As we drove to the Grimshaw Gallery in Lawrence on January 31, we wondered if we were really dressed correctly, since we weren't clad in a leather bustier or assless chaps. (Yes, we know "assless chaps" is redundant, but it's just more fun to say.)
But we still managed to fit in. Because it was a hipster Lawrence crowd, we saw a strapless dress paired with pink Converse sneakers, a great '70s halter dress that was cut low and long, and a guy in traditional Scottish wear of a tux top and kilt. We were pleased to see that the number of skirts on guys (a cause we'd like to advocate) reached a grand total of two; there was another in a black leather top-and-skirt combo and combat boots. The best look of the night, though, belonged to Mercury, the lead singer of Vibralux (the band that performs with the troupe). He was in a pink leather jacket, black sequined pants and white vinyl boots with 3-inch platforms and even higher heels. His head was shaved except for a tuft of hair up front that was partially dyed pink, and he had neon-orange and pink lines swooping above his fake-eyelashed eyes. His lips were painted with neon-orange, pink and silver glitter swirls. "This is a place to be safe and not harassed," he said.
In any case, our stereotypical musings about the event were unfounded. It was a mellow atmosphere in an intimate space, and everyone was friendly and chatty, so we felt that our drink-induced jackassery -- such as using "Sooo ... what's your fetish?" as an opening line or going up to another Asian woman and saying, "My fetish? Asian girls" -- would not be cool.
We drank some sangria, which shimmered in a beautiful silver punch bowl, and wandered around as we waited for the naked-people platters to start. The gallery's windows had been covered, heightening the anticipation. It was a small space, with a bar set up in back. A DJ spun nearby, and a black curtain shielded a back corner. When it opened, it revealed two motionless women dressed as geisha, with heavy wigs and white makeup. One was wearing a short kimono and standing up with her arms folded in front of her; crepe rolls filled with salmon and cream cheese were lined up on her arms. Another woman in a strapless dress knelt in front, holding a sword that displayed a savory, crepelike item. "I thought they were going to be naked," said a disgruntled guy.
There were no bits or pieces showing at all, which was fine -- we'd rather have lint in our food than stray hairs. The tableaux were more artistic than blatantly titillating. For the second course, a guy in a black hooded cloak and a gold theater mask walked around the gallery carrying a "dead" waif in a sheer white slip. A tray with endives filled with chopped apples, cheese and pomegranate seeds was on her lap. The curtain later revealed a mermaid lounging on a mattress, shells covering her nipples and a bowl of mussels at her side; and two people lying facedown, their heads and asses covered, with red-pepper slices filled with seafood salad displayed on their backs. The final course was a tribute to bukkake, but instead of a circle of guys showering a woman with, um, their baby batter, two chicks flung white chocolate on each other so the audience could scoop it up with ladyfingers.
Between courses, we chatted with Justin, the kilt wearer. He was friends with a couple of people in the group, and it was his first time at a Contra Naturam shindig, too. He disclosed some insider information: "I heard Dan [Rathbun, the photographer for the troupe] say they couldn't get the groping booth together." We tracked down Rathbun, who explained that the group had lost the hardware and was worried about the space. "If the walls moved too much, we were afraid it would bump into the artwork," he said. He described the booth as a 4-foot-by-4-foot space with holes cut into the side. Anyone wanting to stick his hand in would need to don a latex glove, and if the gropee(s) inside didn't like what was going on, there was a "safe area" in the back that was hands-free. "Everyone's amazingly polite in them, though," he said.
The troupe plans to hold more cocktail parties and would like to host one in Kansas City in the next couple of months if it can find a place. In the meantime, Contra Naturam performs at the Bottleneck on Valentine's Day and promises to have the groping booth at the show. Forget that heart-shaped box of chocolates festooned with a teddy bear. Nothing says romance like a good, old-fashioned gropefest.