The circus is a stage for hustlers and freaks, a spectacle that throughout history has retained a heady reputation for twisted and voyeuristic good times. Cirque Berzerk, playing at L.A.’s Club Nokia through Jan. 30, takes this reputation one step further. It is a circus supposedly founded by the dead, who no longer suppress their utmost desires to fit into normal society. It is full of temptation, lust, homoeroticism, and greed. It’s a feast for the eyes, much like the Burning Man festival, where Cirque Berzerk was first mounted in 2004 by producer and co-creator Suzanne Bernel and her husband, co-founder and composer Kevin Bourque.
The display of raw strength from the chiseled acrobats and pale contortionists takes your breath away. A chorus of whispers and gasps ripples across the audience as they watch these human bodies fold into shapes one never thought possible. The aerial dancers fly above the stage on ribbons, hoops, and trapeze. Perhaps one of the most memorable performances is the trampoline act — four men simultaneously falling and bouncing between a narrow wall and two trampolines, while avoiding a seemingly inevitable collision.
In a circus performance like this, plot often seems like an afterthought. Bourque plays the ringleader, Death, who seduces a young naïve woman (Emilie Livingston) to sign her life away for the glitz and glamour of his circus. As four curvaceous women with powerful singing voices sing tunes with dark and twisted lyrics from high above the stage, we follow our heroine’s transformation from a buttoned-up woman into a half-naked rebel in the afterlife who succumbs to her animal instincts of unconventional desires.
The show is a bit unpolished at times, as when stagehands with headgear snake across center stage to move sets between acts. There were other letdowns, too. The fire dancers fell short on both accelerated movement and risk-taking. And there’s a drawn-out non sequitur of a scene involving a clown, a dwarf, and a dismembered mannequin.
If you’re afraid of clowns and the sight of skin sends you into a panic, this is not the show for you. But if you have the urge to step out of the daily grind, if only for two hours, then get yourself to the circus. B
(Tickets: Ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000)