Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cirque Du Soleil

Let it be known that Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun) is one of the most remarkable entertainment companies in the world. It's the high-art version of a Chinese Circus (known as the best in the world, which I saw in Shanghai) -- instead of just stunts and cool costumes, it's all tied together conceptually, with themes and choreography and characters and some (highly symbolic) storytelling.

Now I am a sucker for circuses -- just to be clear. I saw a Chinese-style circus in North Korea, and as soon as the lady with the plate balanced on a stick balanced on another stick held in her jaw, started swinging through the air on a trapeze without losing grip of the stick in her jaw, or upsetting the long stick balanced on that stick, or the tea set balanced on top of that stick, well, I was sold. Heck, I wasn't just sold, I was six years old again.

Cirque Du Soleil takes that kind of "golly gee whiz" amazing-ness and adds cool costuming and choreography -- there was a part where the protagonist (the girl in orange below), and singer, sits, and groups of clowns in white run around her banging on progressively larger drums, perfectly evoking a thunderstorm, like rainy day at home, alone with one's imagination, transitioning into the next jaw-dropping set of acrobatics. That kind of stuff didn't show up in a regular circus, until Cirque du Soleil came along. They'd just throw some clowns on stage to distract people while they set up the trapeze. I liked this better. The music was all original, and. . . just wow. (*Plus, Cirque is a Canadian company, from Montreal, so that gave me bragging rights for a good, oh, three minutes!*)

The whole thing began with a girl putting on her imagination, in the form of a clown's purple hat. You can see her here, about to put the hat on.

Then, all the normal rules for the world, and her (totally) mundane house/nuclear family arrangement, fly toward the ceiling, and it's imagination time! (With the music, the way her whole house started to float when the hat touched her head, was an immediate entry into the world of awe. Just like that, I was, once again, six years old.

I loved it so much I bought the DVD, just so I could post a few pictures and show you an inkling of what I saw.

Disclaimer: I don't own Cirque du Soleil or the rights to these images, I'm posting them for pure fun and information, not for profit; if you like what you see, go see the show. Seriously. Go see the show. Hopefully that endorsement will cancel out my mild copyright infringement.

There were a bunch of elements in the show that involved so much speed and motion that to show pictures wouldn't do them justice, so I'll just say that you're only seeing a very small bit of what I saw.

This was probably my favorite element of the show. A woman, a contortionist, hung from the ceiling, wrapped in these two long pieces of red silk. At first, when she appeared, she was invisible, covered by the red cloths, in an image that struck me as primal -- almost foetal -- and then she came out dressed in a leotard exactly the colour of the cloth and the light, so that she seemed nude (in keeping with the sense of birth, and primal life), stretched between the sky and the earth in these fantastic, bent-around, straining shapes, moving between gorgeous frozen-ness and surprising tumbles up and down the red lifeline. It made me think of the old greek myth about the three sisters who cut each person's thread when their life is through, her twists and bends, moving up and down that blood-red line, slowly working her way down to the end.

When she finished her stretches, I felt like her journey had completed; she wrapped the silk into a noose and hung by her neck, and the silk cloth lowered her closer to the ground, until one of the lead clowns (the one in purple, helping the girl put on her hat above) took her and carried her away. She never touched the floor, and if she had, I don't know what I would have done, after seeing her stretched between the top and bottom of the silk cloth for such a perfect seven minutes.

Umm, self-explanatory. Just look at these guys!

These guys were tossing each other through the air like cheerleaders, except more intricate, more dangerous, and more wow. (Can wow be an adjective? Just for today?)

Then, when I watched the show, they were in a line, passing the light ones from one pair to the next one, with the light ones doing a flip in the air before coming down, head-first into the next pair's hands. One of them nearly fell -- he came down at the wrong angle, or misjudged where to place his hands, or something, and we watched the three performers scramble to stop the small one from landing, head-first, on the ground. The strangest thing is, seeing that wrinkle, that one imperfection, made the rest of the performance more exciting -- it reminded everyone in the room that these were humans, normal humans made of meat and bone, and not just costumed creatures made of air, imagination and wonder. If that guy fell, he might have broken his neck, and some of those performers did their acts three storeys above the ground, some without harnesses.

Exactly because of that imperfection, the Shanghai Circus, of the ones I saw, was the least perfect, but also the most exciting -- there were several spots where someone almost lost balance (while blindfolded, walking around the outside of a hoop-shaped cage set inside a large, rotating ring) and fell two storeys. People in the crowd shrieked, and for the rest of that act, and also while they had eight motorcycles whirling around inside a steel-mesh globe, everybody felt this terrifying, thrilling, "if anything goes wrong" tension.

These ones spun around in hoops. It was cool. I like this shot, because it hints at all the action and motion their act contained. Most of the circus was so dynamic and fast, or slapstick funny (which doesn't translate into written descriptions) that pictures or words can't do any justice to it at all. Sorry -- I'm totally incapable of describing a lot of this circus to you, but I still want to share it, kind of like when a four-year-old hears a joke.

I said:

"Why did the chicken cross the playground?"

"To get to the other slide."

Four year old says:

"So, there was a playground, and the chicken came in, and he saw, like playground things, and then, um, he's a chicken, and he saw a slide, so he went down the slide. ACROSS THE PLAYGROUND!!! HAAHAHAHAHA!!"

This next series of pictures was the achingly slow counterpoint to the rest of the show. Beautifully slow. These two are balanced on each other, using nothing but the traction of their own skin on skin. There's a word -- it originated in Japan -- called "skinship" -- it's a word for the kind of relationship that forms through touch, as well as the act of touch, as used to build intimacy and closeness. In this act, when I saw it, I was blown away by how aware the two performers were of each other's bodies -- the intimate, total trust that comes of performing this way together. I think it would be impossible to perform this act together without dearly loving your performing partner, at least on some level. It was incredibly powerful to see such intimacy expressed in feats of balance, strength and flexibility. I'm still kinda speechless (but not TOO speechless).

This is a sequence -- you've seen acrobats go from the ground to balanced, hands on hands, but these two did it in slow motion. It was amazing to see.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

I discovered a great spaghetti restaurant this week. These days, a restaurant needs to have five our six great dishes I've tried, just to crack my top five favourite restaurants in the neighbourhood. Boy I love my life!

I'm also still writing regularly, making some friendships, and finding my way around. I'm studying Korean more than I was before (though still not as much as I should).

A girl just sat next to me in the PC room, and she smells EXACTLY like one of my ex-girlfriends. It's almost frightening how evocative smell can be -- brings back memories as quick as a brick.

The other day an old man, drunk and stinking of soju, and wearing the traditional, ancient Korean peasant field-worker's outfit, came up to me and my friend, shook my hand, tried all his English out, and then gave me an alcohol stinking hug. It was fantastic, in its own odd way. I've witnessed four car accidents since I moved to this neighbourhood, and about a dozen shouting matches.

I don't know why but, in keeping with my people-watching habit, for some reason, watching people argue always gives me a kick. I think it's a bemused curiousity with the way, here in the big city, there really is just no privacy anywhere, so anything that has to happen between two people, pretty much has to happen in public. Couples don't go to each other's houses, either because of cultural expectations about the appearance of virtue, or just because most young people live with their parents, and nobody wants dad coming out of the bedroom to interrupt the fight by saying "Could you two quit arguing out here? I'm balancing the checkbook!" And this means that, in dark corners of parks, on subway station steps, in coffee shop booths, you can spot people arguing, confronting each other, fighting outright, as well as getting together, falling in love, praying together, and making amends. Some of these, I've done myself.

I also, perversely, enjoy watching arguments between family members, in Korea and in Canada -- watching how people argue with the ones who know them best is just interesting to me, the way people go immediately into the usual modes (be that passive-aggressive, or sullen-silent, or loud and angry, or whatever), and especially, the way family members know exactly which buttons to push to get exactly the kind of visceral, emotional response that can only be stirred by a scratch on a raw nerve or a sensitive spot. (Saw a couple get into a fight on the sidewalk today; last week, saw two ancient hobos ready to take swings at each other. I have no idea why this is to fascinating to me, but I can't look away from the raw human-ness of it.)

Take care, all! Go see Cirque du Soleil if you get the chance. It'll be pricey, but worth it, so pony up, and be ready for a really wow afternoon!




tamie marie said...

thanks for this. i really enjoyed reading and looking. the last series made me want to learn how to dance like that with a person--not in a circus but, you know, in life.

Caryn Ouwehand said...

Okay, good blog. Deep, man. I just wanted to say that I (Dan) ran into one of the other people who witnessed one of the four accidents you saw. He and his wife happen to be friends of ours in Red Deer, Alberta. And he had seen you once before at our stag/stagette campout. So I guess I could tie it in by talking about synchronicity and how cirque du soleil displays that, but really I just thought it was wierd, and wanted to tell you about it. i'm jealous of him. I wish I could watch car crashes in Seoul with you, bro.

Roboseyo said...

Yeah. I wish you could watch car crashes here with me, too. The one he co-witnessed (it was one of those "I love Seoul" nights) was the most spectacular of the four. A car tried to catch the yellow just as a bus (bus drivers here are SO aggressive) tried to get a jump on the green, and the bus too the entire front bumper of a taxi right off.

The second most spectacular one I saw was a lady opening her car door right onto a passing scooter-ist. He looked kinda hurt though.