For the first time in about six months, I was able to make it through half a day or so with all thoughts of politics gone from my mind. It was, quite literally, the aforementioned bread and circuses that did the trick.
Last year, Matthias had the brilliant idea to get us tickets to see Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna
at the Albert Hall in London. He'd never seen them before. I have been a devoted, obsessive fan of Cirque for thirty years. My mother first took me to one of their shows when I was about two years old; my parents had taken me back to New York for a holiday in the northern summer of 1987 and Mum took me to see Le Cirque Réinventé
. I don't remember much from that performance, other than the fact that they had an act where seven people all rode on the same bicycle, but I was absolutely hooked. The trouble was that Cirque didn't do any tours of Australia until the late '90s. It was ten years later, in 1997, before I would get to see them again, when Saltimbanco
toured Australia. By this stage, my sister was born, so she came to the show too.
For the next ten years, we saw every Cirque show that toured Australia: Alegria
. I taped shows off the TV years before they ever made their way to Australia, and wore out the tapes watching them over and over again; Quidam
in particular was deeply important to me. My gymnastics floor routine at one point used the music from the diabolo act from Quidam
. My favourite act in that show was the banquine
, which I had learnt off by heart years before I ever saw it in real life. When I did finally see that act in real life, I cried because it mattered so much to me. I even ended up working for Cirque at one point — nothing as glamorous as actually performing, but I spent a month or so selling food and drink at the concession stands at their show Varekai
during the Canberra leg of their Australian tour, in 2007 when I had finished undergrad, moved back to Canberra, and worked four jobs for about six months. This did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm, although to this day I cannot hear certain songs from the Varekai
soundtrack without getting the strong urge to frantically clean the nearest popcorn machine.
Thought I didn't know it at the time, Varekai
would be the last show of Cirque's that I watched for ten years — I'd already seen it once in Sydney in 2006, and I got to watch it once for free in 2007 when I was working for the show. In 2008 I moved to the UK, and couldn't afford tickets (also, a lot of the shows that toured Europe during those years were ones I'd already seen). And thus it ended up being ten years before I saw them again.
was an almost religious experience, like coming home. I'd never been to the Albert Hall before, but it was like a gigantic, glittery jewellery box inside, and although we hadn't planned it that way, Matthias and I ended up sitting in our own private box on the second tier.
It was pretty great!
Matthias was in utter awe, and it meant a lot to me to be with him while he was watching a Cirque show for the first time. The aesthetic was, as he described it, Nightwish-meets-Mad-Max (with an all-female live band), and some incredible acts. My personal favourites were the hand-balancing, which was done with the added difficulty of a large, human-sized bowl of water into which the balancer kept diving (which meant her hands were slippery with water, and meant she had to time the dives exactly, given that the bowl was not very deep), and an incredible act in which a group of acrobats launched each other into the air from opposite ends of a giant springboard, from which they somersaulted, leapt, and sprang. I had been looking forward to the uneven bars act, which was good, but used quite basic gymnastics moves. (Don't get me wrong, they executed them brilliantly, and they had the added difficulty of sharing the bars with multiple other acrobats, whereas in gymnastics of course the gymnast is on her own on one set of bars.)
I also knew they had a banquine act, and given how much the banquine finale from Quidam
meant to me, I had high hopes. The trouble is, being the intense fan that I was, I knew the Quidam
act off by heart, beat for beat, move for move, right down to every moment of choreography and even the turns of the performers' heads. So I was gobsmacked to notice, immediately, that the Amaluna
banquine was essentially identical to the Quidam
one: same moves, same choreography, same movements around the stage. The only differences were that where Quidam
's banquine act has a kind of violent, despairing desperation in tone (the choreography is quite aggressive and the performers give off a kind of world-weary, hopeless air), the Amaluna
act is more joyful — which actually doesn't work as well with the choreography. The Amaluna
performers also didn't attempt the more difficult moves performed by their counterparts in Quidam
The banquine was not the only act borrowed wholesale from another Cirque show: the jugggling act was lifted entirely from Dralion
! I guess they're not anticipating audience members who wore out video tapes watching their earlier shows over and over again. I still loved watching the show, and our seats up high in the middle tier of the theatre were perfect for me, because they gave me a bird's eye view of all the mechanisms going on slightly behind the scenes: tech guys making their way across the scaffolding, performers waiting to be lowered down on wires, the acrobats calling proceedings during group acts, the ways in which dancers distracted from equipment being set up or moved away. This was exactly what my sister and I used to spot and discuss in muttered tones when we watched Cirque shows together as children, and it gave me a great deal of joy. Matthias' amazed enthusiasm for the show and awe at the performers' strength, agility, and the jaw-droppingly incredible things they could do with their bodies also made me ridiculously happy, and I'm so glad to have been able to share something so deeply formative and precious to me with him.
All in all, it was a wonderful day out in London. We also ate lunch at this restaurant
, and it was excellent. It's in a great location if you're going to a show at the Albert Hall or seeing an exhibition at one of the museums in Kensington, so I highly recommend it. The food is a little expensive, but there's a set theatre menu which is a bit more reasonably priced, and it has an amazing range of cocktails. It was nice to put the things that are making me anxious and terrified aside, if only for a little while, and exist in a space where everything is Cirque du Soleil and nothing hurts.