Circus, Shaved and Naked

Too much writing for work, and not enough writing for fun, but that’s life.  I am writing a proposal for a project.  I don’t want to go into details because nothing is certain, but this is the motivation behind it.

Long Lost Cousins

It is a fluid and flexible performance style which lends itself to surrealistic imagery and interpretation.  It is inspired by and borrows from an eclectic amalgam of sources while carving out a niche for itself in a strange limbo between dance and theater.  It is one of the youngest styles in the world of performing arts; emerging on its own in the latter half of the twentieth century to define itself in its own terms on a grass-roots basis.  In contrast to more formal performance styles with emphasis on formalized technique and universally accepted style, these rebellious artists focused on the simplicity and individuality of the human body itself.  In doing so, it was the performer as an individual, rather than the choreography, that came to define a performance.

As with most young art movements, each new generation brings with it a new voice, and in recent years, there has been a trend toward an intimate “humanization” of the style while preserving its extraordinary and almost cathartic physicality.  Although accepted and celebrated by audiences around the world, especially in France (one of the creative centers of the movement), it remains virtually unknown to Japanese audiences.

The name of this groundbreaking and unclassifiable art?  Well, take your pick, as the preceding paragraphs describe both Butoh and the modern acrobatic dance movement known as Cirque Nouveau, two apparently dissimilar performance styles that, closer inspection, could be long-lost cousins.  We are proposing a first-time creative collaboration between Butoh performers and Cirque Nouveau acrobats.

Critics of Cirque Nouveau are quick to point out that, while visually stunning and spectacular, the art form has a tendency to stay at a superficial level – “full of sound and fury; signifying nothing,” so to speak.  Butoh works, on the other hand, are critically praised the world over for its brooding depth and “simple complexities.”  We are hoping that by introducing Western acrobats to Butoh through workshops and collaborative creation, we will be adding a new dimension to their performances as artists and as individuals.

On the other end, while it is often noted that there is no “ideal body” for a Butoh performer; that having great flexibility and/or strength will not necessarily help you in learning the art.  While this is certainly true, working with Butoh students who possess a contortionist’s flexibility or a handbalancer’s strength might allow a Butoh director to tread into previously unexplored territory.  We believe that it is exactly this potential for discovery that excites all artists and creators.

We are very excited about the possibility of working with an established Butoh company under the auspices of a joint residency.  This proposal is only the first step towards what we hope will be a mutually beneficial and groundbreaking collaboration between practitioners of two of the world’s youngest art forms: Japanese Butoh, and Canadian cirque nouveau.

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.

Whirlwind Tour Part 5 – Boston Again

Now I am on the road.  It is strange driving across the continent.  Knowing that you have at least 20 hours of driving to do, and yet still, you have to be there before a certain time.  I need to figure out when I need to be at what place in order to make it to Boston on time.  I have no places to stay, just a lot of people I know.  At worst, I know I can make friends with someone at one of the places I am going and stay at their place.

It is pretty uneventful on the road.  I want to get into New York before I fall asleep for five hours, but I only make it to within 70 miles of the Ohio-Pensylvania border before I can not continue safely.  I curl up in my car in the parking lot of a gas station and sleep from 11:30 to 4:30.  Waking up, it’s time to go!  I make it to Pennsylvania and need to sleep for another hour.  now I am really worried I won’t make it to Boston on time, so it is 80 miles an hour for the rest of the trip.

Back to MIT, at the NASA lab, now.  I wanted to have a drink with my former boss and my former co-worker (once a grad student, now a doctor himself) but my co-worker is at Boston University for the day, and instead I see their secretary.  We talk all about life and art, etc, etc, science and travel.  Again, they seem to be really positive about the way I live my life.  Does no one understand that I have no money and no security and worry every day if I am going to live the next couple of months?

They say that whether I go into science or political science, I should be able to turn the last five years away from school into an asset.

My former boss is like 70 now, and he has retired, officially, like my dad will in a day or two, but he keeps coming into the lab to research the mysteries of the universe.  I guess when you look at it that way, you really don’t have a very difficult choice to make, do you?  his daughter is studying somethinhg called “public art” at Boston University.  I tell him she should contact me to see if there is something fun we can do together professionally.

They pay for my beer and it is time for them to go home.  They have shown me around the campus, the things that have changed.  It is nice to see.  The world has changed, and students have changed, and it is the teachers who need to keep up with them, not the other way around, as I had always thought.  Interesting to see it all from that perspective.

This walk down MIT’s infinite corridor last month was bittersweet in a way.  I was touched by how it has really remained relatively unchanged from the vision in my memory.  Even the students seem timeless, in a way.  as much 1976 as 1996 as 2006.  It is like that small core of a person that remains unaltered from infancy to adulthood – that charming part of a person.

I have to run to the dance studio for my former dance company’s gala event for investors and the like.  I have been sneaking into this studio for quite some time to take showers right after arriving in town when I have no place to stay.  When I show up, the dancers are all warming up, and I say my hellos to all the people I am supposed to before grabbing some wine to power up my shmoozing muscles.  Then I just sort of target the richest and most gullible looking people around the room to go and talk about how great a dance company this is and how supporting them really reflects on how great a person they must be as well…  ah to travel around the world, vicariously through a dance company.  You must be a real saint!

I sit through my dance company’s presentation.  They are working interactively with video.  Later, when its just us around, I tell them later that I thought 40 percent of it is really good and that the rest has really good potential.

After the persentation I talk to the video artist about the people I met in Montreal who are doing the same kind of things… he is a real MIT guy, so I soon get back to flirting with rich gay guys and old rich women; the best way I can help this dance company get money.  As the audience slowly files out, I keep on enjoying my wine and the cheese, and reminice with the people whom I actually danced with back in the day…

They ask if I can do a handstand now, drunk as I am.  I tell them the same old story; I have never been so drunk as to be unable to do a handstand or a backflip.  I prove it, and we turn the whole dance studio into the site of a drunken, impromptu acrobatics rehearsal.

Things are great, we talk and laugh and share the newest gossip.  I encourage them, try to get them to like me, I tell them that I’d like to be back in September to work with them, and try to make them excited about it…  if a person does make people like him, how does he know if they would have liked him without his help?  Does it matter?

Getting money at these events is telling people what they want to hear in a way they never expected to hear it.

I show up late at my Bulgarian friend’s house with a stolen wine bottle and a bagful of lifted cheese.  Americans don’t care about cheese, so they didn’t mind me taking it away.  It is some nice stuff… French brie….  soft cheddars…  smells nice.

We drink together, her a couple glasses, me just one or so because I am already almost on the floor.  Her roommate is asleep on the couch I am supposed to sleep on, so she invites me into her room.  She is Orthodox Christian, and is obviously uncomfortable doing this, but her instinct to be a good hostess takes over.  I lie on the floor, and she lies on the floor far away from me.  I am tired, jet lagged, as always, and she is telling me about her life and her boyfriend.  How she is unhappy with both…

I feel concious and I am replying the way I want to, but at a certain moment, I lost conciousness…  I am dreaming about what she is saying, but I sleep there, on the floor, under my jacket, for the whole night.  the roommate who had taken the place on the couch stole into her room and dropped a blanket on me.  It was nice of her.

In the morning, my friend wakes up to go to church, and I read for a while…  when she gets up, we conclude the discussion from the night before.  She doesn’t seem to mind that I fell asleep when she was talking to me.  If anything it put to rest her persistant fears (hopes?) that I was an evil player trying to take advantage of her kindness…

It was a real pleasure seeing my former acrobatics partner again.  Hearing her talk about her fatigue regarding romantic challenges against the backdrop of a lifestyle of constant travel was painful.  On the romantic end of things, I am sure that she’ll be able to work things out, and quickly, too, because I do not believe she are the kind of woman who is able to live in an unhappy situation for long.

The infinite travel side of things is a much more delicate one.

Personally, I think that once she finishes your work at MIT, she’ll have a drastically different view of everything.  For example, I can imagine that the quasi-stable situation of being a graduate student is what makes het travels so unpalateable to her now.  It is hard to see the liberating side of a wandering lifestyle until you are finally able to pull up all anchors and truly float where you mind and fortunes can take you.

Of course, I feel how deeply she is affected by living her life so geographically distant from her parents, and this is something that might never change, at least not for the immediate future.

So she continues her handstands and her research.  If a researcher’s life is destined to mirror her research, it was either a cosmic joke or a great blessing that she chose complexity itself as her personal field of expertise.

We go for coffee, and I invite her to the lunch that I called for all of my former college friends, citing the fact that I doubt anyone will actually show up…

She declines, saying she needs to work, and I show up at the restaurant; my favorite restaurant in Boston.  Chinese food.  It is very crowded, to my dismay, but I soon discover that it is crowded with old friends whom I have not seen in a million years!  We take several tables and I try to talk with everyone, but it is impossible to do!  After two hours or so, people need to go, and to my dismay there are still people I have barely even said hello to yet!  Catching up on everyones lives, who is married, who has kids…  I am Uncle Acrobat to them.  strange, and wonderful all at the same time.  I ate too little, spoke too much, and now my stomach hurts…

We leave such a wake of friends behind us in life, and it is so rare that we can manage a full loop and see them all again in an organic way; and unofficial way.  There are a million other people I would like to see, a million other things I would like to do, but I get invited to my friend’s house to play an old strategy game with a bunch of other friends.  We used to play all the time in the years after college, and it feels like old times.

What can I say?  The dynamic was special, and transported me to my early twenties.  I had a beer and sometimes just sat and smiled.  It felt nice.

I had to run to get sushi with my Bulgarian friend and her brother.  They are very smart, and the conversation was interesting.  About Bulgaria and Japan and America.  He had never had sushi before, but seemed to enjoy it ok.  I am getting tired, and have had a lot of sake; I say my farewells and head back to my friend’s house to see him and some other good friends for my last night on mainland USA.

We talk until 1am, I need to leave for Hawaii at 5 the next morning.  We talked about the gossip, about memories, funny pictures and events that I have missed.  About my friend’s death and his service, about what we are doing and want to do.  Everything just feels nice.  we aknowledge the fact that there is not nearly enough time to say and do all we want to, but that it has been great to see each other.  And it really has.  Sharing a drink with the two of them for our lost friend was a very important experience for me.  Being exactly one continent and one ocean away from the people who knew him best made it very difficult for me to share any immediacy in the mourning process and kept me from getting even the small amount of closure I needed after losing a friend I never really knew as well as I should have. One shot of whisky with my two best friends from college washed all that regret away.  They get me a lot of blankets and I sleep on a couch, happy, again.  I feel loved and missed; two things I never expected to feel.

At 8am the next morning, I am alone again, flying towards the tropical islands that are my familial home…

One week on the continent that felt like one strange day to me; a convention of ghosts from my pasts telling me all about who I was and have become.  It was strangely liberating; like giving voices to memories who have become mute and static in my mind…  to just open myself up completely to what all these people around me had to say and had never, for one reason or another, managed to tell me before.  Perhaps I had not been listening.

Next on the agenda:  Hawaii adventures!

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.

Head Above Water

Just trying to keep my head above water because I didn’t get to bed until around 2:30 last night and had to get up at 7:30.  I am not sleeping well at all – wasn’t up late or anything i just couldn’t sleep.  I’m sleeping like an old person.  After a really good day of flexibility yesterday flexibility class was ok, not great, but everything keeps rolling. 

In dance we presented the 2×8 piece that The Hotshot and I did.  It wasn’t too bad but the music was faster than I remembered so we had to combine some of the things and cut some of the things which all worked out for the best in the end. 

I was thinking about skipping equilibre with Larissa based on what Isabelle had said about not doing extra work if you are tired, but in the end, i’m glad that i did because i got to do a three person high handstand column with The Clown and The Dreamer.  Byamba wasn’t there again today but Larissa also showed us some of the things that we’ll need to do and said that she wants Daniella to view our class at this evaluation. 

Acro and trampo were typical, and had equilibre with Byamba’s student whose girlfriend was a student at the school who was the victim of a car accident.  He gave me some things to think about when holding handstands against the wall like keeping your hips against the wall and not having your arm moving in space but rather moving your body relative to the arm while the arm stays completely parallel in space – that was helpful.  He also suggested that I not remove my finger when doing one arm drills on the canes. 

Then I did juggling with The Clown.  Both of our legs are really hurting because of movement, we think, so we didn’t do much with the hats but worked on our intro with the clubs.  Alex was back today and it was cool to see him around. 

The Contortionist wasn’t in dance class today because her boyfriend came back from Belgium yesterday and she was sure to tell me that they were up late “not sleeping.”  The Clown and I also talked about the personalities of The Tumbler’s unique Quebecois family.  

I really need to sleep today or I’ll just die tomorrow.  Sleep is really important but really hard for me to keep constant.

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!

 

Group act in the animation before the National Circus School annual show

Grumpiness And Burnout At Circus School

Slept in again, missing my equilibre major class but with no Byamba, I am not too worried.

Started with ITA where I stayed at the cradle the whole time.  I ported for over half the class.  Alexander is giving me good advice.  He said that he would buy me a huge bag of peanuts at Costco when he goes next.  I almost finished the ones he said I could take from him yesterday right before I almost got a migraine before trampo.

I worked with The Clown in juggling on our number that we have to prepare for the end of the year.  It will be a hat number.  It is funny that it is the two of us and then the rest of the class, most of whom worked with us in the evaluation concept.

We presented to them and I think thought it looked pretty good.  Main a main was ok too, but I was sick of the girls, who would sit in a spot that they repeatedly were almost run into as others of them fell from the barre russe.  Dumb!  People really seem to be getting on my nerves lately.

In movement I got to do my first contact impro class with The Contortionist.  Have to admit it was a little more fun that my second time with one of the first year guys.  Anyways, the technique is making more sense, now.

Then I did a little Byamba equilibre.  I also talked with The Trapezist about Russian teachers and things like that.  We obviously have differing opinions on the matter.  Now I’m tired and not looking forward to dance.

Night.