The Great Star Theater no longer smells of dust – or worse – anymore.
The 410 seats at the Chinatown site have been reupholstered. The cement walls are covered with new curtains. The emergency sprinklers, non-compliant for 50 years, have been replaced. A new ventilation system, complete with MERV filters, required a new power line. There is heat.
Ahead of the Thursday, April 28, performance of the “Circus-Burlesque Hybrid AirOtic Evening,” Executive Director Roger Pincombe rushed to explain to a stagehand how to perform a lighting effect from the cabin, focus a spotlight, transport ice packs for refreshments and trying to dispel a tryout of the show’s theatrical haze before the audience enters.
In short, the nearly 100 year old venue is operational after years of disrepair.
With less than $200,000 investment, the Great Star is now a welcoming mix of kitsch and whimsy. Two 400-pound movie projectors, with thermometers to prevent overheating, greet visitors to the lobby, reminiscent of the venue’s history as a movie theater for Shaw Brothers, Hong Kong’s legendary production company. It’s become the kind of place where you can dress up and buy a bottle of champagne for over $100 and sit at a cabaret table adjoining the stage, or wash down your popcorn with a Jack and Coke, using a sort of Pincombe desk before the show to turn the seat next to you into a side table.
“AirOtic Soirée”, a six-year-old traveling show, well represents the kind of eclectic programming Pincombe has brought to the space since it reopened last June, a mix of festivals for the Chinatown community as well as magic shows, ballets, Chinese opera, film screenings and more.
While other circuses might opt for an asexual vibe in an effort to attract families, the performers at “AirOtic” are outspoken and creative with the fact that aerial stunts and body contortions can be erotic. Here, the costumes are less leotards than body stockings, often with cutouts for the buttocks. Still, the sex appeal here doesn’t just come from the bare flesh flipping and bending over. It’s in the way two feet touch, in the way two knees wrap around each other. This is how, when Emiliano Simeoni and Nahuel Broin do a series of slits in the air, they look like the wings of a dragonfly.
A particular strength of “AirOtic Soirée” is how its acts flow seamlessly between opposite-sex and same-sex couples, suggesting a continuum of sexiness and sexuality rather than imposing what it owes. look like from the point of view of the male gaze. .
You might be stunned at the curtain call to learn that only five performers have the reach and stamina to complete an hour of acts. Giulia Serra does a handstand on the trembling arms of Mattia Rossi Ruggeri; later, the pair stage a pas de deux in a tub filled with water, performing some sort of balancing act on its rim without slipping.
In one act, Gabrielle Bryana uses her leg and foot as fluidly and expressively as if it were her arm and hand; in another, if you thought it was hard to perform in wedge heels, she heroically pulls off her contortion act even after a shoe’s laces have come undone, the heel wobbly on her foot.
Some acts are more directly slapstick, such as when a seemingly naked trio perform a striptease from inside what look like three giant sheer fabric condoms. In another segment, phosphorescent paint makes a bare mud bath look weird. There is no chest imprint like a dripping neon chest imprint on purple-turquoise skin under a black light.
The evening’s audience couldn’t quite tell at first if they were allowed to shout, but, like the newly revamped Great Star, it quickly came into its own.
M“AirOtic Evening”: Until June 12. One hour, 20 minutes. $40 to $135. Great Star Theater, 636 Jackson St., SF feverup.com/m/112669