europe and the United States to create an environment that recalls the pleasure gardens of 19th century Europe. The installation, with all its moving parts, has come together "better than I could have dreamed," he says.
LaSalle says he considered opening the show in New York, but decided on Miami, "a place that people are increasingly looking to for art and entertainment." With a climate that lends itself to year-round outdoor entertainment and a rich cross-section of residents, he says, the Magic City is the perfect place to debut a production that is experimental yet decidedly "commercial, not avant-garde."
"The Design District was an obvious choice for us because it's a neighborhood that has cachet, is up-and-coming and understood as trendy," he says.
Turning empty space into "active art" is the larger vision for Temporary Entertainment, the company LaSalle is launching with the creation of the Pleasure Garden. He imagines "popup performances" bringing beauty to forgotten corners of urban landscapes around the world, with musical performances and provocative installations. The show will run in Miami until Jan. 6, he says, and he's looking into taking it to New York and Los Angeles.
The theater element of the experience is Orchid, an amalgam of song, dance and acrobatics that explores themes of innocence and experience, beauty and seduction, says William Baker, the director. Drawing on his experience as the stylist behind pop music productions like Britney Spears' Circus tour as well as his theology studies at King's College in London, Baker has created a loose narrative that follows a Garden of Eden-inspired discovery set to well-known pop songs.
"It's an interesting collision between pop and burlesque that is hopefully very intelligent," he says, comparing the melancholy figure of the Master Gardener to God or a circus master of ceremonies. The flowers that populate the garden are "celebrations of femininity," or botanical versions of the biblical characters of Salome with her seven veils, Jezebel and, of course, Eve.
These themes are embodied by the title character, played by vocalist Lexy Romano, 25. Orchid is "the most natural thing in the world," Romano says, adding that of course a flower is going to get pollinated and of course a girl is going to lose her innocence.
The performers had a grueling rehearsal schedule as the complex production was built from scratch in a little more than two months. Richard E. Waits, who plays the Master Gardener, says the production has a decidedly collaborative feel.
"A lot of the younger cast members don't realize how rare that is," Waits says. "But for me it's like paradise."
The other feature of the production is a three-course, prix-fixe menu for $38 by award-winning Miami chef Michelle Bernstein that takes circus fare to its elegant extreme with dishes such as truffle popcorn, caramelized onion dip, lobster salad sliders and Kobe beef hot dogs. The dining tent is set up within the Pleasure Garden, beside the theater tent.
The idea of finding sophistication in ordinary things runs throughout the production and is a characteristic of Miami itself, says architect Luis Pons, who designed the exterior garden and is known in Miami for his 2005 Art Basel installation The Fabulous Floating Inflatable Villa.
Pons says this installation, and LaSalle's vision of Temporary Entertainment, could provide a nimble model with a brighter future than traditional stage productions.
"I think this show reflects a new way of understanding entertainment, adapted to a new reality where productions have smaller budgets after the crash of 2008," Pons says. "From now on, for shows to be successful, they have to be from the heart."
The Pleasure Garden will be unlike anything people have experienced, he says, and will "touch your senses in a very deep way."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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