It is difficult to describe the Edwardian Ball to someone who has never been to it. It is something similar to a meeting of the novels The Great Gatsby and Interview with the Vampire inside of Tim Burton’s nightmares. It is a conglomeration of music, theatrical performance, circus acts, and drunken dancing that is part dinner theatre and part goth/industrial dance club. It is also part Cosplay/Comicon as many of the guests show up in costumes that add as much to the event as the performers do; outfits that are more old time drama troupe than fetish and bondage wear, the stuff one typically sees at a goth club. The music also differs from a typical goth club in that it isn’t the techno-drum machine driven stuff they usually play; Much of the music at the Edwardian Ball was played on real instruments by real people rather than piped in from an iPod, and had a cabaret feel to it. Even the DJ spinning music on the upstairs patio played music that was a mash-up of old jazz with a techno beat. This refreshingly different yet distinctly classic style permeated the entire evening that Saturday February 27th 2016 at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. Main stage emcee Vegas E. Trip accurately described it as “retro futurism” as he was introducing one of the acts that night.
Rosin Coven, which is a music group that performs what they describe as “Pagan Lounge Music,” founded the Edwardian ball in 1999 in San Francisco. Each year the theme of the Edwardian Ball changes slightly, but it is always based on the stories, art, and general aesthetic of writer and artist Edward Gorey. For those who might not be familiar, Gorey lived from 1925 – 2000 and is known for his illustrated books that feature his characteristic pen-and-ink drawings. His books often depict a somewhat unsettling narrative set in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
One of the great things about the Edwardian Ball is that it is a result of collective effort made by a myriad of different artists, performers, musicians, promoters, etc. Essentially, everyone is there for the same reason: a celebration of art and an artistic aesthetic, and the collective force of this celebration creates a feeling that is infectious throughout the venue as one walks around admiring everyone’s various efforts. The Edwardian Ball made its 7th annual stop in Los Angeles on this particular evening. The Los Angeles version is a bit scaled down as it is only a one night event, while in San Francisco it is a two night event. Have no fear however, the Edwardian Ball’s version of scaled down is still very over-the-top.
The Fonda Theatre was a fitting setting for the ball as it has a retro flavor being that it was opened in 1926 under the name of “The Music Box” by old Hollywood types like John Barrymore. The Fonda is two floors with a main stage, and an upstairs patio. Throughout the evening, there was something going in every crack and corner of the Fonda. Aside from the main stage performances, and dancing on the patio, one could not turn a corner without being in the midst of some sort of living art project. For instance, anyone who got caught in the hallway between the bathrooms and the outdoor patio area ended up being engaged by the “Mystic Midway” troop. According to mysticmidway.com, they are “a community of artists, technologists, game designers, performers and cultural visionaries dedicated to creating deeply engaging, entertaining and meaningful social spaces…” On this particular evening, the Mystic Midway provided a woman with an authentic Irish accent who sauntered up to you and invited you to do something “whimsical” in order to earn “Mystic Midway” money. The money could be used to redeem any number of little charms and trinkets, like tiny pendants shaped like old keys. Apparently, dancing in a circle with a couple of people painted like old French clowns wins you one Mystic Midway dollar. Another example of this living art museum that encompassed every part of the building was the portraiture area. On the path between the main ballroom and the stairs sat Layil Umbralux of Studio Umbralux doing pencil sketches of any guests willing to sit for her. The drinks served even fit with the night’s theme as there was plenty of absinthe to go around as well as specialty drinks made with authentic ginger beer.
The upstairs outdoor patio, which had the DJ spinning throughout the night, also had several side acts, like the “E is for Edward” puppet theatre, which featured a live band playing while puppets danced around. The puppets had an aesthetic that was reminiscent of the Nightmare Before Christmas, and the song was a silly old time ditty that spelled out Edward Gorey’s name letter by letter with each letter representing something spooky. The venue was packed to capacity that night as the event sold out, so one had to stand on tiptoe to see the patio stage.
On the main stage, which was downstairs, there were performances by Le Cancan Bijou, an award-winning, specialty-themed dance troupe, who offered a “playful spirit to the traditional, high-kicking French Cancan” that combines classic French, Old West, and Modern styles, according to their website. This basically amounts to beautiful women is very fluffy skirts, and a few men in suits, expertly prancing around the stage.
Performances by Vau de Vire also took place three different times throughout the evening on the main stage. With the Edwardian ball since 2005, they describe themselves as an avant-cabaret community consisting of classically trained dancers, acclaimed acrobats, aerial artists, contortionists, circus sideshow acts, thespians, and go-go dancers. Their final set of the evening actually took place after the main event, which was an especially effective way to entertain people who were winding down and sobering up before they headed home. Vau de Vire provided a dazzling visual display throughout the evening that included a traditional burlesque act, contortionists, an aerial pole dancer, an aerial hoop acrobat, and contortionists. It was mesmerizing even to the shortest and most inebriated attention spans.
In between Vau de Vire performances, there were musical performances by the likes of The John Brothers Piano Company, whose curious blend of old west saloon piano music and dissonant jazz was well received by the audience. Rosin Coven performed their signature blend of theatrical cabaret that features voices, cellos, contrabass, accordion, violin, guitar, trombone, trumpet, vibraphone, drums, and percussion.
At midnight a short skit written by Edward Gorey called “The Stupid Joke” was performed in grand fashion. For anyone who has seen the film or read the Anne Rice book “Interview with the Vampire,” it was distinctly reminiscent of the performances by the fictional “Théâtre des Vampires,” with a very dark yet campy and cartoonish vibe. The skit was presented by Rosin Coven, Dark Garden corsetry and couture, who provided the excellent costumes, and Kinetic Steam Works, makers of steampunk contraptions, who were responsible for the amazing stage prop bed used in the performance.
It literally would have been impossible for one person to participate in every single thing that went on that night. Not having an opportunity to get bored is certainly a rarity at a night club in Hollywood these days. Another difference is the all-inclusive vibe that the Edwardian Ball represents. Yes, it has a certain aesthetic, but the definition is broad and it welcomes any manner of freak from theatre nerd to vampire enthusiast to metal head to anime fan of any age, race or gender identity. One does not have to be under 25 and related to a Kardashian to feel like one of the crowd. This was definitely a refreshing experience that anyone who is up for something different will enjoy. Certainly people are already working on their costumes and counting the days until the next one.