Seattle aerial troupe the Cabiri explore waterborne myth in "Devil in the Deep Blue Sea."

Share story


Wavering beams of light play over towers of coral and seaweed-covered rock. And the aerial acrobatics about to unfold in this “underwater grotto” have a rippling, subaquatic shimmy to them.

Welcome to the Cabiri’s “Devil in the Deep Blue Sea,” the latest incarnation of the aerial-dance troupe’s annual “Ghost Game” extravaganza.

It’s not quite like any other show in town. Conceived and directed by Cabiri artistic director John Murphy, it has some things in common with Seattle’s plethora of burlesque offerings, including fantastical masks and costumes and intricate airborne choreography on the silks, the rings and trapeze.

But Murphy isn’t in it for the titillation factor. Instead, he’s bent on illuminating the power of ancient myth: Greek, Irish, Japanese, you name it … much of it as brutal as it is seductive.

Storytelling is what he and his talented collaborators are all about. And while the stagings of the tales can sometimes be a little corny, at their best there’s a visceral, enchanting power to them.

Murphy and fellow aerialist Charly McCreary set the bar with “Undine,” about a sailor (Murphy) who falls for a sea creature (McCreary) who longs to return to her home. Their duet is an airborne embrace that keeps turning into an escape.

Morgan Houghton is a star here, too. In “Narcissus,” it’s not just how high he leaps or how elegantly he moves while balanced on only one hand, but the way he lands as lightly as a faun when it’s time to touch earth again. Jill Leversee, a great leggy dancer who’s Nemesis to his self-loving Narcissus, also makes a dramatic impression. And in “Siren Song,” he gets fine menacing support from Amy Shuster and Brenda Stevens as serpentine sirens luring him toward ruin.

In the grand finale, “Apophis,” about an Egyptian “serpent of chaos,” Orville Zharoff, as high priest, and Lauren Kettner, as his virgin sacrifice, engage in an athletic duet amid a four-ring circus of aerial antics before their world comes to an end.

The costumes (by Gretchen Frederich, Sabrina Bailey and others) and the masks and giant puppets (Rob D’Arc) eerily enhance the proceedings. The music, ranging from folk to techno-gothic, is well chosen, too.

The final felicitous touch: This year the Cabiri have, counterintuitively, recruited a stand-up comedian — the quick-witted Cameron Esposito — to emcee the show. She’s a nicely tart palate-cleanser between these intense mythopoeic dramas, both puncturing and punching up the evening’s mood.

Michael Upchurch: