Dec. 18, 2018

Bedazzled and feathered, Sapozhnikova looks like the love child of a Vegas showgirl and a New York slice.

Backstage, co-founder/business partner/best friend Kae Burke, Fashion Design ’08, prepares for her role as “Carl,” the night’s mustachioed emcee. His mop-top hair, tinted aviators, and wide-lapel brown leather jacket recall the ’70s. These are typical costumes for Dirty Circus, a monthly three-act showcase that Burke and Sapozhnikova curate, host, and perform in. It’s a 21st-century vaudeville of the brilliant and absurd.

When Sapozhnikova took over the lease on a 2,500-square-foot loft space at the border of Brooklyn and Queens in 2007, she had no idea the House of Yes would become a globally recognized destination for the weird. Burke quickly joined her in creating a live/work space to practice and teach circus arts (aerial and trapeze), offer both performance space and lodging for touring artists, and throw the occasional dance party. Ten years, one house fire, one lost lease, and one $90,000 Kickstarter campaign later, the House, now in its third iteration, has transformed into a full-fledged performance space and nightclub with a seating capacity of 165 and standing (well, dancing) capacity of 550.

Burke and Sapozhnikova employ upwards of 50 full-time staff and a rotating cast of performers, dancers, designers, installation artists, and DJs. The House has expanded beyond its four walls, with performances and immersive experiences at festivals like Bonnaroo, Envision, and Art Basel Miami. But it still celebrates the unexpected, revels in the random and—though the founders no longer live on the premises—welcomes everyone home.

Between 10 and 100 performers submit proposals each month, and Sapozhnikova notes that they still “absolutely seek out artists in order to have a diverse roster.” Burke stresses that “It’s so important to us to make sure that all styles, bodies, and colors are showcased on our stages. We want all of our attendees to look at our performers and see themselves.”

(Photo: Sasha B Photo, Photography ’09)

At the Dirty Circus that evening, a contortionist shoots a bow and arrow with her feet while in a headstand. A sword swallower and a human pincushion perform to a haunting rendition of “Send in the Clowns.” A drag queen lip-synchs Rep. Maxine Waters’s oft-quoted “reclaiming my time” interjection, set to a techno beat. There is also a raffle, and the winner gets the best seat in the house: a bubble bath in a vintage clawfoot tub, plus unlimited free drinks. And the dance party hasn’t even started yet.