Aerial performers House of Yes land on new Bushwick home
Anya Sapozhnikova and Kae Burke display no fear as they twist through trapezes and rings 15 feet above solid ground.
Their bodies artfully interlock with their partners, nimble figures contorting through routines that take anywhere between two to five weeks to perfect. Their artistry is refined, even if the humor in the night’s show is a little crass.
For now, Sapozhnikova and Burke’s stage isn’t their own, sharing the audience at Manhattan’s Slipper Room for a pre-Valentines Day event lovingly titled, “Go F–k Yourself.”
But both are working to settle in a new home for their particular brand of aerial and circus-themed acrobatics. And like their bold performances, neither are frightened about their latest venture — all it takes is practice.
Friends since high school, Sapozhnikova and Burke first took to the air in their early 20s. But it wasn’t until they began throwing parties around 2007 at their first warehouse loft that they launched their pet project, the House of Yes.
The pair are set to bring “House of Yes 3.0″ to Bushwick, incorporating lessons from previous attempts at operating a DIY performance venue.
The new space, located off the Jefferson L train stop, is slated to take over what used to be a laundry warehouse. Come fall of 2014, the warehouse will be a bigger, better House of Yes, complete with a new 30-foot tall theater and adjoining bar and restaurant.
They are early in the process, still moving objects between locations and petitioning local residents for the proper permits. But Sapozhnikova is unfazed by the job ahead of her.
“We have five years of experience of what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “It’s now all tightly organized and not just everything tripping over itself.”
The first House of Yes was short-lived. Performances were as raw as the space, which doubled as the pair’s home, often hosting large parties. Unfortunately, the building burned down in a 2008 fire, costing them everything they owned.
With help from friends and the underground arts community, Sapozhnikova and Burke were able to secure a second space in East Williamsburg by 2008.
The revived project was a success, consistently selling out weekend shows and earning visitors from around the country.
Tall enough for their catch-and-release acts on aerial silk from as high as 30 feet, the second location had a 137-person capacity. Sapozhnikova said that the business was almost exclusively funded through ticket sales and by rental feels to third parties. Doubling as a rehearsal space, a number of side projects the women developed over the years were hosted there.
Sapozhnikova lamented the loss of the second House of Yes, prompted by a rent hike the duo couldn’t afford. She also realized that despite the flurry of attention the underground performers were getting, there was little room for growth.
“A lot. It held us back a lot,” Sapozhnikova said.
The other projects are mostly gone, relocated to other venues around the city so that the new location can focus on performance and entertainment. But Burke doesn’t necessarily believe “third time’s a charm” for House of Yes.
“I’d say that they’ve all been charmed thus far,” she said. “Everything keeps improving on itself, one would hope. Things just keep getting better.”
Part of that improvement is working with the existing neighbors in the still working-class Bushwick — and not just the neighborhoods burgeoning art community. While most of the venue’s shows replete with a supply of corsets, fishnets and pasties, the House of Yes hopes to offer more kid-friendly programming.
Most recently, the performers organized an aerial interpretation of Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hears A Who,” with trampoline-bouncing monkeys and a cyan blue bodysuit with the titular elephant’s ears and trunk. Both Burke and Sapozhnikova would like to try something similar.
“It’s always been a bummer that our space was too gross and dangerous for children,” Sapozhnikova said with a wry smile about their previous rough-around-the-edges aesthetic.
That attitude that got them their clout with the underground performance scene remains — even with new business partners, a restaurant and bar. DIY, Sapozhnikova said, doesn’t mean poorly planned or uniformed. It’s just that they have permits and an architect now.
“We’re still doing ourselves,” Sapozhnikova said. “But we’ve personally gotten older, we know how things are done. We know what makes money, what doesn’t.”
Some of the lessons of their act are applicable to their professional goals, Sapozhnikova added. If anything, a version of litheness that the House of Yes showcases with every jump, spin and climb can also be found in their attitude towards their business.
“Just the ability to change and evolve — that doesn’t mean that there’s uncertainty. There’s flexibility and uncertainty and they’re very different things,” she said. “As a performer, you have to really hear people. And that’s been the underlying thing that’s made us successful so far.”
The amount of energy, capital and thought being put into the new House of Yes is unlike any of the earlier endeavors. Regardless, neither Sapozhnikova and Burke are scared — at least not yet.
“The stakes are lower,” Burke said with a laugh.
Follow Chester Jesus Soria on Twitter @chestersoria