What if you went to hell and that’s where the party is? Cirque Berzerk Downtown LA.
While other entertainment forms (minstrel shows, vaudeville, melodrama, musical theater) have been as short-lived as their respective socio-political environments, the circus has weathered these changes by continuing to combine some of humanity’s most volatile attention-getters: the Funny, the Sexy, and the Scary. In our post-postmodernistic times with the borders between low and high arts are vanishing a bit more every day, the circus is no longer disregarded on the press „culture“ pages. On the contrary, there’s events showing evenings of short stage works amongst which you can see classical ballet, intensely emotional contemporary solos and burlesque-type aerialists. The circus is no more plebeian than the content of LA’s Downtown Art Walk. It’s all just about re-imaging what is the most desired: funny, sexy, scary.
They’re all in here, under the white (striped blue) big top. Would it be Cirque du Soleil directed by Tim Burton? Could be. But this time responsibility’s on Suzanne Bernel and Kevin Bourque who co-funded (in 2004) the theatre bizarre & dark. The couple, now married, envisioned a circus that melds the jaw-dropping acrobatics of Cirque du Soleil with a neo-gothic aesthetic.
In the Los Angeles State Historic Park (locally known as “The Cornfield”), pitching their tent on this historically loaded plot of land, Berzerk’s bringing a happening for the bohemian bourgeoisie located amidst cultural crossroads. 35-member troupe, which has previously staged several dinner-theater shows and Burning Man jaunts, presents "Beneath," its first full-length extravaganza under the big top. "Grungier, darker, rougher and more theatrical than a typical circus," Berzerk tells the story loosely based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, who descends into the underworld to rescue his beloved Eurydice. There’s a twist to a story though, it tells much more about Eurydice’s experiences in the underworld than about anything else. Playing with acrobats, aerialists, contortionists, musicians and fire dancers. A quintet of cabaret dancers welcome her with a sultry, Bob Fosse-inspired number, while her husband sneaks in and discovers a diminutive "animal" trainer leading a tamed human through a balancing ball routine. The celebration eventually culminates in a blazing finale with nearly everyone in the cast handling some sort of fire instrument. The original score (written by Kevin Bourque and the band Rosin Coven) is performed live and, shockingly enough, the sound is balanced!
Like many of Cirque Berzerk's performers, Bernel came to the art from other disciplines. She had studied ballet and gymnastics as a child, and then chose college over the life of a company dancer. It was only in her late 20s, that she got involved into aerial training, despite the contradictions coming from being acrophobic. Bernel has a knack for silks, two dangling, 30-foot cords of fabric on which she spins, twists and shows off a graceful flexibility that would be impressive if she were just standing on the ground.
Neal Everett, who choreographed 90% of "Beneath" and plays Orpheus was growing up on a farm in the tiny town of Pittsburgh, Texas, he waited eagerly for the circus to come through every year. "I was always hanging from ropes, walking along the fence, teaching the pony to do tricks," Everett says. Following a stint as a college cheerleader at the University of Arizona, he moved to L.A., where he found a circus class and immediately started training. There, he met Bernel, who had already been performing with Bourque, and the trio ended up forming a company almost by accident.
These days, Cirque Berzerk's ambitions are grander. With a 490-seat tent waiting to be filled, the company poured all its resources and nearly a year into developing a fantastical reinterpretation of the Orpheus myth that makes the underworld look like the city's wildest nightclub.
With the boom in the cirque, L.A. has plenty of places to watch with mouth agape from the audience, or join the party by taking classes in stiltwalking, aerial arts, juggling and other activities that would look fresh in your resume, whether you seek escape from the daytime job or you treat it as a part of a training desired for your acting, dancing, fitness or any other imaginable career.