See also: CuriousJosh: Edwardian Ball Slideshow
Back in the old days, when the Edwardian Ball was known as the Edward Gorey Ball, it was a small affair. Justin Katz and his band, Rosin Coven, provided the music to go along with story narration. They used a slide project to showcase Gorey's images. A few years later, Vau de Vire Society, a San Francisco-based performance troupe that incorporates circus arts into their work, joined the fold.
Vau de Vire Society is a performance art troupe that is heavily influenced by circus arts. They've performed at loads of nightclubs and music festivals across the country. They have also worked with bands like Dresden Dolls and Alkaline Trio. Sometime in the middle of the last decade, they joined forces with Rosin Coven for the ball. “It was a match made in heaven,” says Gaines. Katz describes Vau de Vire's involvement as “the turning point” of the ball. “It's really when the theatrical, circus performance nature of what we do with Edward Gorey's work … really exploded,” he says, “almost literally with the amount of fire we packed into a tiny club.”
Now, the Edwardian Ball is a massive undertaking involving events in two different cities. The San Francisco fete, which took place in January, runs for two days and brings in about 4,000 people. Saturday night's party at the Fonda Theatre marks the fourth time in five years that they brought the ball to Los Angeles.
The Edwardian Ball is a difficult thing to describe. This was the third time I've attended the event and I still cannot cram everything I've seen there into a few concise paragraphs. It is far more than a celebration of Edward Gorey's work. At this point, it's more like a merging of a handful of different L.A. subcultures, a massive gathering where people can go wild mashing up the past and the present.
Several years ago, the Edwardian Ball team noticed that there were a lot of people heading to their event from across the country. Amongst those travelers, the Los Angeles contingent was large. They were also vocal. “I think our first trip down [to L.A.] was driven by attendees saying 'You need to do another one of these, and you need to do it down here,” Katz, of the band Rosin Coven, explains by phone prior to the event. The L.A. crowd indicated that a local show meant they could bring their friends who couldn't make it up to San Francisco and “create a whole other world.” L.A.'s Edwardian Ball devotees made good on their promise.
There are a lot of cameras inside the Edwardian Ball. It's hard to turn a corner without accidentally walking between a photographer and a subject. Everyone is dressed up. There are people who take period fashion — any time period, really — seriously. There are those who like to have fun with the past and they go far beyond steampunk. Upstairs, on the Fonda's patio, a DJ played tunes that could only be described as Jazz Age-meets-Rave Age. In the midst of her set, a girl wearing a flapper headband and short bustled skirt, jumped on a small stage and began performing with an LED hula hoop. The Edwardian Ball is more than just a celebration of the anachronistic, it's a place where anything goes.
With events in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, Edwardian Ball is taking advantage of a connection between the two cities that may fly under the radar. Mike Gaines, of Vau de Vire Society, mentions the “circus community” in San Francisco, groups like his own that bring big top arts to theater and club performances. “We have such a large extended circus family in Los Angeles that it only makes sense to roll down to our sister city and put on a ball there,” says Gaines.
The circus artists overlap with the goth club crowd, the costumers and burners. Yes, there's a Burning Man element here. Gaines point out that while Edwardian Ball's roots took shape far outside of the annual desert gathering, that event is a “year-round influence” in terms of its inclusiveness and “immersive environment.”
At the Edwardian Ball, it's hard to tell who are the performers and who are the guests. The stage is, essentially, the entire venue. There were musical performances in the lobby and interactive art near the bar. People who posed like statues turned up on ever level of the building. Inside one of the lounge areas, a guy named Super Tall Paul played music that you could only hear through headphones. Downstairs, two sword dancers performed in front of the main stage. An opera singer popped up in the balcony.
The Fonda's stage was home to main performance of the evening, a recreation of Gorey's tale “The Doubtful Guest” brought to life by Rosin Coven and Vau de Vire Society. The longer the two groups work on Edwardian Ball, the more they come to understand the stories of Gorey. “One of the things that Gorey does is tell you the story without telling you all of the story and shows you the pictures without showing you the rest of the world that's happening or behind it,” Katz explains. “As we continue to play with Gorey's work, we find new ways of filling in the blanks, of creating backstories, of creating perhaps bits of reasoning or narrative that fills in all of the mysterious gaps in his work.”
Katz continues, “It's a challenge every year to choose a story and come up with a way of ending because his stories almost never have endings. And they almost never have beginnings. They just start somewhere and stop somewhere.”
But, even on the main stage, the Gorey element is bookended by an eclectic mix of entertainment. Early in the evening, there was a screening of “I Have Your Heart,” an animated short by Molly Crabapple, Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt. Jill Tracy, one of the Edward Ball regulars and “The Belle of the Ball,” performed with violinist Paul Mercer. Corset company Dark Garden put together a fashion show that was part fashion, part theater.
The Edwardian Ball is an event filled with so many stories that it would be impossible to ingest them. There were no blank spaces inside the Fonda last night, as every crevice was filled with characters and performances, some related to Edward Gorey, most not. And, just as Katz says that Gorey's stories “start somewhere and stop somewhere,” so does the Ball.
See also: CuriousJosh: Edwardian Ball Slideshow