dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
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, Dralion, Quidam and Varekai. 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.

Seeing Amaluna 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.

 photo 16473446_10102146397938490_6824374070497316099_n_zps16wnb4ys.jpg

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.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
When I was a child and teenager, I consumed stories with an urgent, hungry intensity. I reread favourite books again and again until I could quote them verbatim,* I wandered around the garden pretending to be Snow White or Ariel from The Little Mermaid or Jessica Rabbit.** I had a pretty constant narrative running through my head the whole time I was awake, for the most part consisting of me being the character of a favourite story doing whatever activity I, Ronni, happened to be doing at the time. (No wonder I was a such a vague child: every activity required an extra layer of concentration in order for me to figure out why, say, the dinosaurs from The Land Before Time would be learning multiplication at a Canberra primary school.) The more I learnt about literary scholarship, the more insufferable I became, because I would talk at people about how 'URSULA LE GUIN WROTE A STORY WHERE EVERYTHING HAS A TRUE, SECRET NAME AND THEN ANOTHER USE-NAME AND ISN'T THAT AMAZING IN WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT IDENTITY?!?!' For the most part, I don't inhabit stories to the same extent, and they don't inhabit me to the same degree, although there are rare exceptions to this.

The rare exceptions tend to be things that sort of satisfy my soul in some deep and slightly subconscious way.*** And the funny thing is that although I can write lengthy essays explaining why something both appeals to me on this hungry, emotional level and is a good work of literature (indeed, I have been known to dedicate a whole blog to this), I can also remember a specific moment when reading/watching these texts and they suddenly became THE BEST THING EVER. I can remember exactly what it was for all of them.

The following is somewhat spoilerish for Romanitas, Sunshine by Robin McKinley, Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubinstein, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Demon's Lexicon, The King's Peace by Jo Walton, Parkland by Victor Kelleher, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Robin Hood: Men in Tights,
Ten Things I Hate About You, Cirque du Soleil, Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

Probably a closer look at my subconscious than is comfortable )

Do you have moments like that?
*Which led to a very awkward moment in Year 5 when our teacher was reading Hating Alison Ashley out loud to the class, but would skip bits from time to time - whereupon I would correct her.
**(whose appeal was less that she wasn't 'bad, just drawn that way' and more due to the fact that she wore an awesome dress)
***I've seen people describe fanfic like this as 'idfic', but for me this tends to be a phenomenon of professionally published fiction.
dolorosa_12: (epic internet)
Someone on Tumblr posted this video about the Cirque du Soleil audition process. It sparked way too many memories.

For those who didn't know, I am, shall we say, rather obsessed with Cirque. We share a birth year, if not a birthday (Cirque came into this world about six months before I did), and I saw my first show, a performance of their original North American production, Le Cirque Réinventé during a holiday in New York when I was three. All I remember about that show is that I was terrified of clowns, and my mother reassured me that Cirque 'wasn't the kind of circus to have clowns', only to be greeted by a group of clowns who were doing the now-standard Cirque thing of wandering around as the audience was seated. I also remember that they got some ridiculous number of people on a bicycle. But I was hooked.

They didn't tour Australia during my early childhood, so the next time I saw a Cirque production was when their show Saltimbanco toured in 1997, when I was twelve. We were living in Canberra at the time, and they didn't include Canberra in the tour, so my father, sister and I made the trip to Sydney. I was awestruck. I loved the Russian swing act, the Chinese pole act, and above all, the adagio. I was a gymnast at the time, and my sister and I took a circus skills class as part of a music summer camp, and we came away from that show starry-eyed and absolutely convinced that we would audition for Cirque as an adagio flyer and base. Our plans, of course, came to nothing, although we spent a lot of time that summer choreographing an adagio act that we would supposedly use in an audition. Considering the most difficult adagio pose we could do was 'flag' (where the flyer stands with one foot on the base's legs and the other wrapped around the base's neck, and then leans outwards, holding one of the base's hands, if you can imagine that), we wouldn't have had a snowflake's chance in hell of getting in, but it was fun to practice.

Cirque came back two years later with Alegria, and we again made the trip from Canberra to Sydney, to fall in love all over again. This seems to have been the year when they really cracked Australia, because I remember seeing screenings of their shows on TV a lot after that. My favourites swiftly became Quidam (whose story spoke to my teenage angst and whose banquine act remains my favourite thing seen on a stage, ever) and Dralion, which has the most amazing music, costuming and choreography. I managed to see both of those shows live in Sydney. My sister and I were absolutely obnoxious throughout both performances, whispering literary analyses of the storylines and commentating on the acts with our (supposedly awesome) circus insider knowledge ('you can tell that that particular flyer is calling the act, watch his mouth, he's the one controlling the whole thing'; 'they've made it look like that dude is just dancing around, but watch him - he's spotting everyone - see how his eyes never leave the acrobats above him?'). I was absolutely ridiculous about this, utterly convinced that no one understood Cirque like we did. I thought everyone besides us was bandwagon-jumpers. (We were the One - or Two - True Fans, you know?) I would mutter scathingly to my sister whenever the audience applauded something that I considered not applause-worthy ('*I*, a fairly average gymnast, can do that, why the hell are those ignorant idiots applauding?'), or, even more unforgivably, when they didn't applaud something that was clearly awesome. I spent most of the performance of Dralion in tears because I had wanted to see it live for so long. I sobbed my eyes out when I saw the Quidam banquine act, like a Beatles fan at a show in the '60s. My sister and I had this elaborate plan whereby we'd go to the US and stay three nights in Vegas in order to see the permanent shows that Cirque had there. I had absolutely no desire to go to Vegas, but in order to see O, in particular, I would make such sacrifices!

By the time Varekai rolled around in 2006-7, my sister no longer wanted to play that game, and I'd grown up sufficiently to at least put a sock in it during the show. We were living in Sydney by that point, and saw a production in 2006. I loved Varekai but didn't realise how much a part of my life it would become. In 2007, I moved back to Canberra to work as a newspaper subeditor. Initially, that job was only two days a week, so I took on other work. Including working for Varekai during the two months they were in Canberra. I worked in the food stalls, selling popcorn, ice-creams, hotdogs and overpriced drinks to the audience. It was tough work - most importantly, the stalls had to be spotless when the audience could see them, which meant frantic cleaning during the two acts - but I loved it. We got to see the show once for free. But most importantly, when I worked, I felt like I was dancing. They set up a TV feed of the show so that we could gauge how long we would have before the audience was out, and to this day, certain songs from the soundtrack prompt a sense of anxiety and desire to scrub popcorn machines. I felt like a performer, a cog in a delicate and elaborate machine. Sure, I was just selling junk food to the masses, but the entire time I was working there, my brain would go into this kind of blissed-out state, interspersed with random rushes of adrenaline. The only thing that feels similar is the moment when I've been jogging for a long time, and my body ceases to hurt, my breathing comes easily and it's almost as if I am flying. There were people with Varekai who had been working there in other cities, and would be following the show on when it left Canberra. I still wouldn't mind doing something similar.

That was the last Cirque show that I saw. I can't afford the tickets now that I'm back at uni and living overseas. I miss it so much. Every so often I binge on Youtube clips, but it's not the same thing. Because it went beyond the shows themselves, wondrous as they were. It was something that I associated with my family, like going to see Bell Shakespeare Company productions (something that we did every year from 1996 until 2007, and which I miss almost as fiercely). I associate Cirque so strongly with my mother and sister that it would feel wrong to see a show with anyone else. And so it's become one of those things that I associate with childhood, something that is forever out of reach. Now that I think about it, Cirque was the first thing that I truly felt fannish about. I'm glad I wasn't aware of fandom then, because I would've been one of those horror-fans who winds being mocked on Encyclopædia Dramatica or Fandom Wank. I still love Cirque in much the same way (but without the snobby attitude towards other members of the audience, because that was just ridiculous, although in keeping with the pomposity I had at that age) and I long for the day when I can make it a part of my life again.


dolorosa_12: (Default)
rushes into my heart and my skull

October 2017

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