Sexo y Violencia Come to the Showbox SoDo Sunday: Lucha VaVoom!

by on May 13, 2010

The wiry, incredibly gymnastic lucha style makes American pro wrestling–with its surplus of moronic chair-swinging violence and mulleted, caterwauling steroid cases–look earthbound and dull as ditchwater. Lucha libre kicks U.S. wrestling’s ass in the coolness department, too: Mexico’s most famous masked wrestlers–El Santo and Blue Demon–filmed dozens of movies in which they fought vampires, werewolves, Nazis, space aliens, and mummies.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, on the other hand, plays the Tooth Fairy in his latest film vehicle, for god’s sake. No wonder references to the mythos of the luchador have begun to surface in north-of-the-border pop culture–from Jack Black to kid’s cartoon animators to local trash-movie hosts.

Lucha’s thrived with Spanish-speaking audiences throughout Mexico and the southern U.S. for almost seven decades, but until recently it’s been hard for gringos to get a live glimpse at this unique bit of Mexican culture in action. Lucha VaVoom, an L.A.-based entertainment bonanza that hits the Showbox SoDo on Sunday, May 16, is changing all of that, and throwing in a pinch of laughter and sex to boot. Lucha VaVoom combines single-round lucha libre bouts, burlesque striptease, and stand-up comic shtick into an action-packed, heady, exotic, and playfully sensual molcajete.


Titillation, fun, and larger-than-life escapism are the order of the day, but this sporting event/three-ring circus isn’t some smirky dilettante version of lucha libre. Liz Fairbairn–one-half of the brain-trust behind this performance mash-up–dated a Mexican wrestler for ten years, and she’s lived and breathed the sport for over a decade.


A special-effects costumer by trade, Fairbairn became addicted to Mexican wrestling and met her luchador beau on location in Mexico. The baboon costumes she designed for an action flick called Primal Force were filled by Mexican wrestlers, most of whom worked as stuntmen during their non-ring time.

“The first time I saw lucha libre was in Ensenada,” she recalls. “My boyfriend didn’t have a visa yet, so he would fly to Tijuana and I would go down there. He’d get booked [for matches] in Tijuana, Ensenada, and Mexicali and I’d go with him.”

The rough-and-tumble world of Mexican wrestling landed in her lap that day, for real. “I was literally bowled over because the luchadores landed on me,” Fairbairn laughs, “But I was amazed. This was like the new punk rock for me. I hadn’t been this enthusiastic about anything since punk rock in the eighties.”

Adding VaVoom to the Lucha came about by accident, Fairbairn admits. Energized to bring lucha libre to an English-speaking audience, she talked to her good friend Rita D’Albert about promotion. D’Albert was co-producing one of L.A.’s first big burlesque revival groups, The Velvet Hammer; Liz was creating costumes for the troupe. “I went to Rita and her partner about this idea that I had,” she explains. “I actually wasn’t even thinking about putting the burlesque in…I just asked them, ‘You guys are such great promoters, how do you think we could package this so that your audience would come to it?’ And we thought, ‘Why don’t we put the two elements together and see what happens?'”

D’Albert (who also dances for Lucha VaVoom under the name Ursulina) became Fairbairn’s partner, bringing in burlesque and stand-up comedy connections. Liz took advantage of the links she’d forged in Mexico to gather the finest wrestling talent from both sides of the border. Both had rock-and-roll experience–D’Albert as a member of female garage rock outfit The Pandoras, Fairbairn as tour manager for cartoon shock metal mavens GWAR–and brought that sense of showmanship to bear. A new entertainment experience was born.

The first Lucha VaVoom in 2002 started out as a film festival with the Los Angeles Latin Cinemateca. The fest showcased the strange cinematic universe of the lucha libre, in which masked wrestlers move through modern day Mexico, fighting all manner of human, monstrous, and alien adversaries while caliente females menaced or made out with them.

“It was supposed to be two days of the lucha films, and the third day was our show….But the live show went over way better than the films did,” Liz notes with a laugh. Lucha VaVoom still looks to Mexican genre cinema for inspiration, however. “We try to incorporate those elements into the promo artwork and into the show. In a lot of those films there was always some hot chick, and Blue Demon and El Santo would stop by the bar, and there’d be some go-go dancer, or a white witch and a black witch they’d have to fight….”

Lucha VaVoom’s grapplers consist of Mexican champions like Misterioso (a member of the Rey Misterio clan) and Magno, as well as characters created especially for LVV like the crude Dirty Sanchez and studly Bombero (think fireman meets wrestler meets Chippendale’s dancer). Some of them play the sport for laughs, but Fairbairn and D’Albert are adamant that all of their wrestlers cut the mustard.

“I’ve gotten into enough arguments over the last seven or eight years about keeping [up] the quality of the lucha. We have to. We HAVE to keep the quality, because whether people know it or not, they’re seeing the best that lucha has to offer. And that’s important to me….There are a lot of luchadores in L.A., and we’ve cherry-picked them and made them our own. We’ve made them our bitches,” she jokes. “We’ve got a pretty good variety. They’re characters, but they’re also really talented wrestlers.”

Fairbairn’s worked with some of the legends of the sport, and listening to her kibitz about their drama-queen personalities, their familial connections (some luchadores are fifth-generation), and their ring skills is a little like conversing with a female post-punk Robert Evans. She casually talks about thousand-masked dynamo Mil Mascaras resembling your crotchety old uncle (“He’ll either talk your ear off, or he’ll yell at you.”), and addresses her friendship with Blue Demon Jr. candidly. “He’s a little bit of a prima donna,” she confesses, “but I love him, and he loves the show. He always gives me shit because we don’t bring him more, and I always give him shit because his rates are too high.” 

She gets downright evangelical when she discusses some of her favorite luchadores like Solar (“He embodies everything that is old-school lucha, right down to the tights with the leather kneepads, and he’s a great guy.”) and Blue Panther (“He’s way old-school. It was like ballet to watch him!”), and tosses off withering putdowns of some of the less-effective wrestlers she’s seen over the years (“Rope Leaners…I also call them All-Mask, No Moves.”)

The fruit of Liz’s and Rita’s unique experiences and obsessions has proven surprisingly successful for them. Lucha VaVoom’s September 2009 New York stint, for one, brought down the ho
use. “We had our trepidations about it because New Yorkers kind of have a little bit of an attitude about L.A., but they freakin’ LOVED IT. That was the best audience ever!” Liz enthuses. “I wanted to pack them up and bring them home with me. It was amazing. So we’re going back there by popular demand.”

With enthusiastic sponsors absorbing LVV’s sizable travel costs, they’ve been able to bring their synthesis of flirtatious sexuality and cartoon violence to capacity crowds on both coasts. “We made a profit on our first show,” she says with pride. “We didn’t even know what we were doing, never mind how to advertise it! We just kind of told people, ‘You have to see this, it’s so amazing!’ and people came.”

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