The circus came to Venice on Saturday night, where an almost exclusively female coterie of performers enchanted a small crowd under the stars with a bill of sultry music, inspired clowning and acts of derring-do.

An accordion-heavy array of Bulgarian drinking songs performed by the trio Demonite Na Khaosa set the otherworldly tone of the evening, which unfolded in an Abbot Kinney lot transformed by sculptor and Mistress of Cermonies Robin Murez into the moonlit fairyland of Robin's Sculpture Garden, an intimate performance space where the organic and the industrial collide to great effect.

All but one of the acts featured a squeezebox chanteuse and Accordion Babe calendars could be picked up for a song. French cabaret for our new depression era was served up by Mrs. Hobbs and lovemando in their guise of Ketchup Soup, who reminded us “Brothers and sisters, this is not real” as aerial silk artist Pamela Samuelson dazzled the BYOB crowd from overhead.

Circus Finelli, an all-female troupe from San Francisco, shattered preconceptions about clowns with their vaudevillian antics that relied less on make-up than on catchy tunes and old-fashioned showmanship.

Circus Finelli; Credit: Photo by Marc Simon

Circus Finelli; Credit: Photo by Marc Simon

Mahsa Matin channeled Bert from Mary Poppins with her SF Weekly award-winning one-woman band contraption and Luz Gaxiola maintained her warm, Lauren Ambrose-like comic presence while balancing on a scary rolla bolla apparatus. Molly Shannon (not that one) constantly threatened to steal the show as the glitzy, ditzy Carmelita, whose Samba stylings always seemed to feature the prominent and comic display of her rear end.

Closing the bill were the Sideshow Sirens, a bevy of femme fatales with a vaguely Steampunk aesthetic, decked out in an alluring array of corsets and stockings. With names like Aurora the Weapons Mistress, it felt like the Sirens were gracing Venice with their presence before going off to save the world from a villain hatching a dastardly plot.

Despite the ridiculously sexy costumes, the Sirens meant business, owning the stage with a dangerous arsenal of stunts that honored the can't-look-away history of sideshow. A crackerjack straightjacket escape set to blaring trombones of “The Stripper” subverted audience expectations as “Bendy Gwendy' expertly subluxed her way out of her confines.

Legal Tender

Legal Tender

Whether walking a shattered path of glass or putting a Sapphic spin on Lady and The Tramp (with earthworms subbing for spaghetti), the Sideshow Sirens took an inspired idea and executed it in a spectacular and cringe-inducing fashion. They ended the night by soliciting donations to this unique venue — which could be stapled to one of the Sirens on your way out, of course — hopefully ensuring that the circus will come to town again sometime soon.

LA Weekly