24/7

For the last few days I have been working from 7-11 with no breaks at all.  I am dead tired, but very happy to be here.  Even better, the office here is depending on me quite a lot, so I feel quite valuable to the production.  I do the work of three people at least.

For an example, one of the first things I needed to do was pull together a draft rehearsal schedule between now and the premiere of the show since Taiwan Productions had not started thinking through that need yet.  First, I had to get the availabilities all artists, revalidate those availabilities, draw up a matrix of the maximum number of rehearsals that this allowed us, and start negotiating with artists and rehearsal spaces for those dates.  Since the spaces weren’t available to us on all the dates and times we are requesting, I needed to make changes as necessary.  All this was necessary to ensure that any changes coming from our side will be cancellations instead of trying to schedule more rehearsals later.  As soon as this schedule was confirmed I made a master list of all artists so that our production assistant can contact them individually to confirm and finalize each rehearsal.  Nothing difficult, but extremely important to get right.

Nothing terribly difficult, but very complicated and stressful.  I never seem to know where it is all going to end up.  There is a lot of pressure to be the budget, planning, scheduling, marketing, and networking guy.  Things that need to be done quickly and correctly go through me.  It is interesting learning management skills with my assistants and everything, particularly with the language and culture differences, but so far it is ok, I think.

Taipei/Madrid

Spicy food here is good, the apartment I’m in puts Tokyo gaijin houses to shame.

Taiwanese girls are sexy.  It’s very different from the Mediterranean-style Korean girl sexy, but they still drop your jaw and kick your teeth out.  For example, I saw a stage setup in Ximen (the Taiwanese Shibuya) where some hiphop girls were dancing.  You can imagine how cute a setup like that would look in Japan, right?  Well here it was unashamed tits, hips, and midriffs shaking all over the place.  Kawaii it was not.

It is strange how The Flamenca and I so quickly shot off to opposite ends of the earth.  Thursday I go to Taiwan, Saturday she went to Madrid…what a life.  Things change so much and so quickly.  I think of her when I listen to her music as I fall asleep.  It keeps the Taiwanese phantoms away.  The last week we spent in Tokyo feels like a distant dream already.

Paparazzi

The performance for the press conference went perfectly, and tomorrow Taiwan Production tells me that I will be in all the fucking papers.  I’ve already received offers to do some Taiwanese variety shows and we are proposing some advertising campaigns next week.

It didn’t go off without a hitch, however.  We were supposed to run a technical setup and rehearsal the night before at 9, but the media department was inflexible in letting us do that.  We needed to meet their schedule, on top of working for free and losing sleep the night before my performance, but we decided to make a good faith effort despite our explanation that it was not the way things were supposed to work.

Things were bordelique, we were unhappy and we didn’t get things done.  Today we had to redo a lot of the tech set-up, they were using some trademarked content of one of the shows that is in the festival without permission, and they had their magic clowns doing all kinds of strangeness.  That morning we were running around like mad, so I didn’t really get a chance to rehearse.

In the evening, things barely worked.  I had no idea when I was supposed to be ready, so I ended up naked and freezing backstage for 30 minutes before my number.  Not a good idea, really.  I had no one to tell me when I needed to be in place and on top of it all I was in a drafty overly-air conditioned hallway, the night before, one of our team members accidentally pushed an alarm button looking for a light, the marketing team said we didn’t have showers but we actually did, the bank was mad at the marketing department and so on and so on…

I stepped out on stage and was amazed at the noise… cameras whirring, shutters clicking…. I felt like I was in a typing pool.  I was just trying to get through this number that I hadn’t performed in two years.  In the end, I did it, and just about perfectly.  Better than I could have done it 2 years ago.  Fuck.  After all this time, I guess I really am a professional after all.

I was told that the press was holding their breath throughout the whole conference.  This is actually quite unusual, I am told – usually they talk on their cell phones, rustle around, look at their watches.  The comment was that my performance brought class and quality to an otherwise typically shoddy Taiwanese press conference.  There is a thing about quality.  I know people can sense it.

I was interviewed by a reporter and was happy to see that I would be featured in the paper.  Everyone in the project – us, the national theater, the bank, the marketing department, were very happy.  People finally understood why we made all the demands we did and were satisfied by the results.  And the bank didn’t like the clowns.  The head of the theater hugged The Rocker (this doesn’t happen ever) and he was introduced to the president of the bank and the president of their arts board.

What was interesting was that as my colleagues were all treating me like the man of the hour, the Taiwanese crew, the staff of the bank, and the National Theatre picked up on it and started treated me with deference as well.  I was told that this is very unusual treatment for an acrobat in Taiwan.

Fuck it all, anyways.  Two hours later, I had to be leading a rehearsal.

Rehearsals

Rehearsals are finally underway in Taiwan and working with the Taiwanese artists is really quite interesting.  They are a different sort altogether.  The first day was very quiet, the artists were not really willing to try things or show off.  Finally, we ended up just doing a little exercise with a circle of people, trying to get a hip-hop energy going.  We did some improvisations with their kung-fu that allowed me to start to change things around, like forcing them to look each other in the eyes, to interact with each other, etc.

After this lukewarm (by my thinking) first rehearsal, I was surprised to find that no one wanted to leave.  The Rocker explained to me that this meant that they were very excited about the project.  My translator later told me that they were looking forward to trying something new.

The Rocker was happy, though.  He said that in one day, we’d accomplished more than he was able to in one month with the Beijing modern dance troupe and a Quebecois choreographer.  The cultural differences killed that project.

Rehearsal the next night went a lot better.  I worked on partner work in creation, having them come up with duos that they can both do and then changing constraints, like that they need to be always in contact or need to be in a small space.  We watched videos.  We started to laugh and talk a little more.  Things were looking good, I was happy.  We have “stock.”

This morning, I had rehearsal with one of the kung fu artists, Eric, one-on-one with no translator.  We watched a video.  I gave him ten minutes of warm-up time.  He looked out the window.  I said “show me your hardest routine,” thinking it would fuck him up.  He showed me an incredible kung-fu routine.  The ceiling was too low for his jumps; he would hit his head.  I couldn’t have touched it if I jumped with my arm extended straight up over my head.  I played with the number, making him take breaks and lose the technique; becoming the person behind the kung fu.  No problem.  Then, I introduced mirror work, of course he reverted right back to kung fu.  Now I said that he had to be Michael Jackson.  Now I said he had to be himself.  It was fucking great.  We went all over the place, picking up chairs, manipulating them… there was no judgement and it was fun.  Then I went to an evasion exercise that is meant to make movement more abstract.  That too was a lot of fun.  In the end, it is impossible for me to anticipate what sorts of things will make it through the cultural divide and which will not.

Our choreographer, a Taiwanese who lives in France, came from the same arts school as most of our artists which makes him their ‘older brother’ and they treat him with tons of respect.  If it wasn’t for his lead, we would have probably never gotten the artists to open up the way they have in these last few days.  This is useful, but he also has an axe to grind with Taiwanese artists.  He has a lot of experience working in Europe and now that he has a project back in his hometown, he is clearly not happy with Taiwanese artists and their unwillingness to try new things.  His view is that it is different from Japanese conservatism – that their reluctance to try new things is born of an insecurity, not pride in their way of doing things.

I am continually surprised by the caliber and generosity of our artists.  Their sheer technical skill, their curiosity… and then amazed to see how bashful they are.  How they are nervous to make physical contact or express emotion on stage.  Bewildering.  I found out one of them can juggle 6 balls and 9 rings – relatively high level.  Did he ever consider showing that at the audition?  Of course not.  So who else have we missed, then?  Who else hid their best?  I’m working with him, to create a modern dance/hip-hop juggling number.  I think it will be great.  He has a circus attitude.  We have Chinese opera people, kung-fu people, acrobatics people, and soon, hip-hop dancers.  It is a great mix.

To get a head start I am starting to send the Montreal artists some homework made up of creative challenges.  For example, for The Contortionist, we have the idea of making the contortion number tie in to a kung fu artist’s classical sword form.  we don’t really know the level of interaction yet, but the idea is that she would be dodging out of the way of her sword by doing contortion moves.  She could also start thinking about a duo with the contact juggler in the show.  The circus artists from Montreal arrive in a month and a half.  They will have a lot to work up to.

Taiwan Eating Diary: Sechuan

Jesus Christ.  No matter how much people rave about a particular destination’s cuisine, I am rarely blown away by an eating experience.  Consequently, I was prepared for a big Taiwan cuisine let-down.  If last night’s outing to a Sechuan restaurant was any indication, I might quickly regain the 10 kilos I shed in Tokyo.

The restaurant is typical of delicious Taipei resaurants: not much to look at, train-of-thought free-association hard-core gangster-rap dining music, slow service, and – happily – excellent food.

My favorite was the spicy chicken.  It was impossible to prepare myself for the many levels of flavor that attacked my mouth one after another.  It’s tangy, no it’s sweet, now its fire, and now it’s a savory lemon… and then gone.  No aftertaste, no need to gulp your Tsing Tao to drown out a lingering slow-burn, just a fleeting memory of the tasty birdflesh.  Then you eat some more.

The garlic shrimp was a little plain, but the whitefish fell apart in my mouth while spilling garlicy goodness.  Tofu dishes and a free desert of carmelized sweet potatoes followed.

More restauranting details to follow in these three months, I’m sure.

Home Sweet Home: Creating a Circus Show – Step 1

Day three in Taipei.  Day one was the panic day, trying to get everything set up for the performance I have to do on Tuesday for the sponsors of our festival.  Once that was out of the way everyone was able to relax a little bit.

Yesterday was my first day at the office; it felt good to get my hands dirty in production again.  A quick production meeting, a little jaunt out to see some potential rehearsal spaces, some playing around with high-tech ways of coordinating schedules, a meeting of the creative team, and that was my day!

I picked my handstand canes up from the head office of the Taipei Artist Village this morning and started my first training session in Taiwan.  It does feel nice.  Travelling around the world without a physical home base gets a little disorienting.  Sticking to a constant training routine is like the living room sofa in my life – I go there to feel at home, at ease, comfortable and safe.

The setup I have here is serendipitous brilliance.  I wake up early, around 7AM, and run for half an hour around downtown Taipei.  When I get back, I take a quick shower, stretch, and begin my handstand warmup.  After warmup, I do my technique, followed by three complete runthroughs of my number.  All of this can happen in my cathedral of a private studio/apartment.  After traning, it is a 10 minute run to the gym where I do my strength training and finish up on another flexibility series before jogging back home to write, shower, and get dressed for work.

In the time it took my to do my strength training in the gym today, the sky went from cloudy summer haze to pitch black thunderstorm ala Minnesota in August.  I felt a pleasant nostalgia for my hometown while running to my new apartment on the other side of the world.

Membership at a Taipei Gym

"You have an American passport, so maybe we can do you a favor.

These are words that American travellers grew accustomed to twenty or thirty years ago.  The sentiment today ranges from self-righteous anger (French Canada) to borderline hostility (Holland, France) to blissful ignorance (Japan).  I heard this sentence today when I applied for membership at a hip little boutique gym in Taipei‘s Ximen district.

In Japan we get used to the idea that every customer is treated the same, whether we like it or not.  Often, this results in surrealistic moments of inflexibility when people behind a desk refuse the slightest favor or concession in rigid accordance with their company’s rules.  What is more infuriating is that anyone who has worked in the Japanese corporate environment understands how poorly thought-out that bible of regulations really is.

Taipei seems different.

At the health club, they were trying to get an idea of who I was, and more importantly, what I was used to paying for training space.  They asked me what I paid for my gym in Japan.  The truth is that I paid 13,000 yen (111 USD, 3,650 NTD) a month.  I was smart enough to say a smaller price, 10,000 yen (85 USD, 2,805 NTD), but not smart enough to use it to a real advantage.  In retrospect, I should have said 6,000 yen.

This is what they proposed to me:

  • One-time membership fee of 7,699 NTD.
  • One-time processing fee of 1,999 NTD.
  • Monthly fee of 2,199 NTD.

Of course, I said this was ridiculous.  My two-month’s training would come at a total price of 14,100 NTD (428 USD, 50,000 yen).  That’s when I heard those magic (and oh-so-alien sounding) words above, and we entered into a lengthy negotiation.  In the end, we settled on a two-month lump sum of 7,100 NTD (216 USD, 25,000 yen) which is uncannily close to what I paid at my Japanese gym  considering that if I return to Taiwan I can continue at the monthly rate of 2,199 NTD (67 USD, 7,800 yen).

When they found out I spoke Japanese, they wanted to conduct the orientation in Japanese to practice.  Interesting.