Circus Act

Rosalia Webster, Jessica Cooper and Helen Marie perform in BiG SuRCuS, a show that features belly dancing, burlesque, poetry and, sometimes, fire.

On stage, BiG SuRCus is all fantasy and escape – lights and music and costumes and women flying through the air. But behind the scenes, creator and performer (“ringleader,” if you will) Rosalia Webster studies and prepares with the precision of a high-performance athlete. On a sunny morning in her verdant Big Sur garden, Webster watches video footage of a recent performance with a critical eye. She’s catching too much light in that scene, and isn’t positioned quite right in another.

“I’m always trying to hustle and grow,” Webster says.

Her devotion has led to the creation of a pretty singular performance – depending on the evening, BiG SuRCuS is part burlesque, part belly dance (Webster’s best friend, muse and artistic director Jessica Cooper is a belly dancer), part fire dance, part poetry reading. A hand puppet rabbit named Percival has featured in some memorable scenes; there may be bubbles or balancing acts or mermaids or motorcycles.

BiG SuRCuS began, as a “rag tag” group of dancers, in 2001. These days it is coming into its own. Each performance is narratively woven together by Webster’s rhythmic poetry – she writes a new flagship poem every year. In 2019 the performance was called “Beautymark Cabaret’’ – a meditation on being unique and the challenges and benefits that entails. Then in 2020, because of the pandemic, the focus shifted to craft and choreography rather than performance.

Now the group is back with “Cauldron Cabaret” – all about knowing when to put a lid on it. Much of Webster’s poetry is based around larger social themes she thinks people need to hear about, including gender identity, a woman’s right to choose and environmental stewardship, often presented in a format she has termed “healthy-sexy” – the idea that an open attitude toward and about sex helps keep everyone safe.

“I am spiritual, but in a real smartass way,” Webster says.

Cauldron Cabaret includes performances by Webster and Cooper, of course, but also by belly dancer Jennifer Marie, aerialist Erin Carey and lead bubble blower Helen Marie.

The bubbles are new, and Webster is attracted to “really unique special skills” she doesn’t see elsewhere. Is there anything that wouldn’t fly for BiG SuRCuS? “It just has to go with our aesthetic,” Webster says. “I mean, if I met a sword swallower who fit the vibe… ”

Webster also recently published a book of her poetry; Tales from the Moon (“Fairytales from my lifetime in majestic Big Sur”) is available on Amazon and she’ll be signing copies at the upcoming show.

CAULDRON CABARET happens at 7:30pm on Saturday, Sept. 4 at Henry Miller Memorial Library, 48603 Highway 1, Big Sur. $50.

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