“I swear it with all my [redacted]: I will not disclose any Illuminati secrets, which will be [redacted] tonight.”
6:00pm, Saturday, April 22nd – Remote Hunting Lodge
There is perhaps no other way to describe the Illuminati Ball excursion than to say it is at once immersive theater and secret initiation ceremony*, a spiritual successor to the real-life Surrealist Ball hosted by the Rothschilds in 1972. After having been approved by application, Giovanni and I arrive at the clandestine pick-up location, in the Upper East Side.
The other guests arrive promptly, women in resplendent ball gowns and capes, men in tailored tuxedos and cravats. Our hostess escorts us to an idling limousine bus, and the excursion begins.
Onboard the limousine, we are given light snacks and personal bottles of champagne. As we imbibe and mingle with the other guests, an illusionist entertains us with sleights and misdirections.
The illusionist had kept our collective attentions occupied, and before we all knew it, we had been transported to a secluded hunting lodge in an unknown location. Perhaps this was his greatest and most deliberate trick – facilitating a seamless transition from the everyday reality within the limousine to the foreign, surreal atmosphere pervading the estate.
Stepping out of the limousine, we are greeted with fantastical sights: firedancers wielding conflagrant feathered fans; nude ritualists in distorted animal masks; in the background, an ivy-covered façade of the stone lodge dramatically set against wood and water, whose angular geometry rendered even more imposing by the waning sunlight.
The focal point of this first scene is unmistakable: before the estate doors stand the Pig King and his wife, the Baroness de Rothschild, bookended by flaming braziers.
As our hosts, they welcome us into the manor and we enter the Great Hall, whose steeply-pitched ceiling and dark wood-paneled walls complement the white-tablecloth tables set for the forthcoming coursed dinner.
As initiates, we are all escorted to pre-arranged seating, our empty glasses almost instantaneously filled with various custom liqueurs and crafted cocktails. At the behest of one of the bystanding bovine ritualists – who whispers into my ear that, given my profession, I should aim to speak with my immediate neighbors – Giovanni and I soon make quick friends. Among the other guests are actresses, financiers, socialites, hedonists – and perhaps even members of a foreign royal family. Most are couples, but there are also many who have attended with friends.
After an introductory speech from the Pig King and the Baroness, the initiation ceremony begins, with aerialists suspended above. We are then blindfolded, and served the first course of salted and sautéed Medjool dates, whose umami flavors are heightened by the sensory deprivation.
And here, the night turns. Under the direction of the Pig King, we are all sworn to secrecy with ceremonial swords and masked; indeed, the events that follow cannot be fully described, but must be experienced – perhaps more than once.
What I can say is that, from this point on, the unfolding plot may fork, depending on one’s chosen animal kinship. There are many chambers within the hunting lodge, and as part of the Illuminati narrative, dinner is periodically interrupted with interactive elements, bringing initiates across the grounds of the estate – though, for the adventurous, there is some freedom to explore. Many of the rooms feature cocktails and other bespoke concoctions for consumption, presented in elaborate silver chalices and crystal decanters. In one room, filigreed ornaments are handed out as gifts, whose future significance is only coyly hinted at.
As an initiate under the Pig, I find myself quickly embroiled into a conspiracy that transpires across the drawing room, down into the basement, through the woods, and out onto the docks. Over the course of the several intervening hours spent immersed in the thickening plot, the lines between fact and fantasy begin to blur. No doubt this immersion was aided by ample servings of both effervescent elixirs and suspension of disbelief – both of which greatly enhanced the experience.
At one point, we initiates find ourselves standing on edge of the docks in the dead of night, backlit by a bonfire, mesmerized by an opera singer’s dulcet tones emanating from a tiny, illuminated wooden rowboat in the middle of the wine-dark lake. In trancelike reverie, many of us eventually succumb to her siren’s song and leap into the waters—compelled to swim out to the boat in earnest, Odyssean want.
Elsewhere, the differing plotlines escalate simultaneously, and all eventually converge to a climax that takes place within the Great Hall. A power struggle, an attempted assassination, an occult fire ritual – and like that, after a rapid crescendo and dénouement, we are whisked away from the estate back to the idling limousine.
As we re-enter the vehicle and begin our journey back to the Upper East Side, the interior of the limousine, with the pulsing neon lights and sleek black upholstery, seem almost otherworldly. It is as if the Illuminati Ball had transplanted us for a night into a surrealist dream, so convincing in its illusion that perhaps everyday reality had been rendered a tiny bit foreign after the fact.
It was Salvador Dali, an attendee of the actual Surrealist’s Ball in 1972, who said that surrealism is destructive, but in that it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.
It is only appropriate, then, that to fully enjoy the Illuminati Ball is to submit oneself to its seductive illusion, to suspend all disbeliefs and preconceptions, and relinquish control to the night’s secret whimsies.
*Pictures were not allowed, and cameras and camera-like devices were confiscated upon arrival to the estate.
Great for: those looking for the ultimate immersive experiential theater event; couples who want a date night to remember; adventure-seekers; those seeking new friends.
The Illuminati Ball runs several Saturdays a month (April - August 2017). Tickets are $450 each. This includes limo transportation, a nine-course dinner, cocktails and an elegant gift. 30 guests per night only. For more information visit TheIlluminatiBall.com.
We were guests of the Illuminati Ball, however, the opinions are our own.
Director and Creator, Cynthia von Buhler also has a show called Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Bloody Beginning and we LOVED it. To see our experience, click here.