Let's party like it's 1909

For the last month, social networking websites have been buzzing about a large-scale fantasy event taking place in downtown L.A. this weekend, one that has nothing to do with a certain football game.

Saturday night, Burning Man regulars, goth-leaning art school students (inspired by Edward Gorey illustrations) and fetish scene veterans (keen on showing off their latest latex purchase) will likely descend upon the dilapidated Tower Theater on Broadway -- all brought together by the promise of dancing to the beat of a different-century drummer at the Edwardian Ball. Call it the Super Bowl of dress-up, dancing and nostalgia for all things early 1900s (think absinthe and corsets).

"People here [in the Bay Area] are into dressing up," said promoter Justin Katz earlier this month from his house in Richmond, near Oakland. Katz is bringing his annual San Francisco affair to Los Angeles for the first time Saturday after nearly a decade of building a scene up north. "I don't care whether your collar is authentically Edwardian; I just want you to come in a costume that feels fun."

The promoter, who started the happenings with partner Rosin Coven, was motivated by a "nostalgia for an elegant, simple time," perhaps in opposition to San Francisco's hyper-wired lifestyle. Luckily for Katz, his parties are now dovetailing nicely into a burgeoning "steam-punk" movement, in which boosters of early 20th century aesthetics long to turn back the clock to, say, 1909 . . . long before Twitter and Facebook ruled the day for the young and upwardly mobile.

But the parties are hardly authentically Edwardian or explicitly technology free: Expect to hear amplified sounds from DJ Xian, spinning things like Siouxsie and the Banshees MP3s, and live music by pianist-vocalist Jill Tracy, a Marlene Dietrich-esque Bay Area icon.

It all adds up to an atmospheric, elegant yet experiential scene where the audience is as much a part of the show as the performers -- even if Edwardian-era scholars may deduct points for historical inaccuracies in partygoers' costumes.

For Saturday's event, Katz found a kindred spirit in local scenemaker Suzanne Bernel, a director of Los Angeles-based performance troupe Cirque Berzerk who knows all about making the crowd itself the central draw of the evening.

"Over the past few years we've really increased our time working together" with Cirque Berzerk, Katz said of the continued cross-pollination between San Francisco's and Los Angeles' night life scenes (Friday night, a different San Francisco promoter hosts a separate large event, also in L.A.). "When the time came, I didn't want to go down there and just export the S.F. show, I wanted to go down and have L.A. host its own Edwardian Ball with us."

"I've been planning my outfit for a month," said Sherman Oaks-based computer technician and actress Katharine Mitchell. "It's not as easy as you might think. It's all about finding a killer base piece like a corset at a thrift store, and then destroying it. But it should all be a little bit dirty, and accessories like monocles or feathers are important."

In addition to updated takes on Edwardian fashions and neo-Victorian nods, look for many steam-punk scenesters, such as Dr. Phineas Waldolf Steel, to hit the Tower on Saturday. Fans of the genre take their outfits very seriously and take every opportunity to flaunt their looks, which can be straight out of the "Mad Max" films or can take their cues from a Jules Verne film adaptation or two (see "Around the World in 80 Days").

"I am delighted to see so many people reinventing the aesthetics of the past," Steel said. "Our modern society is woefully lacking in style."

But regardless of what subculture is claimed by most of Saturday's ball-goers, you can rest assured few of them will have any interest in who wins the Super Bowl on Sunday -- television is too "modern" for this crowd.




Edwardian Ball

Where: Tower Theater, 802 S. Broadway, L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday (all ages, 21 and older to drink)

Price: $30 general, $75 VIP

Contact: (213) 629-2939; www.edwardianball.com

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