It’s been nearly two years since The House of Red Velvet last opened its doors to patrons, and it returned for one night only with the debut of “A New Baptism.” The latest incarnation of the show invited guests to witness a string of performances tied together by forbidden, ethereal forces that culminated in an entrancing ceremony. When I exited the building, I was absolutely struck by the visceral energy that had been generated that evening.
The event transpired within the doors of the Pico Union Project, a historic structure dating back to 1909 that served as a synagogue and Welsh Presbyterian church. Inside the sanctuary, candles lined the sills of stained-glass windows and crimson light imbued the entire space. The air was buzzing with anticipation and an eager crowd awaited the commencement of The House’s ritual.
When founder Olivia Bellafontaine emerged on stage, the atmosphere shifted in the room. The performer emanated an enchanting presence that held the gaze of all voyeurs. She was seductively clad in white and as she came into the spotlight, a dark guardian angel, enacted by Devin Koppel, appeared in the balcony above as if to anoint her for the initiation ahead. Bellafontaine moved to bluesy, rock-and-roll rhythms in a manner that evoked sensuality and desire, preparing to transcend to a higher state.
“A New Baptism” also introduced new performing artists, known as Daughters of The House of Red Velvet. The first was Yael Stormborn whose performance plunged deep into carnality and cravings of the flesh. The act incorporated Shibari, a rope bondage art form with roots in Japan. A mysterious cloaked figure wielding a sword accompanied her. He tied her up, then proceeded to tease her with the blade, running it across her body, freeing her from her confines and even cutting through part of her black lace bodice. It was a number charged with abandonment and liberation.
Frankie Tan made her debut as well with a mesmerizing ballet performance. The first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata resounded from the speakers, and she gracefully glided across the stage, like an otherworldly creature awakening to greet the night. Suddenly, the music intensified, pounding, and her persona altered to match the fury. She began tugging on a scarlet rope, as if pulling it out of her bit by bit. At the climax, a blood-like residue stained her wardrobe, the result of cleansing herself of the binding that resided within her soul.
Artist Masha Ko has performed with The House in the past and specializes in the mystical Japanese dance Butoh. She entered the spotlight, pale and bare-skinned—a phantom enacting haunting motions and pushing against an unseen force. Before the conclusion of her sequence, she ascended to the terrace above the stage where a man placed a cloth upon her face and poured drops of liquid through it into her mouth. It was a powerful scene to watch as she oscillated between gasping and grinning before falling back into his arms for the final submergence.
Near the end, Bellafontaine returned draped in a black gown and holding lit anatomically heart-shaped candles in each hand. A gentleman with a whip in his grip loomed like a shadow behind her and started lashing it back and forth. Pain and relief shown across the performer’s face. As she stood there, she tightly grasped onto the hearts, and hot candlewax dripped down her arms like sanguine fluid. It was a climactic performance, brimming with fervor and reaching a cathartic release.
When the performers came together on stage for the finale, each received a white rose, which they held in their mouths. The women kneeled with heads held back, and Bellafontaine approached the Daughters, pouring a drop of water into the center of their flowers and then received her own anointment. The baptism was complete.
This edition of The House of Red Velvet transcended a threshold that took the audience to the brink of utter relinquishment.
It aroused. It provoked. It tempted.
The irony of showcasing erotically charged performances in a place of worship transformed sacrilegious impulses into acts of holiness. Deeds deemed profane had become sacred by the end of “A New Baptism.”
Announcements have yet to be made as to when The House will return, but this past event proved it has more secrets to reveal in the future.
Don’t miss the chance to witness this surreal experience. For information on upcoming productions and ways you can show your support, visit the links below.