Picture it: Belgium, the year 1900. It would be 9 years until King Albert claims the throne…14 years before the start of World War I and invasion by the Germans.
But for now, the Industrial Revolution is in full swing. Belgium is Europe’s most developed nation—manufacturing, the textile and iron industries, and coal mining are booming. Both French and Dutch are spoken by those travelling on foot to the midsummer town fair’s annual dance.
Life is bien.
Life is goed.
As dew descends to quench the cool evening air, heartbreakers and dream chasers file into an elaborate, mirrored tent. They are welcomed by a façade of sparsely dressed, buxom ladies. Images of contortionists, comedic musicians and macabre jesters look on. All are embellished with golden brocade and surrounded by gilded gargoyles.
Inside, heavily mirrored walls create safe places for brown eyes to flirt with blue. Leaded, coloured glass casts romantic rainbows over velvet curtains and blushing skin.
The music begins, and singles pair up in 3/4 waltz time.
Only days earlier, construction of this sumptuous Spiegeltent had begun. Thousands of pieces of wood, canvas, mirrors, stained glass, velvet ropes and brocade were assembled to create a cabaret music salon so enchanting and magical that it would influence Europe’s night life and traveling entertainment landscape for years to come.
The Spiegeltent described above could have been any of a number of “Magic Mirror Tents” or “Magic Mirrors” created as travelling dance halls in Belgium in the late 19th Century.
For town fairs and festivals, the tent components were shipped (likely by train or horse and carriage), assembled, enjoyed…then disassembled for transport to the next affair. Where dance halls were not available, Spiegeltents provided venue and shelter…but that wasn’t all. They also offered ambience, romance, intrigue and magical places for people to interact with one another, apart from the rigors of daily life.
One such Magic Mirror Tent is The Famous Spiegeltent, designed and built in Belgium in 1920. It is now owned by Australian jazz pianist David Bates. Consisting of 3,000 parts, it requires a dozen workers for assembly and holds approximately 316 guests.
Bates erected the tent at the 1996 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and ultimately purchased it in 2000. Since then, it has been a staple at Adelaide Fringe, particularly as part of The Garden of Unearthly Delights in Rundle Park, and more recently at the 2019 Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
Other historic Spiegeltents, including Le Moulin Rouge, The Melba Spiegeltent, Palais Romantique and La Gayola, are still in use.
Festivalgoers can find stunning examples of original, century-old Spiegeltents that have been masterfully preserved in venues around the world. However, not every travelling tent saw world wars…or even the turn of the 21st Century.
Travelling circus tents are still in production, including those cleverly designed and constructed by the entertainment specialists at Bamboozled Productions.
There’s Ukiyo, in which guests’ fantasies are seduced by representations of modern-day Tokyo. There, ‘The Floating World’ bestows newfound freedom on pleasure seekers. Seating blanketed with shadows and light cajoles even the most reserved onlookers to come sit…and blush with Asian-inspired heat.
The Parlour’s bright, cheerful exterior and hand-painted Victorian-era characters welcome guests with promises of virtuous merriment. Once inside, visitors find themselves saturated in rich navy and maroon jewel tones, surrendered to the atmosphere of the curator’s choosing…exotic, enticing, dark or nostalgic. Forbidden, secretive, warm or provocative.
The Little Palais uses its unique high-contrast, black-and-white-striped exterior to jump out from any backdrop. Perceptions are questioned. Truth is interrogated. Stillness is suddenly movement. Expansion and contraction wind around each other and dance for the mystified eye. Certainly, this visual adventure is just a sampling of the wonders waiting inside.
Rastelli juggles the elements of energy and poise, movement and rhythm…to rescue audiences from the tedium of their everyday existences. Its geometry, its red-and-green colour contrast, and interpretation of motion echo the language of enraptured, expressive guests. Its inspiration, Enrico Rastelli, greatest juggler of all time, would want to bottle this energy!
The Pocket amplifies the whimsy and charm of life in miniature. Space-age-influenced and mid-century-retro-cool, this compact spot is just roomy enough to contain larger-than-life merriment. A spot-lit stage and ebony canvas overhead swath guests in cosiness, so they’re snug as bugs in rugs.
Seating 50 to 210 people each, Bamboozled pop-up tents deliver the atmosphere, the character, or the sensation needed to complete your cabaret, theatre, circus, comedy or music event.