Ring of Fire

I hate it when I get electrocuted," says Jasmine Betances. One of South Florida's commonplace summer thunderstorms is passing through, but it isn't lightning the petite brunette, standing half-naked next to a cart full of Red Bull, is complaining about. She has just received a jolt from the strings of colored lights tucked underneath her sheer black unitard, and as she dances off the pain like an athlete playing through a cramp, several bartenders and waitresses glance at her curiously, wondering if they've unknowingly fallen down the rabbit hole.

The theme tonight at Hollywood's Nikki Marina, however, isn't Alice in Wonderland. It's Heaven and Hell, and in this version of Hades, the demons wear black vinyl platform boots. Meanwhile the angels wear wings -- not the quaint, flimsy Party City deals (like the ones the girls serving bottles in the VIP room flaunt), but hulking masses of white feathers so big they're dangerous to bystanders. This is Diana Lozano's theater of the absurd. It's a world of fantastical creatures, acrobats, and wild eccentrics she calls Circ X.

Lozano never went through an experimental stage. At age eight the Miami native remembers creating shows in her head, and hasn't stopped experimenting since. The 29-year-old Cuban balked at the idea of a quince. "I had a Sweet Transvestite Sixteen party," she recalls. "I had my parents dress up like Magenta and Riff Raff [from The Rocky Horror Picture Show]. They were great sports. I remember I was playing stuff like Nine Inch Nails and the police showed up, and my mom answered the door in a French maid costume. Those are the moments that stay with you." Later Lozano enrolled in New World School of the Arts for high school and college, graduating with a degree in musical theater in 1997. There she met fellow Circ X member and independent dancer/choreographer Octavio Campos. "I followed my own dream because of this man," she says of her former New World teacher. "It's such a blessing to have him in my company because he taught me everything I know."

"Diana was an alien, a UFO," Campos says, letting out the robust laugh of a trained stage performer, of his first impression of Lozano. "She was very different, very charged; she had a lot to say but didn't know how to express it."

Instead it was at ultraliberal Cal Arts -- where Lozano earned her master's degree in performance art, design, and technology in 2000 -- that she was finally able to unleash her inner alien. "I was bored [at New World]. I wanted to be in weird makeup, hiding behind trees and scaring people. I love to fuck with people. You know, have one of my friends drive to an auto repair shop and have the guy open the hood and I'd be in there and just be like, 'What?'" She laughs as if she just played the joke in her head.

Although Cal Arts taught Lozano the art of shock and awe -- she once grew out her leg hair so classmates could shave it off and use it as material for an art piece -- performing in a classroom full of oddballs like herself wasn't giving her the audience reaction she craved. "It's not as much fun if everyone's crazy," she says. "No one gets really shocked if you pull a tampon out onstage." The crowd at Kendall's now-defunct Mars Bar was easier to entertain though. While she was off from school, Lozano worked at the nightclub as a lighting tech and also judged the cage girl competitions for fun. She recalls one practically naked and pole-happy contestant. "I get my gloves on and a hairnet, and I go in right after with a bottle of Windex, and everyone just starts laughing. That's where I got my first taste of being a clown."

Lozano had a chance to take her talent to the next level when she was given the opportunity to audition for the world-renowned acrobatic performance troupe Cirque du Soleil. She sent the Canada-based company her tape, and two months later, she was one of two out of fifty who were chosen to audition. After being interviewed for an hour, Lozano didn't make the cut. "They were like, 'You're very talented, you're still very young, we love that you're very raw, but we need you to be more focused, so keep working and audition again.'" At that point, she says, she knew she had something. "I wasn't just crazy like my parents sometimes thought."

If performing for Cirque du Soleil was Lozano's loftiest goal, choreographing for and performing with Marilyn Manson was a close second. "I love Marilyn Manson," she says with a wicked smile. "He plays that twist on the hypocrisy of what he's doing. He'll say it straight to you: 'I'm totally selling out but you're totally buying into it, so fuck you.'" So when a friend referred her to what she thought was a similar show by band/performance act the Impotent Sea Snakes, Lozano jumped at the chance. Then she flew to Atlanta to join them and saw a tape of their performance, which was more peepshow than "Dope Show." "They were basically having sex onstage," she says. "Sometimes the girls were nuns, sometimes nurses, sometimes it was a father and daughter. I wanted to cry and just shoot myself." She changed her mind and flew back to Miami.