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Rasslin' and razzle-dazzle

Far-out flamboyance always prevails at Lucha VaVoom, a spectacle of Mexican freestyle wrestling with an L.A. twist. At its latest stand, Times photographer Francine Orr captures the parade of color and characters.

July 09, 2006|Camilo Smith

TONIGHT'S main event will be a hair match: The victor will shave the loser's head in front of a packed house. Backstage, performers line up in the stairwell waiting for their moment. One by one they are called into the spotlight in front of 1,500 screaming fans at the Mayan Theatre downtown. The noise intensifies at this cross-cultural scream-fest.

Pro wrestling in one form or another has existed in this country since the 1800s. A promoter brought wrestling to Mexico in the 1930s via Texas and lucha libre (freestyle fighting) was born. What followed was a sub-genre of the Mexican B-movie featuring masked men battling every species of foe.

To the delight of many die-hard fans lucha libre has only grown in stature through merchandising, cartoons and, most recently, the Jack Black comedy "Nacho Libre."

But in L.A., lucha has taken cultural notes from its environment and formed its own surreal slam theater with Lucha VaVoom. A cultural mash-up if you will, but specific to the City of Angels, Lucha VaVoom features a cross-section of symbolic figures. There are midgets, whom Aztecs considered holy people, transvestites and burlesque dancers.

Lucha VaVoom has now grown into three productions a year, according to co-creator and producer Rita D'Albert, whose troupe has performed in Chicago, Toronto and Amsterdam.

Started in 2002 in Los Angeles, Lucha VaVoom doesn't play it safe by just showcasing macho heroes and snarky villains. No, this version is known to feature a burlesque dancer, Karis, as well as other striptease artists who twirl on ropes in nothing more than sequined, rhinestone G-strings and feathers.

There's a representative of '70s culture too, the buff Disco Machine, who has a MySpace page that links to his blog: Bloggio 54.

Crybaby, a female wrestler who doubles as a skater in a local women's roller derby, is just one of the colorful names you hear. Chupacabra, or "goat sucker," a lizard-like villain of Latin American lore, is a creepy presence. But not all the luchadores wear masks; some are happy with massive amounts of makeup.

In the end, Cassandro, the self-proclaimed "queen of the ring," was victorious over Ruby Gardenia, another cross-dressing grappler, and was happy with just a handful of Ruby's hair.

-- Camilo Smith

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