Triple Strawberrysweetshit to Numb the Pain

They have this great thing here in Tokyo: at a restaurant that is inexplicably named ‘BLDY’ (bloody? baldy? bliady (a lithuanian/russian swear word)?, there is an all-you can drink fruity cocktail bar for about $4.50.  Though I did not imbibe excessively, it was the site of my public breakdown over the recent drug overdose and death of a good friend from MIT, and The Political Scientist was kind enough to pour me a triple strawberrysweetshit and soda to numb the pain.  His loss is a real shock.  It is strange, he was far from someone that i thought of on a daily basis, but to think that he was out there somewhere doing the sorts of things that he did was a source of stability…  grounding in a way.  He was the kind of guy I was proud to tell stories about… one of the mad geniuses of my MIT past that I would dredge up every once and a while to dazzle the so non-technical artist types around me.

He was a brilliant man, and on top of that, the only other person I know who went from science and engineering wholeheartedly into the arts.  The things he made, you could hardly believe them when you saw them. His medium was light and technology, and his was the realm of bright and moving and huge and sublime…and it’s all gone now, he has been put into the ground, and for some reason, I have not been able to write for myself since hearing the news; haven’t written a word for the sake of writing since hearing about his death.  I have, however, started regularly emailing old friends and my family to get back in touch with them all.

Trying to get back to the writing is still a priority for me – I’m trying to continue exploring a method that uses stream-of-consciousness flow from one word to another to build forward momentum.

This is basically an application of a movement theater and choreography techniques to writing, that and the concepts of full stops, extension, and so forth.  I’m realizing that writing and theater and dance and acrobatics is all part of the same thing; different vantage points to look at the same infinite obsidian column extending up out of the salt flats of Utah.  Let’s say.

It’s like a magnificent hip hop/spoken word piece that I just listened to by none other than Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab.  The piece was called ‘Release,’ which starts out talking about being positive or some bullshit like that, but about halfway through it turns into this haunting and impeccably written object poem about life in a most balanced and subtle tone.  Brilliant.

It makes me think of parkour, which the French also call yamakasi (from the Congolese Lingala words ya makasi, or “strong in one’s person”).  All the videos I have seen (given, about two years ago) showed an art in the process of maturing.  I respect this idea of moving through space with a rhythm and a flow and an open mind – a free-form physical jazz reverberating in ‘found’ urban landscapes, but for me personally, I find that the actual technique needs development.

Jazz dance and ballet and even classical martial arts could bring so much to breakdance and parkour.  While the latter two are all about unlimited free expression, and their hardest-core proponents seem to see such suggestions as attempts to curb that freedom.  But there is a liberty in pushing yourself to master technique; as long as your goal is to transcend it.  In writing, acrobatics, dance, and love – life? Bloody, baldy, bliady?

Technique gives us the opportunity to convey a freely-conceived message that much more clearly, that much louder, to bounce off the uneven concrete walls in a flanging reverb of our own artistic impulses.

Clarity.

For me, anyways

 

Program Notes: A Big Mess Of Circus, Physical Theatre, And Dance

thanks for coming to the show. 

i have spent the last nine months training at the circus school in montreal, and am lucky enough to be back this summer to perform for all of you.  in writing the show, our primary focus was to combine circus skills and theatrical presentation to tell a story or three. 

this proved to be a difficult task. 

the theme of the show is time, or, more specifically, what it means to have all the time in the world or to realize that within the finite boundaries of every human life writhe an infinite number of could-be-experienced experiences. 

it might have been easier write a raucously rollicking hijinks-filled love narrative. 

but we chose time, and dove right in.

we brought the show from concept to stage in about 5 months, only the last 4 weeks of which were spend in the same place as the other.  the creative process included free writings, experimentation, and analysis of other literary works. 

along the way, we were fortunate enough to receive help and guidance from a number of people in the audience tonight who helped us stage this piece. 

The greatest challenge was balancing a message with entertainment without getting crushed by heavy-handed presentation.  sometimes it was hard.  heavy hands are heavy.

please enjoy the show, and tell us what you think about it afterwards.  it was quite a journey, but we learned so much by taking it.

what are we looking at, exactly?

We’ve incorporated many circus disciplines into this show. 

ACROBATICS 

in coming up with a short acrobatics act for this years show, i tried to avoid the repertoire of purely gymnastics skills and to instead present flowing, eccentric, elements. 

HAND-TO-HAND 

hand-to-hand is usually a duo act that requires a high level of concentration and strength, and can be an exhibition of static poses, a series of dynamic throws and catches, or any mixture thereof.  we tried to present simple hand-to-hand figures in interesting ways to set up a distinctive mood of disconnectedness. 

CLOWN 

circus school exposes you to a wide variety of clowning styles, may of which we tried to include in this show in search of common ground between slapstick, buffoon, and realistic clowns.   

STRAPS 

straps is traditionally performed with a high ceiling and with a team of riggers on a pulley line that help to change the height of the performer above the stage.  we had none of this at our disposal.  as a result, we focused on what we could do at lower heights while still creating an illusion of height and flight. 

HANDBALANCING

handbalancing is my major at the school, and pursuing it is a bit like trying to scale a steep mountain.  the rewards are few and far between and you never get anywhere quite as fast as you think you will.  if you rest for a second, there is no guarantee that you will ever make it to the top. 

on the other hand, even if you hike relentlessly you may never make it either.  there is a definite physical component to handbalancing, but the mental side of the discipline is what will make or break you.

THE STORIES:

PREDATOR AND PREY: BUGS

predator and prey are archetypes.  i think.  in our play there is a fly and there is a spider.  the spider wants to eat, and the fly wants to live.  the spider also does some acrobatics.  spiders and flies have been locked in their microcosmic struggle since they were invented — so what effect does an eons-long conflict have on the combatants?

TRAVELERS: THE TETHEREDS 

travelers are archetypes.  not much as bugs, but bugs set up a hard act to follow in the archetype department.  the central idea is that life is an infinitely number series of moments along a journey –  so what happens if you get lost?  can you get lost in there is no end to your journey to begin with?  well at least you can connect with people along the way.

TWO PEOPLE LIVING IN DOWNTOWN APARTMENTS JUST OUTSIDE OF TIME WHO NEVER MEET BUT CAN SOMEHOW AFFECT EACH OTHER THROUGH AN INPERCEPTIBLE EMOTIONAL ETHER

two people living in downtown apartments just outside of time who never meet but can somehow affect each other through an imperceptible emotional ether are archetypes.  located just between bugs and travelers.  i think.  two characters living their lives on different time scales like sloths versus hummingbirds.  are hummingbirds able to see a sloth’s movements?  can sloths appreciate the movement of a hummingbird’s wings?  

Circus acrobats doing a tumbling trick at the National Circus School exterior show

Setting Records

The Gang has decided that the seven guys are going to start working on circus projects outside of class next year.   

Estaban had to leave the country due to visa problems and is replaced by his boyfriend Mario but he should be back by September.  Some people think that Mario is too tough, but thanks to him I have fixed my side summie, my standing back full, and I’ve been working rudi dismounts into the pit and backtucks off the wall from trampoline.  I trained at the place where Mario and Esteban’s work during the summer. 

Went to Boston and had a lot of fun seeing friends and doing karaoke.  My best friend from MIT is moving to the Southwest which was a bit of a surprise. 

My wrist is hurting a lot right now and I can’t do any handstands.  I did 31 pullups which is the new school record and I’m aiming to up that to 40 for next year.  I managed 60 pushups in a minute which I think is also pretty good.  The Clown and my juggling piece is getting pretty nice and locked in.  We’re going to hopefully perform it at a juggling convention that is coming up.  

Dance evaluation went surprisingly well, I hope, and we have the atelier presentation the week after this week.  This is the last week of classes and evaluations and then we have big evaluations coming the week after.

My roommate is back and now we have a new pregnant cat that hangs around.  Summer is here with 75, 80 degree weather.  It’s been really nice. 

The Clown and I are getting to be good friends and all of the guys in our class just got matching German submarine sailor haircuts which looks pretty funny.

It really sucks having my wrists not work, but I was able to do my splits without even warming up which was pretty exciting.  But I have my split, pike, center split evaluation tomorrow so hopefully my luck will hold out.

We had a second big working day for the outside show for the annual show and I think The Clown and I saw some of the same patterns as the evaluation concept – no real discipline or order until the camera was set up and then everyone just does all the tricks they know.  This was last Friday which was the first day I did a standing full, but I didn’t get it on camera.

Again it was just the guys who were doing things full-out while the girls were always spotting each other.  I’m getting to be better friends with The Aerialist.  I’m writing a show this summer with Tori and she’s asked me for some notes on how to get in shape for some acrobatic stuff since its so much harder to lift people if they don’t have strong cores.

I went to go see a dance show.  The first one was very physical and quirky with very good balance on the stage which was interesting because it was done in this big open warehouse with windows that weren’t covered up and you could see an apartment across the street where this woman was getting ready for bed with her boyfriend.  Funny seeing someone stripping outside while you’re watching a dance show.  The second one didn’t work so well – it was based on shocking violence and rape with a live DJ and heavy metal music, but the dance just wasn’t that good which was my main problem with it.  

After the show, the guys from school were messing around playing their quirky comic characters at the reception in this art and dance world event clowning around having problems in the men’s room, in the foyer, doing art dance numbers in the street and tripping all over themselves enjoying how when you trip and try to recover people just think that’s funny.  Two high columns, etc – fun to play with people who know how all this fits together.

Circus artist doing a one-armed handstand in the desert

Comfort and Habituation

One of the upperclassmen fell on her head today and people were really worried about her.  The EMT’s came but at the end of the day she seemed fine.  Just one of those moments unique to circus school that reminds you that it’s dangerous and that we’re mortal but that you have to keep going. 

Movement today was good, I got an A for my evaluation which he said he gives out very rarely and that I seem to have a knack for it.  It’s fun doing well in something and getting appreciation for it even though this was not a class that I thought I would enjoy.  Did the stick exercise today where you have the ends of a stick held between the fingertips of two partners.  We also did a giant round robin at the end because both classes were together.  Good trip hop music and enjoyed playing with some breaking-style movements. 

I also got to be a flyer in hand to hand because we were joined by The Frenchman and another first-year guy who could port me.  Also was able to work with The Clown and we’re starting to have a good rapport. 

Alex just got back from Belgium so he wasn’t in ITA today and two of his students won three gold medals at the Piste d’Espoirs Festival which is great news for them and The Contortionist’s boyfriend won silver.

Today I intentionally didn’t do any supplementary strength since so many teachers have been telling me that work outside of class isn’t good for my body and might make me sick, etc. etc. so I’m taking a couple of days with no extra strength but I did do a heck of a good flexibility workout today: my splits were better than they have ever been in my life, or at least since doing gymnastics at MIT.

I have this new technique for working flexibility now.  I have my oversplits so I do one with correct form as a warmup and then do one with overextension for one minute each, and then I do “comfort” or “habituation” training where you sit in a medium position of a split for 2 minutes.  I’m doing that right now for splits and pancake and center split but not center split pancake.  I think it will be useful for stalter on highbar and presses on equilibre.

I got to hang out with people while working on standing backs and standing 1 1/2’s again.  I also pulled around a couple of standing double twists to my face in the pit – not beautiful, but fun.

Byamba wasn’t here again today so I worked with The Clown again on some juggling.

 

Two circus students from the National Circus School of Montreal shooting images for their streetshow

Back To School

My first day back in school after gramma’s funeral was better than i thought it would be and it was really nice to see everyone.  I guess they knew what had happened because they weren’t coming up to me with the usual “ca va? ca va? ca va?”  

Flexibility was cancelled so we did acro into the pit and I worked on my standing side summies.  I may have tweaked my knee.  i hope isn’t going to be a pattern of immediately twisting my knee like I did after midsession last semester. 

In dance we learned new combos which was fun and i’m picking that up pretty quickly using my new “think of it as martial arts” technique. 

My evaluation was not great: D in general because the only classes I missed have been dance classes.  we learned the first two bars of the adagio today and The Hotshot and I will be working on a sequence for it to present on Wednesday. 

She’s working on musicality with everyone (counting music and feeling it).  This is the one thing we’ve done in dance which i feel totally comfortable doing – having to do a pattern in a three count with different accents. 

Equilibre was frustrating because these two weeks off have resulted in a lot of lost strength and how everything is supposed to go together but maybe that’s just normal with handstands.  I remeber it was that way after the last break as well, so hopefully it will come back up to speed pretty soon. 

Acro was fun. i talked with Esteban about working iron cross drills because i really want to beat jc at getting a good iron cross.  Esteban’s technique really turns the shoulders forward to use your chest muscles, so the work i’m doing is really to try to recruit my chest muscles to hold the cross. 

Did a lot of good side summie work today, but trampoline was all over the place.  That comes from losing the tempo of the bed after two weeks.  My plongeons were coming out pretty well because it’s one of the skills i wasn’t afraid to do on the MIT trampoline over the break.  It seems so much smaller than the one at school which has all the safety mats around it. 

Byamba equilibre was fun and i actually talked with him for a while.  I guess The Trapesist’s porter didn’t have a very good audition.  She said he sort of approached the audition as a sure thing because, as she said, “he has The Trapesist’s name on his forehead.” 

She told me that maybe she was going to do equilibre and i asked Byamba if she had told him that.  He told me that earlier she told him that she thought equlibre was too hard and said that if you have that mindset it will be tough to do handstands. 

He asked if she was open to doing the rolla bolla – I mean i’m not interested in rolla bolla either and I wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t for my wrist injury, but i can find ways to make it fun and she said she can do that too.  That said, it’s one thing to say it and another to live by it. 

I told him was giving myself six weeks to learn a one armed handstand and he motioned over to the canes to say, “Well, get to it!” 

So i worked at it and its getting there but its still sloppy and not sturdy at all, but I’m working them all up against the wall and i think that that’s helping.  I did three 1-minute handstand holds against the wall today and then three 10-second one arm handstands against the wall on each side with legs together.  I think that’s helping.  It’s just one of the things that you just need to commit to if you want to do equilibre.  Being able to hold a handstand with your shoulders pressed out as if your against a wall, its just one of those things that you need to be able to do. 

I also talked with Estaban about changing my acro goals to just master the basic skills rather than push myself to do harder skills and sacrifice some of the work that i could be doing on the simpler one that may help more in the long term.

It was nice to be back and see The Contortionist and The Clown because i think that we really missed each other.  

When i was setting up the rings, the cables flew up.  One of the riggers just happened to be around so he was able to pull them down for me but that was kind of embarrassing. 

In general it was a crappy day because the way you eat and sleep affects the way your body performs and after two weeks of not doing that very well I need to get back into eating correctly, sleeping correctly, and all that.  I’ve set up a special timer light to have little sunrises in my room at 6am which is good.

My ideal schedule would be sleeping from 10 to 5 and doing a run in the morning according to Alex who is in Belgium right now possibly talking to the Moscow school on my behalf.  Hopefully the students over there are doing a great job, so good luck to them!

Coming home today I realized that the stupid people are shaping our society on a day-to-day level.  What I mean is that so much in everyday life is put there specifically to keep stupid people from screwing it up, like “coffee is hot” warnings.  One stupid person results in a policy that forever affects the rest of us every day.

Byamba’s son tried out for the school and hopefully he’ll get in for Byamba’s sake.  it would be nice to have another Asian person in the school!

 

http://dimg.dillards.com/is/image/DillardsZoom/zoom/movado-bold-large-pvd-analog-bracelet-watch/04488835_zi_gold.jpg

A Premature Retirement

On October 16, 2000, one year after a bad fall off of high bar had torn my right biceps tendon from the bone, I officially retired from acrobatics, aged 22.

I went about the process of extricating myself from my old life as a performer.  I had to contact film directors, stage directors, stunt coordinators, dance companies, gymnastics coaches, and training partners to let them know my decision.

For four years, while an undergraduate MIT student in New England, I had lived two lives.  The first was a life of classrooms, books and practically insurmountable volumes of coursework.  My mental limits were tested and strained, and intense focus and concentration was required to keep from losing any ground on the academic treadmill that I was running on.

The injuries showed no signs of improving, and in a letter of resignation that I sent to the director of the company I was dancing with, I wrote, “when i’m in a gym or… rehearsal these days, I’m fighting these terribly negative feelings regarding a whole mess of things… I just feel like my body is broken, and that I can’t communicate with it anymore.”

“I need to distance myself from my instinct to move artistically, because my feelings of failure that stem from it are just too poignant for me to deal with right now.”

My retirement lasted for exactly three minutes and six seconds.  At that point I realized that it was not up to me whether or not I was going to be a movement artist; this was all I could do in life.  The last 14 years of my life had been dedicated to overcoming my body’s natural tendency towards rest in order to present my ideas physically to the rest of the world.

I immediately recanted the letter I had sent to my director, and told her I would start rehearsing immediately.  I felt my workouts in the gymnastics gym improve 10-fold with this new realization that I was training not out of choice, but out of a personal need.  I felt a surge of confidence and self-motivation that I had only flirted with in the past.  I also felt myself daydreaming about something that I had forced myself to ignore over the last twelve months: living the life of a professional acrobat.

When I look back on my life, it doesn’t really seem so terribly odd that I’ve found myself called to the romantic circus arts.  After all, they embody all of the tenets of life that I hold most dear: strict self-discipline, emphasis on excellence, and an intense focus on personal creativity and innovation.

My background is one of physical theater, and I find the circus arts to be a distillation of all that I find magical in physical theater.  When an artist relies purely on physical movement to communicate to an audience, there is no room for pretension; the art that is created is by definition one of honesty.  As I told a good friend of mine recently, ‘water can’t pretend to be wet.’

Later in life, I became involved in gymnastics.  From the sport, I learned how to push what everyday people consider to be the natural limits of the human body.  The insight I gained with respect to the discipline and training that it takes to mold a person’s natural ability into the capacity for wingless flight, I found that I was able to identify a common string that connected everything I admired about human accomplishment.  I saw a connection between the movement arts, such as dance, theater, and martial arts, with athletic excellence as well as with other arts, such as painting, music, and philosophy.  For the first time in my life I understood that these pursuits represent our species’ desire to communicate with itself.  I saw artists, athletes, and scholars as individuals on an endless human pilgrimage into enlightenment.  I wanted desperately to join in this journey, and the way that seemed most clear to me was through the movement arts.

I put these thoughts in the back of my mind until December, when I heard about a school in Montreal that was dedicated to the education of circus artist.  In my research, I learned that although the school was terribly selective, it provides its students with training that is unparalleled in the Americas.  Practically on a whim, I sent away for the application form.

At age twenty-three, I was in late-middle-age for an acrobat.  I felt as though I had no shot at getting in, but I also knew that it was something in life that I had to do now, if ever.

Applying to the school was a two-step process.  First, I had to send in a basic form which included my personal data, as well as a resume and three short essays.  upon reviewing my application, the school might select me to be one of the one-hundred potential students called to the school in February to attend a two-day long audition.

I sent off my application form on January 30th and did my best to put the school out of my mind.  I knew it was crazy; I had been a college graduate for less that six months, and I was in the process of applying to college again?  ‘It doesn’t matter,’ I thought, ‘they’re not looking for people like me.’

But it did matter, and it was impossible to put it out of my mind.  On Friday, February 9th, I received a letter from the school requesting my presence at 8:30 in the morning on February 23 and 24.  The letter was in French, so I asked one of my housemates to translate it for me several times over to make sure that i had understood it correctly.

Now knowing that I was at least going to step inside of the school, I felt fear of failure for the first time.  It’s one thing to have been turned away right off the bat: ‘you’re too old; you don’t have enough experience; we have too many applicants this year, sorry!’  it is quite another to be offered an audition and then to face personal rejection.  But the life of a performer is one that demands personal strength in place of external congratulations, and if this was the path in life that I wanted to take, I would have to face this first step both without reservations and ultimately, completely alone.