A fire casts a warm glow on an ornate rug. Relaxed couples mill about, enjoying deviled eggs, beef satay, and cocktails. A woman with star-shaped pasties is bound in ropes, smiling, and hanging from the ceiling. A black-haired beauty in white lace and antlers prances around her, playing the fawn and bending over to endure the crack of a leather flogger.
This is the third year of New Bohemia, the New Year’s Eve party organized by Opel and Vau De Vire at the Armory, headquarters of kink.com. Downstairs, in the Vau De Vire green room, another fawn is getting into costume. An airbrush artist, C-squared, is putting the finishing touches on Brandon Kazen-Maddox, who’ll be doing acrobatics, dancing, and just being sexy.
“Making people jizz everywhere,” he jokes. “That’s my job.”
“Just make sure my face looks as good as his ass,” says C-Squared as the camera captures his painting. (Honey, if I could do that, I wouldn’t need to write for a living.) “Okay, arch your back,” he says to Kazen-Maddox. “We’re almost there.”
Still yet to undergo his airbrush transformation is Miguel Balderrama of Argentina. He’ll soon have abs airbrushed on top of his abs, giving him a rather unfair advantage. Balderrama and Natalie Briggs will perform a duet tonight of Acro Adagio, a combination of acrobatics and dance that oozes strength and drips sex. They’ve performed at every New Bohemia party so far.
“At this point, there’s nothing weird,” says Miguel of the hijinks to be found around the Armory. Indeed, much later, when a young woman fellates her date, a relatively small crowd will take note of it.
“I think this is about the safest spot you can be as an artist, exotic or not” says Briggs. “There’s so much security, before you get to all the different areas.”
Truly, the Armory is a Bondage Palace like none other, with numerous, remarkably cordial security guards seemingly everywhere. “Consent is the only thing that makes BDSM sexy,” says upper floor manager Christian Ytuzman, who will only have to eject one guest tonight for touching a performer without asking. “Without that, it’s rape.”
Out on the main floor, it’s 10 p.m. and the crowd is just starting to arrive. Dubstep burbles between giant fabric lights that sway like tentacles. Two large black curtains dissect the room, and in the center area, artist Cooper Hazen is finalizing his display.
“My work is a combination of processes that deliver the art and help me work through life,” he says pointing at paintings that resemble photographic negatives touched by the rainbow sheen of oil in water. “I’ll take a picture and draw on it and then take it into the computer and then take a picture of the screen — which [the camera] doesn’t like. I put on layers in one medium only to break them down in another.”
In a lounge area behind a DJ booth, people mill about near an art piece called “Columns.” A square arrangement of two-foot tall, plexiglass pillars, its interactive LED show will mesmerize revelers later in the night, when the psychedelic experience begins to peel back their eye-lids and force a clench-toothed grin.
Enjoying the sculpture are Tony Townsend and Farran Tabrizi, who drove up from San Jose for tonight’s festivities. Townsend has visited the Armory before, for the kink.com tour. “They just walk you through this room,” he says, waving an arm at the cavernous, arch-roofed room. “They’re like, ‘That’s the gym.’ It’s just empty.”
This is Tabrizi’s first time to San Francisco’s notorious Spank Castle and wasn’t sure what to expect. “I saw the video,” she says. “I was thinking Circ du Soleil’s Zumanity, but a tamer, artsy spectacular.”
In some ways, she’s spot on. The main room is an irreverent, scantily-clad display of acrobatics. There’s face-painting, interactive projection art, and — in the center of the room — a large Burning Man art car that is essentially the front porch and kitchen of a small farm house. Dorothy could look for ruby slippers by this thing. Downstairs, a crowd throbs in a basement that is barely lit by a pink DJ booth.
The Upper Floor, however, is anything but tame. It’s 11 p.m. and a thick crowd is gathered around, eyes drooling, mouths ooohing at the loud cracks of each whip. Bent over a table, a tall woman takes a loud, firm spanking on her leather short-shorts. The strokes are administered by a large, gorgeous woman wearing fishnets, sparkly tape, and tattoos. Her enormous breasts sway with the vigor of each blow.
Next, a couple exhibits their penchant for suspension bondage. She is a fit and limber ariel artist with curves in all the right places. A quietly focused man with glasses and long dreadlocks dances fluidly around her, casting knots to her lithe frame like one might ring a fire-hydrant with a hula-hoop. The twists of twines seem to ravel out of his fingertips as he hoists her off the floor. And for her part, she takes each indignity in stride, a strange blank look on her face, stretched somewhere across shame and ecstasy.
“This is practice for us but this is also our dynamic” she says later. “But this is the best practice.”
It’s 11:30 and the dazzling acrobatics of the Vau De Vire Society gather a rapt audience in the main room. Their show is at once elegant and banal. Fluid choreography and stunning costumes are interspersed with strenuous pole-work, evoking strip clubs while remaining complex and impressive.
“All right,” says MC Jamie DeWolf as the dancers leave the stage. “We’re all going in the center! Grab your drink and the person you want to kiss!”
The curtains dividing the massive room are raised. Holding large, inflatable penises aloft, the sparkling performers gyrate through the crowd towards the center of the room. Models in blue-lit bird cages swing high above the front porch of the small house as thousands of people gather ‘round.
The New Year is about to come!