Someone is elaborately tied by shibari rope into a configuration that’s both sensual and athletically challenging. Briefly on the stage, the tied individual might then be suspended, midair. In the shibari community, a Japanese form of decorative bondage that’s often — but not strictly — performed in a sexual context, the tied person is the bottom. The person who ties is called a top, language similar to that used in other sexual contexts.
Practiced in Japan since at least the 17th century, shibari is just one type of performance at Shibari & Fire night at John Henry’s, a fetish and kink-themed event, held the last Wednesday of every month.
The John Henry’s event is one of two recurring fetish nights in Eugene. The other, simply called Fetish Night, takes place the final Friday of each month at Old Nick’s Pub. The Old Nick’s show offers a broad range of kink-themed performances from erotic electrostimulation to impact play and bondage.
Meanwhile, fire-type performances at John Henry’s include fire spinning and fire dancing, among others. Punctuating each performance portion at both events are so-called “tastings,” where audiences experience for themselves a kink or fetish with a safe, trusted and experienced practitioner or kink-supply vendor.
According to Sierra Brown, who produces and performs shibari at John Henry’s, the Japanese style of bondage is dangerous, requires training and can be “very painful,” especially in the suspension portion of the performance. There’s beauty in that, though, Brown says.
As an audience member, Brown continues, “You get to watch the person feel the pain and come out on the other side of it, which is very powerful.” Some shibari performers even self-suspend, she says.
Given the sexual connotation of shibari and practical safety concerns of both suspension and fire performances, Brown carefully vets both performers and “tastings” providers at her event. “I’m taking a big responsibility; I’m putting someone on the stage; I’m vouching for them,” Brown says.
For beginners, Brown collaborates with As You Like It, a locally owned, inclusive pleasure shop in Eugene, for Rope 101 and Negotiations classes, a primer on how to safely get started with shibari.
Safety, consent and inclusion are also priorities for Ruby Shackle and Onyxia Adorn of Nightshade Dreams production company, a married couple who perform and produce Old Nick’s Fetish Night. Shackle, an experienced dominatrix, and Adorn go by their stage names.
Like John Henry’s, Old Nick’s Fetish Night includes stage performances and an intermission, where the curious can try a fetish. Old Nick’s events are often themed around common preferences, such as leather and latex; sexual encounters with fantasy creatures, and drag. There’s also impact play such as flogging. Performers sometimes request audience participation, and fetish performers have appeared from as far away as Seattle.
“People often have the wrong idea about fetish,” Adorn adds. “Fetish is two consenting adults. It’s not anything more nefarious than that.” Shibari, Shackle explains, can be therapeutic — it’s about giving up control and letting go.
“We are very much trying to curate a community here,” Shackle continues. “The fetish community, the LGBTQIA+ community, the disabled community.” At Old Nick’s, “everyone’s welcome to explore themselves, their love life,” and partner, she says.
Jordan Lowell, a self-described trans-femme drag and kink performer, goes by the stage name “Atilla A Kurva — D.E.M.O.N Mother of Dragageddon.” Lowell performs regularly at Old Nick’s Fetish Night, and calls it the perfect place to meet like-minded people.
At Old Nick’s, “You’ll learn about and enjoy kink in a safe, educational, easygoing setting. We’re dropping the veil and showing that it is perfectly normal and safe to experiment with adult desires in an ethical and accepted manner amongst a fun-loving community,” Lowell tells Eugene Weekly via email.
On that note, at John Henry’s, Brown stresses that although shibari is usually thought of as a kink, “You don’t have to make it a sex thing.” In her shows, performers have free rein to explore their creativity. Shibari is very visually stimulating, Brown says. It’s also gorgeous without that element, she says.
A skilled top, Brown says, “can tie the other person’s body into beautiful shapes. There’s an inherent sensuality about it — the connectivity between the two people. I didn’t know how that was going to translate onstage, but it’s pretty vibrant. I don’t want it to just be a sex show.”
John Henry’s is at 881 Willamette Street. John Henry’s Shibari & Fire night is the last Wednesday of every month. For more information, search Shibari & Fire on Facebook.
Old Nick’s Fetish Night is the last Friday of each Month. Old Nick’s is at 211 Washington Street. For more information search Old Nick’s Fetish Night or Nightshade Productions on Facebook or go to OldNicksPub.com.