View more photos in the Labyrinth of Jareth slideshow.
Labyrinth of Jareth, the two-day masquerade ball now in its twelfth year, is no spectator sport. If you aren't at least wearing a formal and mask, you won't be allowed entrance, and you are better off dressing in full costume that at least loosely fit into the themes of “Venetian histories and Celtic faerie and goblin lore” (steampunk being particularly popular this year). If your best friends cannot recognize you, you are clearly doing something right.
Hosted by Sypher Art Studio, the masquerade began when founder Shawn Strider, sometimes known as the Lord of Sypher, was “young, a little depressed and wanted to throw something magnificent.” He created the event as “a story,” where everyone can, and should, participate. While Labyrinth of Jareth began in Strider's hometown of San Diego, in a few years, it moved to Los Angeles due at least in part to the relative ease of finding the supplies and craftspeople necessary to construct the elaborate sets for the ball. Utilizing every bit of indoor and outdoor space available at Henry Fonda Music Box Theater, Strider and his group of volunteers transformed the concert venue into a scene out of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, complete with an enormous wishing well, stone cuttings behind which goblins lurked and extra stages where faeries strummed harps and acoustic guitars.
The main portion of the theater had been transformed into a ballroom. In the early hours of the event, masked couples waltzed as DJ Jack Dean (of the now-defunct goth haunt Fang Club) spun classical music. Later on, when Malediction Society's Xian Vox weaved together neo-classical sounds with world music-infused electronic beats, the dance floor began to look like a tribal fusion belly dance performance. Every hour, the stage curtains would lift and the audience would fall still as acts like the enchanting, Dead Can Dance-styled band Stellamarra and cirque performer Aerial Terril performed. But the show wasn't contained to the stage. Troupes like Stilt Circus, Wandering Marionettes (who you might recognize from Cirque Berzerk) and I.R.S. Goblins wandered through the crowd, bringing even the wallflowers into this living fairy tale.
We couldn't walk past any corner of the club without finding something that caught our eye, whether it was the little girl whose face grew terrified when a little boy in a goblin mask asked her to dance or the ballerina who moved en pointe as she danced through the crowd with a stilt walker. This was Strider's story, a collection of scenes pieced together in epic fashion. We were just the characters.