Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Totem profiles - James Mack

James Mack, from England, age 38, is a percussionist with Totem. It is his second Cirque du Soleil show, after performing with Delirium. His journey here, like many of the musicians in the cast, included concert halls, rock bands, musical theater, and world tours. But joining the circus has been a new, and remarkable, experience.

His musical life began early – with piano lessons at age 7, and his first set of drums at age 11. He had a supportive family, including two musically-inclined brothers. They formed bands throughout the years that James was growing up. He eventually attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, a prestigious institution in London. There, he spent 4 years studying orchestral and jazz music, focusing on piano and percussion instruments.

After graduating from Guildhall, he leapt into touring as a percussionist with international pop stars. Desiree, Westlife, and Kylie Minogue were some of the most famous examples.

Looking for a change, he sent his CV to Cirque du Soleil. A few months later, he remembers being in a tiny beach town in Mexico, where he was expecting to stay for several weeks. An offer from Cirque was in his email, discovered in an Internet café. He spent the next several days trying to locate remote Internet connections to accept Cirque’s contract offer, and within a week he was whisked away from sunny Mexico and brought to Montreal, where he would train to join Delirium.

Having spent most of his professional life on tour, he is appreciating the greater stability that Cirque du Soleil offers him. Staying in each city for weeks or months, and being able to bring his wife (who is pregnant, due with their first baby in February 2011!) along with him on the adventure, makes Totem especially enjoyable.

James has a great sense of humor and an incredible musical range – he’s an invaluable part of the Totem family.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Last days in Quebec City

Time to say goodbye to this lovely city, and to Canada, where we've spent a great summer. Here are a few images of our last couple of days here.

Isa with some of her little friends at the Cirque tent. It's fun for her to be the big kid once in a while. Pictured are Kiana, age 2, and Daria, who's 10 months old.

The last day of school, Saturday, was "tear-down" for the school - they had to pack all the books, computers etc. into road cases and close up the school trailer. It will all be loaded into shipping containers and sent across the ocean. Hard hats were required.

Today was a cool day, with the Quebec Marathon running right in front of our house! My Dad is here - he came back up to Quebec City to fetch us home, since we were unable to find a one-way van rental. Here's Grandpa with the kids, watching the marathon.

And as a fitting end to our summer of nonstop holidays, we had a surprise big fireworks display behind the house tonight. We had just tucked the kids into bed when the BOOMs started, and heard Baz yelling "Oh! Oh! Oh! FIREWORKS!" They had a great view of the whole show from their bedroom windows.

And one last favorite image. Baz and Ayla, on their way to school.

Au revoir, Quebec...!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Totem profiles - Pippo Crotti

Pippo Crotti, from Italy, age 31, is a Clown character in Totem. This is his first show with Cirque du Soleil. Before this, he had an illustrious career as a television comic in Italy.

His passion for acting and comedy began as a teenager. After graduating highschool, he moved to L.A. to study at the Hollywood Actors Studio, and spent five years going back and forth between studies in the U.S. and working as a stand-up comedian in Italy. Finally deciding that Italy had more potential work for him (as he says, “I decided I didn’t want to wait tables in L.A., which was what all the actors were doing”), he began to pursue his profession more seriously. The standup comedy gigs began opening doors for him; festivals, then his first television commercial, and then eventually his own television show. The original sitcom he created, Maid In Italy, recently won a prestigious award in Italy at the Idea Fiction Festival.

In Totem, Pippo is an Italian caricature – crass, loud, and full of himself. He has a ridiculous energy that never seems to drop, and his antics light up the scenes. Without a doubt he is the most human clown character I’ve ever seen in Cirque du Soleil, which is a fun change. One of his best moments in the show is the Rings Trio act – he is the skinny guy in the Speedo being shown up by the Muscle Beach men, but in the end he walks off with the girl.

Pippo is very much enjoying his adventure with the circus. He appreciates the chance to work alongside so many great professional artists, and to try out his comedy on audiences all over the world. …this week, however, he is most eager for our upcoming leave, to spend time with his wife in Italy. They’re expecting their first baby in February, 2011!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Greg on crutches

You read that right. Greg injured his leg during the show Sunday night. We're still not entirely sure what he did. But for most of two days he could barely walk. Today (Tuesday) he is performing in the show with a heavy limp. Fortunately this works fine with his old-man character.

Greg's biggest difficulty with this situation has not been the pain, but the frustration of having to rest, and the general reduced mobility. He is determined to perform, and we are just hoping that this doesn't aggravate the injury, which seems to be on the upswing.

Aerialist! ...or not

I was excited last week to go through a decent aerial practice - my first in ages. With Kate (gymnast) and Ade (ex-Le Reve aerialist) I was motivated to get moving, and even did a couple of basic drops on fabric.

But oh, aerialists reading this, let me tell you how not-fun it is to try to get yourself upside-down when you don't practice for a year. It's not the first time I've tried to crawl back from aerial inactivity (ahem, three pregnancies) but it is always hard on the muscles and on the ego.

I don't have great ambitions for my own training right now. But it's fun to have the opportunity to teach a little again. I informally taught a kids' aerials class the following day to some of the artists' children, and I'll pick that up again more regularly in Amsterdam.

So I was feeling all good about myself till I got home and discovered I'd locked myself out of the house. This was with Isa in tow, several bags of refrigerated groceries, and a brief 1-hour window to unpack and change clothes before heading back to the tent to pick up the kids from school.

I tried all the windows to no avail, then ransacked the yard, finding stepstools, hand tools, and a giant extension ladder that was too heavy for me to move. I studied this rear balcony carefully, thinking, I should be able to do that. Scramble up the bannister, get hold of the railing, and swing my legs up. Right, aerialist?? ... but then I looked at little Isa in the yard, and contemplated what would happen if I slipped. And broke my leg. Not only would my 3-year-old have to learn to call 911 in a foreign country, but the rest of our summer would be miserable.

I sighed, put away my monkey daydreams, got out a knife and cut through a window screen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Le Moulin à images

Most of our houseguests have not made time to check a particular pride and joy of Quebec - Le Moulin à images.

The Web site announces: The World’s Largest Projection Screen - The Bunge grain silo “projection screen” is over 600 meters wide and 30 meters tall—the equivalent of 25 IMAX screens!

It's a gigantic, 50-minute video projection designed by our favorite Quebecois, Robert Lepage. (Creator of Totem).

It starts at 9:30pm, which was quite a challenge for my little ones. But it's free, and we brought popcorn, and it was a great experience.

And to close today's blog, here's just something silly. How Baz and Isa are recently occupying themselves.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ecole de Cirque de Quebec

Kitsie and Marie came from Philadelphia to visit for the weekend. One day we took a bike ride over to l'Ecole de Cirque de Quebec, just to check it out.


As you can see from the picture (from their Web site: www.ecoledecirque.com) this is a beautiful place.

Some things we learned:

Quebec has a population of 659,000 people, as opposed to Philadelphia’s 1.5 million.

Cirque-fever is definitely higher here than in the U.S., and l’Ecole de Cirque de Quebec was formed in 1995.

So they certainly have a head start on us. But check out these astonishing figures:

- they have 1100 recreational students.

- Their Intro Workshops for kids (which welcome school groups) reach 18,000 kids per year.

- they also offer advanced and specialized classes in all disciplines, for adults and kids.

- non-profit, supported/funded by the Canadian government

- Canadian students do not pay to attend the pro-track program, but foreign students must pay

- the main space in the picture is used primarily for the pro-track students. There are separate rooms on a lower floor for the children's classes, which include quite a bit of kid-specific apparatus (like a miniature aerial hoop, for example).
-they settled into their current home in a giant old church in 2001, after 6 years of operations.

- all this success, even with the National Circus School just three hours away in Montreal.

It was inspiring, and reminded me, too,of how young the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts is, and how much more we can grow. The best line from the administrator today was when I told her about PSCA and how we opened 2 years ago. She laughed. "Une bébé école!"

Thanks, Kitsie and Marie, for visiting - we had a great weekend with you!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quote of the day

I am greedy. Puritans scold me
for running breathlessly
over life's table of contents
and for wishing and longing for everything.
- Nina Cassian

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Expensive hobbies

Spending time living in posh tourist districts, I am more-than-usually aware of the segment of our population that spends money, in abundance, for fun. Each day when I walk or bike to the Cirque tent, I pass by boats offering dinner cruises, restaurants with elegant prix-fixe meals, artsy gift shops with endless amounts of decorative items to lighten your wallet. In a Montreal Christmas shop I watched a young family laughing as they dropped $300 on Christmas ornaments. And Quebec is a city where, if you were a multi-millionaire trying to impress a date, you could easily fill the days with carriage rides and wine tastings and high teas at luxury hotels.

Lately, I've been contemplating the boats. It's hard not to - this group, for example, is parked directly across from the backstage area at the chapiteau.
I know nothing about boats. Wait, change that - I know one thing about boats, which is that they're wickedly expensive. Beyond that, it's a puzzle to me. Sailboat, motorboat, yacht? How do people drive these things? More importantly, WHY do people drive these things?

I've been watching the boat people. They tend to be on their boats in small groups, five or six people at a time. They don't look particularly snooty, or better-dressed, than anyone else. They do often have a sort of "king of the world!" glee about them in their boats, and they are often pouring each other glass after glass of wine.

The kids and I got a good look at a lot of boat people this evening, as we were stuck at the drawbridge. It was open for 15 minutes or so to allow all of the evening-boat-party people out of the harbor. We saw one woman with a tiny dog zipped inside her coat. One boat roared into the open water blasting Guns N Roses. (so some of them apparently have good sound systems).

Who are these people, and why do they spend tens of thousands of dollars (hundreds of thousands?) for these luxurious little moving boxes? Not to mention the time and hassle of owning, storing, and using the boat. I just don't get it.

I had these same kinds of thoughts last week watching the hot air balloons, and then, yesterday morning, paragliders. They look so beautiful! But my thoughts then wander to how much time and money were probably spent for those few minutes of being airborne. Really?

Before I get too high-and-mighty here, I have to take a look at myself and my own hobbies. OK, so I don't have a tens-of-thousands-of-dollars hobby, but are all of my little ones (running, biking, yoga, reading, blogging) really that much different? Everything costs money. Some are just in smaller increments at a time. I wonder if those boat people, out on the water with the wind rushing through their hair, are experiencing a profound joy. Maybe they know something I don't.
(other than how to operate a boat, that is.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some anecdotes

A few random little notes of things that have gone on with the Totem show in the last couple of weeks.

- One day, there was a bat in the Artistic Tent! Chaos ensued as the technicians had to chase it out.

- Greg told me recently that the costume staff, to disinfect the costumes on a regular basis when they can't be washed, use vodka. Not isopropyl alcohol or Febreeze - regular, off-the-shelf vodka.

- the cast of OVO recently made a video as a gift to the Totem artists - of themselves, in insect-mode, doing Totem's Finale Dance.

- A few of the Russian acrobat guys from the perch pole and Russian bar acts have a new hobby for their days off - fishing.

- Greg is happy that, during "fixation" week, when the creation team came back to tweak the show, a few transitions were changed to help the coherence of the storyline. Example: Now Greg collects a bowl from the unicycle ladies at the end of their act, to foreshadow his bowls act later on.

- The other day Baz skinned his knee outside the play tent. I was ready to go look for a bandaid, but the Head of Security said "I have a medic available!" So Martin came over with his full kit, and thoroughly cleaned and bandaged up my boy. Better treatment than he's ever had before for a scrape!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

First Day of School

Today was Baz and Ayla's first day at the Cirque du Soleil school! Here we are on our bikes, getting ready to go. I have guests visiting this weekend (Patty, John, Rebecca and Erin) and was fortunately able to leave Isa with them, so I could focus on getting my big kids settled in.

When we got to the school, we had a parent meeting for the first hour. The teacher went over some basic information:

- school hours here in Quebec are 12:00noon - 5:45pm. They'll have lunch from 1:00pm-1:30pm, and a short recess mid-afternoon.

- "this is not a typical school. But it is still a real school. There will be homework, and exams."

- besides being a school ground, the area is also a work / construction site, so young children need to be accompanied where-ever they go (restroom, cafeteria, etc.) to avoid being run over by delivery trucks and forklifts. They are asked not to play underneath the trailers or touch the open power cables.

- the school calendar, 180 days, runs nearly year-round, with breaks coinciding with our in-between-cities dates. As a result, they will be in school next year for the full months of June and July.

- they were each given an individual printed schedule. Baz and Ayla's schedule looks like this:

ELA = English/Language Arts
HGC = History/Geography/Civics
FSL = French as a Second Language
ECR = ethics of some sort (?)

Baz and Ayla had a really good first day. They talked about games they played and projects they worked on; they like their teachers and they worked hard on their first homework assignment this evening. In my first glance at how they work in comparison to each other - Ayla, being new at writing and real school projects, wants to take the time to do everything very thoroughly - spelling each word letter by letter, coloring in every part of the picture. Baz wants to get his assignments done quickly, and just scribbles down whatever is the fastest.

I'm thrilled that they have French twice a week. Today they learned animals and colors.

In other news - surprise, surprise, Quebec is in the middle of another festival! ...this one is pretty fun. It's called the Fete de la Nouvelle France. Basically, the whole Old Quebec area turns into something like a Renaissance faire, with the time period being 17th & 18th century Quebec (New France at the time.) There are craft booths and performances and people walking around in character, and elbow-to-elbow crowds.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I'm so happy with the time and energy I've had for physical-fitness this summer. It's been 7 weeks since I left Philadelphia, and my regimen has been as follows:

Running - 15-20 miles per week
Boot Camp (strength training) - once per week
Yoga - 1-2 times per week

+ occasional Pilates and bike-riding.
Tomorrow I'll add a little bit of aerial work back into the mix.
...oh, and I forgot to mention stair-climbing! 4 of 5 times a week I head up the stairs behind our house, all 394 of them.

I feel strong and confident. It's great!

I don't have a specific goal for the end of the summer yet. But my longest run so far is 8 miles. I'm hoping to eventually get it up to 10 miles. (Broad Street Run next year, here I come!)

Sometimes, being out exercising, you come across things you would never see otherwise. Like hot-air balloons descending from flight at 7am. Or this rainbow over the St. Lawrence River, which we all got to see during a family bike ride the other day.