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Can extreme motocross make great theater?

The Nuclear Cowboyz will mix high-flying motorcycles with special effects and scantily clad dancers to create drama. The Nuclear Cowboyz will mix high-flying motorcycles with special effects and scantily clad dancers to create drama. (Jake Klingensmith/Feld Motor Sports via Associated Press)
By Derrik J. Lang
Associated Press / December 30, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - The Nuclear Cowboyz may do for motocross what World Wrestling Entertainment did for wrestling.

Feld Entertainment Inc., the live entertainment production company behind Disney on Ice and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, is taking an edgy turn with its latest production, Nuclear Cowboyz, a post-apocalyptic motocross spectacle that sprinkles scantily clad dancers and special effects atop a gas-fueled ballet of high-flying motorbikes.

The 15-city tour, which comes to Boston’s TD Garden Jan. 16-17, is being launched at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena on Saturday, more than a year after Feld Entertainment acquired Live Nation Motor Sports Inc., the division of Live Nation responsible for motor-sports events such as the FIM Motocross World Championship.

Feld chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld says Nuclear Cowboyz is a daring move on several levels.

“This may be the edgiest thing we’ve ever done,’’ Feld said during a break from rehearsals earlier this month at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. “It’s for sure the riskiest by virtue of what these riders do every single day, but it’s the greatest escape that you could ever have. I think it is the right thing for the right time in this economy in America.’’

Todd Jendro, Feld Motor Sports’ senior director of operations, conjured up the concept because he thought the “freestyle motocross program had become a bit stagnant.’’ The production is an end-of-the-world extravaganza starring motocross veterans such as Nate Adams and Jeremy “Twitch’’ Stenberg.

The cast of popular freestyle motocross riders is joined by freestyle ATV maestro Derek Guetter and a troop of backup dancers, fire breathers, and Kiva “Grindergirl’’ Kahl, a performance artist who thrashes a handheld grinder against her “Xena: Warrior Princess’’-like armor, sending a shower of sparks into the air.

The show centers on the battle between two motorcycle gangs - Adams’s Soldiers of Havoc and Stenberg’s Metal Mulisha. With motorbike ramps fashioned to look like decaying buildings and video monitors broadcasting doomsday imagery, the show’s smoky setting is more reminiscent of “Mad Max’’ than the X-Games.

“It’s crushed cars, buildings that are on fire, ramps, and different things,’’ Jendro said. “These guys are not used to riding in these types of elements. We’re incorporating pyrotechnics, sound, lighting, and all these things into this afterworld that’s going to make this not just freestyle motocross but a theatrical presentation of freestyle motocross.’’

To inject the extra drama, the show’s riders, more experienced with high-octane tricks than close-ups, are tasked with complicated choreography, like weaving between stilt walkers, parking under bright spotlights, simultaneously flipping their rides in the air and corralling with the pole-dancing Nuclear Cowgirlz. It’s all part of the job for Adams.

“We’ve got to make money,’’ he said. “Coming here, it’s a more laid-back way of riding. Not everyone wants to see 16 freestyle runs and then see who won. You’re still doing all the tricks you’d do at X-Games. It’s just easier. You’re not in that competition mode. I think this is a great way for riders to keep above water, as far as paying their bills goes.’’

Feld is betting the three-month tour, with stops in Dallas, Atlanta, San Diego, and several other cities, will attract motocross fans. But he also believes that those not familiar with the sport will be interested in the show’s theme-park theatrics, thumping heavy metal soundtrack, and curvy female dancers.

“I think it appeals to a very broad audience, but it is definitely for the young guys of the world, for today’s generation,’’ he said. “And it makes me feel good, so now I’m acting as the grandfather of this new kind of entertainment. I’ve got to tell you, when I sit out here and I watch what these riders do, it makes me feel younger than ever.’’