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From an Internet Terminal (50 cents for 15 minutes) in Cheongnyangni Station in Seoul

I have been as busy and sick as a dog the last three days in preparation for the festival in Korea.  I finally finished cutting the trailer video for the project in Taiwan this fall after about 100 hours of work in the cutting room (See?  I can never be specific.  Just this last week as The Rocker and I were jetting around Japan on a quick promotional tour, we found out that there has been a major change in plans.  It is not a problem, but it has changed the concept of the show 180 degrees.  This is why I talk about projects as little as possible until opening day.  Special thanks to my good friend, The Clown, who instilled this idea in me early in my career.  Even the video concept changed at the last minute, but sometimes such destabilization can play to your advantage.).

To tell the truth, I am very happy with this video; I tried some new techniques, and it is about two times longer than the previous longest video I have ever cut.  The eclectic music presented special problems, but I think I was able to work around them all (Imagine trying to find a way to make Marilyn Manson, Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails, traditional Chinese drumming, an avant garde percussionist, Mongolian Buddhist chanting and Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ in a way that will make sense!  I hope to post some links soon.

For this trip, I have been writing old school style in my notebook every chance I get.  I met up with the daughter of my former German teacher and her friends in downtown Seoul and had drinks early into the morning.  I will transcribe some thoughts as time allows.

Travelling like this is really the best part of my life right now.  Tonight, The Political Scientist will be arriving as well; the special Lithuanian envoy to the Korean arts scene.

Off to Chuncheon!

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Light at the End of the English Teaching Tunnel

One more month left teaching English.  The company sent me a new lesson plan for one of their schools.  Even though the plan was for 6th graders, it seems to cover an awful lot of ground.  Unless the students have had some English before, I expect a lot of blank stares and not much retention.  I will try to follow it as much as possible, but if things start to go downhill and the Japanese teacher starts to panic, I will slip into my standard 6th grade routine.

The boss of the English company observed me teaching a couple of weeks ago which I worry was a bit of a bore.  I really do very little in the middle school classes.  If she wanted to see me doing anything more that playing parrot; I would have recommend coming to an elementary school where I actually have fun interacting with kids and making English learning fun.

I’ve told the company about a discipline problem with a couple of third-grade classes who are giving trouble to their teachers.  The lesson plans that the Japanese teachers have prepared for me are really light (if they’ve been prepared at all), but with a little quick thinking, they can be fleshed out into complete lessons.

That school has two teachers.  One, with whom I have only worked one day, had no lesson plan whatsoever. The other teacher will usually prepare something abstract, like presenting me with alphabet flashcards, and I have been building the day’s lessons and games off of that.  Basically, I have to put myself in the Elementary School mindset, and everything works well.  It just falls apart when dealing with the troublesome 3rd graders.

The problem is aggravated by the fact that the school was unable to hold on to the foreign English teachers like me because they would call in sick when assigned to that school.  This might explain why the teachers there are not accustomed to preparing lesson plans.  I think that by working together with these teachers over the next month (4 days, total), they will have a better idea of how to prepare for my replacement.

Speaking of which, the English company asked me for my final dates teaching with them.  I’ll know better after I talk with The Rocker in Korea, but my goal is to continue all the way to the last day of June as we initially agreed.  Strange, I started teaching English to keep paying the rent, but it’s really not as bad as I thought it might be.  But of course it helps that I see my real job as being what is printed on my business cards – the work that I’m doing for Taiwan

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The Politics of Meetings

So we just got out of what was promising to be one of our most stressful meetings: a sodan with the New National Theatre of Tokyo.

After meeting with them in March, I thought that one of the most relevant questions that the New National Theatre of Tokyo would ask us would be which Japanese artists we would like to work with, so I had made it a priority to do some research on that end.  Since this has to be a dance show (there is no theater department at the NNTT which still fucks with my brain), so I contacted seminal butoh companies to show them our work and see if they would be interested in collaborating.  A month ago I wrote to Sankai Juku so see if they would be interested in collaborating to create a new creation involving international New Circus artists in residence at the National Theatre of Tokyo in hopes that these two highly individualistic, visual, and physical performance forms will find inspiration from each other.  No reason to believe that this will work, but nothing lost in trying.  I saw their show in Chiba and tried to use the name of one of The Rocker’s old friends who used to work with them to secure a meeting but it didn’t work.  I did manage a quick meeting with one of their representatives though, and even though we didn’t get to talk about anything specific, I decided to try to set up the meeting with the NNTT and The Rocker.  I’ve noticed that my English emails often go unanswered but The Activist’s Japanese emails gets responses, so she offered to just call the National Theatre on our behalf and also to come with us to that meeting.

That’s when things started to get very serious.  They asked for a professional translator, for someone from the Canadian embassy to be there, and for a copy of our proposal in advance.  This all made me a bit nervous since our goal is not to present a finished proposal, but to find out what they will require from us so that as we meet different performing arts group while The Rocker is in Japan, we can tell them what sort of commitment we are looking for, etc.  The Activist therefore suggested that we look at the meeting as sort of a “sodan,” to get the director of the theatre’s thoughts on the idea and since the Canadian embassy has already said that they cannot send a representative on the day of the meeting, she suggests that we at least get written support from the embassy to show that we are 100% sure that they would support us.  I’m not actually sure if we will be able to get that because it is still far too early.  They do want to have a project, but they’d need to talk with the New National Theater or any other collaborators before they will sign something official.  It goes around in circles.

She was worried that Sankai Juku is not the best option since they actually have closer connections to Theatre de la Ville in Paris, but that who knows, perhaps the NNTT has better access.  She also asked me about the thematic possibilities of a Butoh and Circus collaboration but I could imagine a lot of different possibilities.  I remembered them saying in March that we would need to involve Japanese artists and that it would need to be a new creation.  Now, from my point of view, until we know how the National Theater wants us to structure the residency, there is no way we can start thinking about the theme or message of a new show.  That message and theme will depend so much on what artists we are working with (Sankai Juku?  Dairakudakan?  Another Japanese dance company? Freelance dancers?).

For example, The National Theater might want The Rocker to hold auditions for Japanese dancers and acrobats to cast in a show that he will then direct, they might want to pair us up with a Japanese company (Like Sankai Juku or Dairakudakan) and then let us come up with a concept and let us direct the collaboration ourselves, they might have a show in production that they want to add an acrobatic element to, and The Rocker and myself would serve as consultants for that show.

For example, the residency at the National Theater of Taiwan started when the Theater asked The Rocker to create a new show for the circus festival.  They just wanted to buy a show, and it is up to us to determine the theme, the artist we will work with, etc, etc.

It was very different when he was in residence with another Taiwanese dance company, where they wanted him to act only as musical consultant and composer.  In that case, they knew exactly what they wanted and they directed him very closely.

So again, if this will be a sodan I’d love to discuss how the National Theater has worked in the past and the way that The Rocker has worked in the past to see if there is any possibility of doing something in the future.  Of course, if there is some interest in seeing a live example of our work, we would like to again extend the invitation to see the festival in Taiwan.

Our main goal was to show that we are flexible, enthusiastic, and open to many different way of working, and that it has had good results in the past.  The Rocker has been working almost exclusively an artist in residence for at least the last four years, and helping artists collaborate is his specialty!  So we just want to introduce this fact and then see what ideas can come out of a nice discussion.  Who knows?  Maybe they have been thinking about the meeting from a couple of months ago and has thought of a project already!

In the end, despite all the stress and uncertainty, the meeting with the NNTT, The Rocker, and The Activist went really well. The NNTT gave us a list of people to connect who are doing a lot of new and interesting things in Japan.  Since the person we met with once had a famous dance company and now advises the New National Theatre of Tokyo as a movement coach for contemporary, modern dance shows, The Activist checked in with a dancer friend of hers who knew the producer we talked to by a nickname which suggested that they were quite close.  The Activist’s friend confirmed that the people on the list are the types of people that we should be meeting with, places like the Yamaguchi center for Arts and Media and AN Creative.

The last one is interesting because they brought my dance company from Boston to Japan, worked at Expo, and also runs the auditions for Cirque du Soleil in Japan.  They are involved in a lot of international dance collaborations with Japan and Canada, Australia, the USA, etc.   She’s been great and says that if we decide to move forward, we should not hesitate to ask her for any help that we might need.

Took more notes from the meetings in Tokyo with The Rocker today.

[The Travelling Acrobat] was asked to come onboard The Rocker’s project last fall as assistant director for a circus-themed opening ceremony for the International Arts Festival in Taiwan.

We presented our proposal to the National Theatre and at the same time began researching the possibility of an exchange with Canada to produce a Taiwan/Canada tour exchange of artist groups.  That idea was favorably received and we also heard of interest in a Hong Kong engagement.

It was at that time that I was asked to investigate and gauge interest in bringing the show here to Tokyo.  So far we have had a strongly favorable response, but the problem is always the same – finding a way to integrate this show to appeal directly to a major corporate sponsor.

In Taiwan, we have a CKS Cultural Center and National Theatre residency to create the first collaboration between Taiwanese performers and Canadians.

To make this happen, we are using our connections at Cirque du Soleil, The National Circus School, and Tohu in Montreal.

Canada is famous for acrobatic dance and circus and multi-media performances, e.g. Carbon-14, La La La Human Steps, Robert Lepage.  We work with video artists, choreographers, and musicians.

On the Taiwan side, there are groups like Tai Gu Tales Dance Theater.

This is what brings us to you today.  We know that you represent excellence and progressive thinking in the arts.  We think that a collaboration could be interesting for you because an international circus arts project has the potential to:

  • Create an intimate connection with the audience
  • Appeal to a younger generation
  • Stimulate artistic creation in a new art form for Japan
  • Offer workshops, classes, and coaching
  • Stimulate deeper international exchange
  • Merge with video and multimedia materials and live music
  • Present modern, thematic work
  • Integrate the dance and theatre programs

 

In 2006 I undertook an international arts entrepreneurship appreticeship under "The Rocker" between Tokyo, Japan, and Taipei, Taiwan with a few trips to Bangkok, Thailand, Chennai India, Ahmedabad, India, and Chuncheon, Korea.

The Beginning of the Apprenticeship

Was interesting taking notes during The Rocker’s pitch to the Canadian embassy in Tokyo.  Here’s how he explained our work in a nutshell:

What do we offer?

  • A high-quality product of a recognizable brand at an extremely competitive price
  • An openness and a flexibility to work with your client’s needs and wishes
  • The potential for a long-term relationship with an experienced circus production team and their network of event producers in Taiwan and Greater China.
  • The unique opportunity to have a first-hand role in marketing the circus brand to the Japanese public

The Human River

I had a Russian circus coach in his sixties, Alex, who could still do standing backflips.  He was able to pluck you out of the air one-handed if you were about to land on your head; it was like being caught by an oak tree.  He looked like a bear, he walked like a zombie, and his secret to maintaining his form was taking good care of his intestines.

People have strange ideas about how their bodies function.

It was a Russian coach fad at my school; fasting one day a week and fasting one week a month.  It was all part of a solemn ceremony which culminating in a glorious herbal enema to keep your colon clean, supple, and rubbery like a nubile squid.

I wasn’t ready to go that far, but he afforded me this advice:  Eat a grapefruit every morning; don’t eat anything cooked, never talk during a meal, always eat meat last, and enjoy a handful of organic peanuts before physical activity (softdrinks are poison, and processed food is good to make your stomach feel full, but it won’t do anything for your body).

He was my teacher, I listened, and it made sense, at least when training 12 hours a day like the good circus school students that we were.

This kind of ascetic eating regimen fit with his personality.  Even his sense of humor:

One day, the denizens of a small village awoke to a loud, rhythmic pounding.  Each pound was punctuated by a man’s screams of pain.  The villagers, shivering in the morning chill and dressed only in their nightclothes, left their huts to find the source of the screaming.  In the middle of the public square, a man was repeatedly striking his phallus [Alex always said phallus when he told this joke or any other joke that featured a penis.  He always lowered his voice and blushed a little when he said it.  Ever seen an embarrassed bear?] with a blacksmith’s hammer.  The patriarch approached the man to ask him why in the world he was punishing his member so.  “Doesn’t it hurt terribly?”  “Of course,” replied the stranger, “but nothing compares to blissful respite that comes between each strike.”

My Lithuanian roommates have explained that this is actually a very Eastern European kind of joke.  They tell another one that I like:

A wife walks out onto her porch where her husband is looking at the sky with a serene smile on his face.  “Why are you so happy?” she asks.  “Our neighbor’s house is burning down.”

I told this joke in Boston to a mixed audience of Canadians, Americans, and Bulgarians, and sure enough, the Bulgarians laughed while the North Americans waited for the punchline.

My point was that people have lots of different theories one how to best care for their body.  The FDA of America has a great one, which happens to be very different from that which is professed by their Japanese counterpart.  But I think that having your own cartoonish view of the human body is helpful, as long as it makes sense to you and it keeps you healthy.

For me, I believe that the key to everything is water.  Lots of water.  If I can keep a steady flow of water through my body, I find I can train harder without being sore the next day, I am more flexible, I have more energy, it is easier to maintain my weight (or lose weight when necessary), and I can drink alcohol with no ill effects in the morning.

For me, I see the body as a riverbed which is constantly polluted by our everyday actions (like every other riverbed you have ever seen).  If you can keep that river flowing at nearly flood levels, all those pollutants (lactic acid, alcohol, excess nutrients, etc) will be washed away.  I also see water as a sort of lubricant for cells, particularly muscle cells, that help them to work more efficiently.

I know that this is all a huge oversimplification and sounds a lot like a placebo (based strongly in sports medicine and common sense, of course), but it does serve as a nice little feather to hold onto when I force my body to do impossible things.

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College Redux

Do you feel old?

I discovered a little pocket of international youth in Tokyo while biking home with The Political Scientist last night.  About five minutes from our house is an international dorm for one of Tokyo’s language exchange universities, and they just happened to be having their first barbecue party of the year that night.

We stopped by for a drink and some multilingual ambience in the 60 minutes before the police biked over in formation to close us down.

It was silly and fun, talking with college sophomores.  It made me remeber what I was like 8 years ago.  It made me remeber my friends from circus school from 3 years ago, where I was the oldest by far (I was 23 in my first year, the median age of my class was 18).

I think that there is a difference between ‘feeling old’ and just ‘seeing youth.’  At least in my case, I am still dealing with the same questions at age 28 that I was at age 20, but I take them much more seriously.  I also have about 3000 more days of mistakes and good fortune and love in which to float; I have a deeper emotional pool in which to splash.

The difference between ‘extremely happy’ and ‘extremely sad’ has increased by orders of magnitude, and the size of the world has shrunk accordingly.  I have been penniless; I have been more wealthy than I deserved; and I found that my sense of personal worth or well-being did not seem to be correlated to any fluctuation therein.

28 minus 20 equals a lot more emotional and mental space in which to wander and a lot more voices from your past to guide you on your way; it seems the magnitude of your observable future is linked to that of your recall-able past.

(My new Uzbekistani friend from the party challeneged me to a handstand contest last night, and I am sorry to report that he lost.  He expects a rematch as hope springs eternal.)

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Thai Dinner With the Producers

I have been working like mad on the trailer video for the new creation, but keep running into problems getting the videos ripped onto the computer.  I have also prepared proposals for the artists we want to work with already (saying that nothing is certain, of course) so as soon as The Rocker give the word, I can send them off.

On the networking front, I met with a French circus artist, Christian, and his friend who produces 20+ festivals a year in Japan and who is very interested in seeing the Taiwan festival.  The Author also introduced me to two producer friends that helped him get the job at the Toyota Pavilion.  They invited me to come to the office of their company, Tokyo Productions, when I get back from Korea to talk about possible projects we can do together.