On January 19th and 20th, the 2013 edition of the Edwardian Ball and World's Faire graced the Regency Ballroom in downtown San Francisco with the traditional collection of steam punkers, Edward Gorey fans, ballroom dancers, cat lovers, eccentrics, literati, goths, humorists and lovers of the macabre. The San Francisco Theatre Examiner was able to persuade up-and-coming San Francisco literary light, Sean Taylor, to write his impressions, as follows:
Mr. Gorey your characters are showing, your fantasies have yet again hit the ground running at the 13th annual Edwardian ball.
On the 19th and 20th of January the Regency ballroom found itself full of all the moving parts necessary to create, print, and publish another Amphigorey or two. The halls and ballroom are packed ripe with identities and over the next six curious hours of this Friday night it becomes easy to recognize these strangers without ever knowing them to begin with, they pass like familiar ghosts.
This is where we go to become haunted.
There is a girl wrapped wrought in red tentacles and play gasping, the Mystic Midway is run by the dour faces of dead shriners, Satan is in attendance and for once his red suit and horns do not stick out like a sore thumb, well maybe a little bit. Here Gorey is honored through the expansion of his beautiful nightmare, his opulence is constantly unwinding. At the aforementioned Mystic Midway we were petitioned to implore strangers, to seek counsel with faeries, defy our bodies and placate our spirits.
On the main stage Vau de Vires, “Vesuvius,” first has women on their backs spinning swords about the toes of their feet, then men with whips shatter long stem roses held only by their teeth.
The Wanderlust Circus defies reality by first defying gravity, acrobats abound gracefully to the rafters and back tangled in ribbon, they will soon be tossed by strong men in gold spandex. Our ringmaster is sweating off his white stage paint as he leads the orchestra, the crowd, and the night into our cacophonous reverie. After the circus comes to a close, a DJ plays out an aristocratic crowd. They dance... however, wherever, drunk on this shared experience. They donʼt do the time warp, but their choice of dress very much suggests otherwise.
On our way back to the ball with Fridayʼs Worldʼs Faire of our desires behind us, we hop trains and busses, all the while gathering questionable stares and comments. It is now that our characters are showing; we are out of our context, becoming a walking piece of the early nineteenth century. Then it feels good to walk back into the hundred plus year old walls of the Regency; it feels safe.
As our Gorey compatriots began to enter, we took a couple of seats to the side and feasted on what felt like some of the best people watching San Francisco has to offer. The first item on our schedule was Ballroom Dancing with DJ Delachaux, which was as theatrical as most anything weʼve seen on stage all weekend. There were teachers hidden among the crowds, taking the hands of strangers and guiding them in a waltz or two, easing their feet in as if a community pool. The stage was dark and empty while dozens of couples floated like ghosts over the blonde hardwood floors surrounded by a horseshoe line of onlookers with paper fans fluttering and fanciful canes stomping. The dresses seemed bigger than they were on Friday, and somehow more elaborate and beautiful.
After an hour or so of dancing, we were treated to an adorable short film titled, “I Have Your Heart,” followed by a musical set by one of the Ballʼs original acts, Jill Tracy. The night then moved on to a small Edwardian fashion show hosted by San Franciscoʼs own, Dark Garden, as well as a twisted contortionistʼs performance by the ever astounding Vau de Vire Society, titled “Music Box.”
While Rosin Coven closed out their set of spooky-classy-poppy Victorian music, I spotted a familiar face among the crowd. It was the lanky skeleton from Goreyʼs ownstory, “The Gashlycrumb Tinies.” And with his umbrella in tow, I will say, I became a touch starstruck.
After Rosin Coven finished and the stage was set, we anxiously awaited the arrival of our most invited guest. It isnʼt a he or a she, it isnʼt a weasel or a penguin, it is about four feet tall and fashioned only a scarf and canvas shoes. It is Edward Goreyʼs own “Doubtful Guest.” The tale is a simple one; perhaps, it is a metaphor for lifeʼs unexpected turns, or maybe itʼs a take on the unpredictable nature of house pets. Either way, its innocent face and bizarre troublesome behavior was rather well-received in the Grand Ballroom. The Vau de Vire society represented the Victorian family upon which this naive havoc was raised. The performance as a whole serves as a reminder for which the night was shared. It was haunting and playful. At one point they swung from chandeliers as if absentminded children, yet their characters were supposed adults.
This celebration of the Edward Gorey universe exceeds his work through itself. Over the course of two nights, more hapless tales of genteel happenstance were told in dark hallways, more strangers found cynicism in Victorian dress. More books were written. I came to wonder again and again who was having more fun; the performers or audience? Then I found myself wondering, when and where do the performances end? And so we found ourselves extras in his anthologies, we counted our lucky stars for the rolling ravens casting calls. I just hope his ghost lies in the old rafters keeping tabs and writing our limerick effigies.
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