Smooth Criminal

Dreamt about the show last night which gave me an idea that I think could be really cool for the show.  If we don’t use it, I will try to get it into other upcoming projects.  Basically, I want to get recordings of various “man on the street” interviews about Taiwan, Asia, China, to capture an honest picture of what citizens in the West honestly think of the East in audio form, edited in an interesting way with music.  I just don’t want it to make people look stupid.  I am looking for honest moments of doubt, confusion, uncertainty, fear, ignorance, whatever people are actually feeling.  At the same time, it’s important to stay away from people who want to be clever which might ring a little false.  Short snippets, little monologues, sampled politicians, samples of TV, more about what we hear than what we think.

What do people think of the Taiwan/ROC/china debate, notions of national identity, statehood, freedom.  What are the differences between the East and the West?  What are the similarities?

Tourists getting tattoos of kanji: these characters you choose are everywhere in Japan, and tattooing “blade” or some other common, concrete noun on your skin is a bit silly.  And having your name tattooed on your body (in any language) is like your mom writing your name on your underwear, but much, much worse.

Evidently, The Rocker has found a beautiful girl who is a Gold medalist from the Wushu (Kung Fu) competition at the Asian Games.  She may be a little too busy to do our show, but the plan is to film her, and use her on video.

My idea is to use this text over that performance of the wushu champion, dressed like a Taiwanese fashion kid, set to this version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ that The Rocker just sent me.

Fuck, with all the lighting and some good acrobatic shit that could be a hell of a finish.  We should see if we could get a great local Taipei progressive hip hop DJ and mix that with some textural guitar.

Sankai Juku

I just got back from seeing the Butoh company Sankai Juku, and was very impressed.  I have seen a fair amount of Butoh, and was expecting slow moments where I would lose interest or doze off (not necessarily disrespectful; I am reminded of a famous quotation in a New York Times review their show: “It was marvelous.  I fell asleep.”), but was happily surprised by how quickly the 90 minutes flew by and how I was engaged throughout.

It was the first time I had ever seen them live, and was struck by how similar it was in pacing and structure to a modern circus show.  The stage design was superior in many ways, and the narrative arc was somehow more visceral.  Modern circus can learn a lot from its strange second cousin once removed.  And vice versa; I think that Butoh is very comfortable in the niche market it has gouged out for itself, but I would love to see its influence spread in wider circles.

I know; I sound like I want to kill the goose to get its golden eggs.

But, come on, goose.

Inflate the Reality

So at the end of March The Rocker has included me in a pitch he made to a festival in Korea and three weeks ago I got last-minute confirmation that I would be going with him.  Like he says, forget about things and sometimes you get some nice surprises!  It will be a great networking opportunity, and also the chance to meet face-to-face to discuss a lot of the Taiwan festival details.

I’m supposed to write an article on “The Creation Process of Canadian Contemporary Circus” and to present “Three years training process in the National Circus School of Canada and how Canadian circus became a more theatrical, unique style.”  The Rocker will be presenting on “why Canadian circus and physical theatre grew to be such important and successful part of Canadian culture.” He will be introducing his past work in music fusion in China, the visual movement, and physical theatre in New Circus in Quebec using a lot of DVDs.  He says that when working in a different language with an interpreter, he prefers to let the images speak for themselves.
Following this advice, I’ll show how I developed my number, showing many versions of my number as it evolved through the school from its first version to the one we see in the DVD, why I went to circus school, and what exactly is the process of training, the new groups coming out of the school that are moving away from Cirque du Soleil style and creating a even newer form.
We’ll also talk together about how I ended up in Japan, the Rocker ended up in Taiwan, and where we are going with all this.  So far, the video I’m preparing is looking really great!

He told me that we need to present the school and Cirque du Soleil in a positive way, offering only constructive criticism as we are in no position to make enemies (he also told me remind him of what he just said, because sometimes he has a big mouth).  The Rocker quote: “Keep the lies, that’s the way we do things…not even white lies…just inflate the reality.”

Looks like it’s going to be fun! Too bad the focus has changed away from “the picking up of girls; theory and practice.”  I had already finished my first draft.

Since The Rocker is able to stop over in Japan on the way to the Korea festival I have set up a meeting with the Canadian embassy in Tokyo to formally introduce The Rocker, his work, and our plans are in Taiwan.  I will explain that I have been in contact with the National Theater of Tokyo and that they expressed interest in receiving a proposal regarding a potential residency and that we would like to have the embassy’s backing, and also to find out what resources we would have available to us as he represents a Canadian organization that is dedicated to bringing Canadian art abroad.

If everything goes well, I’ll be asking her for her support as we contact my people at the National Theater to set up a meeting for us on our free days. I’m also trying to find some local production companies to meet with but so far no luck.  He knows a small circus company that seems very sincere who are trying to set up a circus school in Tokyo and The Tokyo International Festival is also reviewing our materials to see if they can make time for us to meet with them.

He’ll be staying at a ryokan in Ikebukuro that he found online.  I just want to make sure that he knows that he’ll only have communal restrooms and a communal bath.  At least it will be a new experience (assuming they don’t have ryokans in Taiwan…  they very well might!)  Just to be safe, I’ll send him a primer on ‘ryokan etiquette’ so that he’s aware of the differences between hotels and rokans (there is no bed; the maid will come in to set up a futon during dinner time; which slippers to use where, etc.)

Oh his side, he’s been busy connecting with his contact from the Singapore Arts Festival this week and getting info on a Shanghai project run by one of his Macau friends.  Evidently some things he pulls together are very good, and some just drop out of existence.  He even met with some Japanese buyers – evidently there is a lot of support for Canadian/Japanese collaborations right now – and he’s thinking of travelling to Kyoto to meet one of them when he is in Japan later this month.  Japan is a very small country, really.  Nothing more than a half day away by train.  Kyoto is about two hours or so away by bullet train and costs about 200 dollars one way, so if the guy is interested in what we are going to be working on in Taiwan, then it would definitely be in our interests.

Circus artist doing a handstand

My First Circus Speech

I just gave a speech at the National Theatre in Taipei, Taiwan about the creation process for the Angels of the Storm with The Rocker back in Montreal:

At our first rehearsal, The Rocker told us that he wanted to create a different circus show; one with a political message. 

For us as circus artists, creating a show to address a problem in the world, even abstractly, was new. 

Our training at the National Circus School involves three years of training in acrobatics, acting, dancing, movement, and creation. 

Ideally, at the end of the school, we are closer to being able to express anything we want to say though circus. 

And after three years, here is The Rocker, asking us what exactly it is that we want to say. 

Not all of us knew. 

We had several weeks to create the show.

The structure of the show was determined early on. 

Every artist was responsible for two or more scenes, and spent most of the day working independently or in small groups on creating and perfecting those scenes.

The Rocker would often give an inspiration for each scene: a book, an emotion, an image.

It was not uncommon to work all day on a piece only to present it later to The Rocker or to the whole group only to find out that you have been going in the wrong direction.

But that was not a bad thing – it might have gives someone else a new idea for a scene which is used elsewhere in the show.

A couple of weeks before opening, your number might move to another place in the show; or the music might change, or suddenly, a part of the show no longer works and is cut.

This created a lot of stress, but it also forced us as artists to always be present and passionate.

It made us feel that we had really created this show. A month and a half before, the show existed only as a vague idea in The Rocker’s mind, and that original idea had changed form innumerable times.

But in the end, we presented a show that was, for us at least, a new type of circus show.

We had been challenged to look out at the real world, to react to it, and to somehow put those reactions in the context of a show that hopefully, an audience would enjoy.

It gave us one more opportunity to place the emphasis not on the technical skill, but on what feeling and meaning can be expressed by that technique.

Circus acrobat in a one armed handstand

Killing The Creative Impulse

Is there something about training in a physical art like handstands that kills the creative impulse?

Since returning to intensive training, I feel no creative drive. 

I remember that when i was in circus school, it was similar; I was really motivated to train handstands and acrobatics, but couldn’t focus on strictly creative pursuits; even reading was a chore…

It seems so strange that after one of the most creatively stimulating summers of my life, it has been so abruptly truncated by something as important to me as handstand training!

Why Bulgaria?!

For the last few months I have been working on getting funding for a project based on Bulgarian author Aleko Konstantinov the author of To Chicago and Back which is a travelogue based on his 1893 trip to the Chicago World’s fair.  He was assassinated by a pistol shot to the heart years later in 1897 and his pierced heart is exhibited today in his house in Svishtov.  

it really is fucking strange.  you ask me “Why Bulgaria?”  and all I can do talk half-stupidly about “signs.”  Just a feeling stemming from lots of little moments and coincidences that lead me to believe that I am somehow working on the right project at the right time of my life.   

For example, I need help from a woman who received this same travel grant to Bulgaria that I am applying for.  What did she research with her grant?  the life and work of Mikhail Bulgakov, author of “The Master and Margarita” which is a book recently given to me by my good friend The Political Scientist. 

In researching theaters in Bulgaria, I come across a site created by a fellow playwright, a Bulgarian playwright, and in reading his first play I find a reference to the role of performers in society and as a social lubricant, laxative, and anesthetic spoken by a young Harry Houdini who quotes a passage concerning the circus from the book “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” also given to me by my same dear friend, The Political Scientist! 

So, there is no rationalism in this.  It is not Bulgaria itself so much as a sticky little mess of a life that sits like a clump of damp lint with little charges of energy zipping around inside of it, bouncing off the static charges caused by its own internal frictions. 

There is no Bulgaria, nor is there any choice.

The Project

I know that I am supposed to be calling The Contortionist right now, but I have been exploding on the way home; I need to write.  And I think that she will find this more interesting than another phone conversation with me, anyways.  I am much more me when I write.  I hate talking on the phone.  I suck at it.

I need to talk about what it means to have a project.  At least a project when it is going well.  It is the culmination of having desires and passions and ambitions; and one everything stars going in the same direction, there is this sudden feeling, like when the roller coaster clicks on to the chain belt that lifts it up to the top of the first big hill.

Everything yanks you forward, and your head snaps back and all of a sudden, you have this great feeling of losing control.  The project takes over, and all of a sudden, your life becomes this project.  It becomes a source of inspiration; every second that you are alive, every breath that you take every inspiration and expiration is this fucking project.

As you are sitting on the train, you realize that you are wasting your time here.  Why not have books to read?  So you buy a million books and go through them just as fast.  Every moment that you are not doing something else; just going from here to there, you are reading.  And hey, why the hell not listen to new music at the same time?  And if there is space, let’s stretch a little bit as well.

I am watching a TV documentary, and I realize that I have grant research and visa applications to do, and why not get my laundry started and the rice cooking as well?

This is what it meant to have passion in my life, and this is the feeling that I crave.

I am in one of the most creative times of my life right now.  Every time I go out, I need to run back to my computer because my brain is busting with new ideas, words that sound so good to me at the time.

And I can’t talk to anyone when I feel like this.  This is like needing to go to the bathroom, but ten times worse because you actually need to save what comes out of you.

This is what is going to make you your living.

And I don’t feel so bad anymore that people do not understand me, because when I look around, I see that people have no purpose, they have no direction, they have no plan…

This is a rare thing, and it is the people that pursue it like a chimera that are going to get somewhere in the world.

No one has had great fortune or great work thrust upon them; nothing has come by chance.  The problem in the arts community is that we come to expect exactly that from the world.

There is a companion to the artistic nature, and that is discipline.

Perhaps the circus artist has an advantage because it is discipline that gets us to the place where we have an act in the first place – but physical discipline is nothing compared to mental discipline.

Everything comes at you like a sign.

You need to be able to read the signs and everything starts to make sense.

I used to be depressed because I thought that i needed to drink to find inspiration, but now I realize that it is not the drinking, but the company, the words that crash around you like the spray of mountain rapids of people talking and feeling important and wanting to tell you what it is that they think you want to hear.

I met an artist the other day who was excited about this new idea that she had about sitting with someone as though you are painting their picture, but the whole point, rather than getting them to stay still, is to get them to talk.  then, you transcribe as much as you can and write it down on that paper.  In the end, you have a real picture of that person, but drawn entirely out of their own words and ideas.

Some people have no ideas.

Once I realized that it was not the alcohol that was making me creative, I could go out and enjoy the potent ingredient without diluting it with its tasty companion.

I go.

And when I am there I drink life in hungrily because the world is information and life is processing that information, and the more we can take in, the more we can process, the more we are living.

I am sure that there are lives that have been lived that are worth ten times other lives.  Some by choice or by obsession, others have been forced into a mold by external circumstances.

The more I hear about Baltic and Balkan countries, dealing with various degrees of success with the independence that they have won from the soviet empire not 15 years ago… the more similar stories come up.

An understanding of the look that these people have in their eyes.

Passion is genetic.

I feel like I saw a trickle of an idea, a work, a way to make a living as my own man.  as an artist; maybe.

And by chipping away at the little rocks that were in my skull, using tools like the people I am meeting and the books that i am reading an my own thoughts, the own dramas that I am going through at this moment in my life, this trickle has become a deluge.

And I am trying to hold my footing and hoping that this is all going in a good place, and I am drinking it all in while trying to save as much of it in little jars like this one that I am writing right now.

But there is no way that I can fit all this into jars; and there is so much that is flowing away from me; never to return.

But that is where the choice comes in, and that is why art is about what you leave out as much as it is about what you decide to put in.

In fact, maybe more about what you leave out.

Someone asks me ‘why the hell do you want to do it in Bulgaria?’

Well Bulgaria chose me; there was no other choice; I intentionally let the choice make itself.

A man who controls everything in his life is a man who lives the same day over and over again.

If you can open yourself up to the circumstances and events that are constantly going on around you, you will find yourself in places that you could never find on purpose.

More jars, more jars…

I can only write about 20 percent of the ideas that go through my head.

As i am typing, I am thinking of the next thing that I want to write, and telling myself; ‘oh, save that for later, that is good’  but what actually gets written is what my fingers want to type all on their own.

Writing is a training and compassionate writing, instant writing, honest writing, is something that needs to be developed.

I liken it maybe to guitar;

At first I wanted to play sounds; the technique was in my way.

Then I wanted to be able to play anything that was in my head;

Now, I am only concerned with making the things that I hear in my head any good to listen to in the first place.

It is impossible to get all this down; there is too much information in a life;  it is infuriating.  it is like trying to download the internet or record every show on cable at once.

Random moments of any given life are not as good as the random moments of a passionate life; and then imagine that you take the tool of selection to that life.

That is when we are talking.

I feel deflated, now.  empty.

I didn’t cover everything I wanted, but now I feel the sails filling again.

On the surface, this is a project that is researching Aleko Konstantinov and Bulgarian history, but what it will Actually be on stage will be very different.

It will be like taking a pill about the last hundred years, a country that fought to be free, lost its freedom, and then won it back at great cost to itself and its people, about letting go; about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, maybe feeling that way, and maybe not.  It is about travel as a means to seek your place at any time, right or not, and about travel being a search or a journey, physical or internal.  It is about letting go; of control, of desires, or just letting go in the face of extreme pressures, like the fact that there is too much information about any one topic in life let alone life itself, to try and hold your footing.

A torrent.

It is about self-doubt, of course, and travelling as an escape.

It is about nice music and lights and movement.

It is a show, and it is about important things, but unfortunately, it will be stained by me.  I am a filter, and I am utterly mad.

I miss her.

Now I will call her if she is still up.