Monday, September 27, 2010

Waking up in Vegas

Greg and I are celebrating 10 years of marriage this month. We asked my parents, in Massachusetts, to watch our kids for a few days so we could have a weekend getaway in Las Vegas. We've both been to Vegas several times before... The first time was when I was 18 and Greg was 23 (1994). We had just started dating, and he surprised me with a trip to the winter juggling festival, which used to happen here every year around New Year's. It was an unforgettable trip. Greg's friend Pat McGuire had just started working for Cirque du Soleil's Mystere, and he let us stay a night at his apartment and tour backstage at the theater.

Life brought us back to Vegas now and then. My sister got married here in 2003, giving us a great opportunity to see more hotels and shows. That year it was Zumanity and O. While Zumanity took its spot as the only Cirque du Soleil show I've ever disliked, O rocked my world. I remember leaving the theater that night speechless, awed, and touched by a profound force.

In the intervening years, I have devoted my life to circus. I have learned about myself... That I don't have the drive or talent to make a career as a performer, but that my love for circus can manifest itself in other ways. And most recently, I have begun my own role with Cirque du Soleil - as a wife and caretaker, but still a part of this massive, extraordinary family.

The years have also shaped me as an audience member. I am a much more sophisticated and discerning critic than I used to be. I've seen so many, many shows. From Kooza, Varekai, Dralion, Ka, and Quidam, to Le Reve, Birdhouse Factory, Cirque Eloize, and every imaginable Fringe show, small-theater event, corporate event or traditional circus that ever comes within reach. I've been in the audience, I've been backstage, and I've been onstage.

So my trip to Vegas this week included two major shows - Love, and O. Greg and I both wanted to see something new, but also come back to the show we loved so much 7 years ago. We were not disappointed.

Love, Cirque's tribute to the Beatles, is everything we were told - a marvelous joyride and a creative success. Although we both wished there was more circus in the show, their priority was clearly to celebrate the Beatles' music. What's not to love? Our favorite piece was "Something in the Way She Moves", gorgeous with four girls in harnesses and a male acrobat on the ground.

Then there was O. I was afraid that this intervening time would have made the show less magical, or made me more cynical. But such was not the case. From the moment the red curtains flew from the stage, to the final, elegant disappearance of the piano below the water, O had my heart and soul in its grasp. Greg and I both feel that O is the best show Cirque has ever done; and by extension, the best show we have ever seen. It is simply exquisite. And as it came to an end, I found myself crying inside, no! please don't be over! And walking out of the theater again felt like my world had shifted.
How beautiful to re-discover that passion.

In between these experiences, there was Las Vegas. We stayed at the Luxor, on the 24th floor of the pyramid. This photo is the view from outside our room, looking down.

We walked the Strip, watched the fountain show at the Bellagio and shopped at the Forum at Caesar's Palace. We spent our last afternoon sitting poolside with some friends, Alan and Kate Howard. Alan is a professional juggler, and Kate is a scuba-dive technician with Le Reve. Lots of great stories!

We didn't gamble so much as a nickel, but Las Vegas still finds a way to let money run through your fingers like water. I found myself weary of the culture of it... the acceptance - no, the expectation - of bad behavior. Everyone has permission to be drunk, obnoxious, scantily clad, and materialistic, at all hours of the day. I think, the next time we consider a weekend getaway, I need to find something a little more wholesome. ...but as an escape, it was what we needed!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ayla's birthday

We had a very special day today celebrating Ayla's 6th birthday. It included a horse-and-carriage ride in Center City with a pretty white horse named Noodle. The driver told us that white horses are always the best-sellers. We were lucky to get there by 3pm, as they were just finishing up for the day! Good to know for future - horse-and-carriages head out of town early on weekdays.

And then we invited a bunch of Ayla's friends and their families to join us at the Trolley Car Diner for dinner and cake. It ended up being a pretty big group! And lots of happy reunions with people we hadn't seen in a long time.

Happy Birthday, my beautiful girl...


Sunday, September 19, 2010

The week in Philadelphia

Oh, Philadelphia. I love you dearly, but I am exhausted.
Our week here has so far included

- 7 playdates
- 1 birthday dinner party (with another one tomorrow)
- 1 engagement party (woo-hoo Dave and Rachel!)
- A whole bunch of strategy meetings, lunch meetings, & dinner meetings
- Teaching and observing classes at the circus school
- Quality time with in-laws and cousins
- Organizing the storage unit
- Shopping for birthday presents
- Wandering in the Wissahickon
- and a bunch of doctor's and dentist's appointments.

What it has NOT included: enough sleep, running, or reading!!
So I'm feeling a little drained.... like all of the great self-care I did over the summer is being undone with this hectic schedule. It is like I'm back in my old life again.

That said, the week has been full of so many good things. The kids have had great times visiting their much-missed friends. Here they are with some of their best buddies.

Noah and Baz

Scarlett and Ayla

Isa, Roxy and Nigel

And Greg and I have friends too! Greg took this photo with his phone, standing on top of a log across a creek. It's me and the kids having a picnic with the Dhondt family. The Dhondts recently returned from a 2-year stint living in France - just as we are departing for our own international adventures! While I'm sad that our travel schedules are so opposite, I really value their friendship, and I have learned a tremendous amount from following Rebecca's blog over the last two years. There is much common ground when taking young children out of the country for an extended period of time. ...I especially enjoyed conversing in French with their daughter Callie, who is 7 years old and quite fluent now! What an invaluable gift to have given her.

Greg, of course, has kept himself busy this week with projects. He recently completed (with the help of Tony, pictured) the installation of two Chinese poles at the circus school. These were built on the request of our Chinese acrobatics coach, Lin. It should be a fun new challenge for the PSCA community!

...OK Philadelphia, my eyes are closing. Time to say goodnight to all of your wonderfulness...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Aircraft Aerial Arts

I had the immense pleasure last night of visiting Jill Maio in Boston. Jill was a trapeze student of mine in Philadelphia many years ago, and she became a performer with me and Greg, and a teacher for my school. We were all sad when she had to leave Philly, but in the last couple of years she has started growing her own aerial community in the Boston area.

She just opened her new space in Somerville, which is utterly wonderful. It's an old gymnasium, part of a closed-up factory building, with high, riggable ceilings and separate rooms for classes, office space, even locker rooms. Her teaching practice is called Aircraft, and she is already teaching 12 classes a week in the space.

It reminds me so much of my early years of teaching, and I am so proud of her for having the courage and perseverance to start this business on her own. Jill is a great aerialist and a great teacher, and the Boston area is ripe for this kind of studio. I am sure she can be successful with it.

As we enjoyed dinner at an Indian restaurant in Harvard Square (memories of teenage years flowing back in droves!) I hope I wasn't too cynical or preachy. Everything she was dealing with, I remember firsthand - and I had plenty of advice that I tried not to overwhelm her with. What to avoid, what to be careful of, how to time-manage and student-manage and finance-manage. In the end, this will be her own unique adventure. But in these beginning days, I had a lot in common with her. I will try to be helpful, as much as I can.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Totem profiles - Mark Freeman

Mark Freeman, from Manchester, England, is 26 years old. Mark is a “High Bar” performer in the Totem act known as Carapace. He is one of the four Frogs, an acrobat who does amazing stunts on bars and trampolines in the very first routine that the audience sees.

Mark’s background is in competitive gymnastics. As a teenager, he was part of Great Britain’s national gymnastics team. This led him to a gymnastics scholarship in the USA, at UC Berkeley. He earned a degree in Sociology at Berkeley, while continuing to train and compete in gymnastics. He also coached recreational students during those years.

A couple of years before graduating, he wondered what he might be able to do with his gymnastics skills outside of the traditional realm. He had friends who had joined Cirque du Soleil, and it sounded like a great route to him, a way to use his strengths in a less-punishing, more fun way. He sent a CV, and was asked to come to an audition for gymnasts in Las Vegas.

While in Las Vegas, he stayed with a friend who was performing with Mystere. This allowed him a behind-the-scenes look at Cirque du Soleil, and he was excited when he passed the audition and was invited to join Cirque 2010. Mark came to Montreal in September 2009, to be part of the creation of the Carapace act, one of the very first elements developed for Totem.

Mark greatly values his gymnastics training background; in gymnastics, he says, he was taught to push himself out of his comfort zone, to always look for new challenges, and to keep a strong work ethic. But he also felt in gymnastics that it was all about the competition. Being part of Cirque du Soleil, it is a more holistic approach; the directors take great care for the safety, health and well-being of the artists for the long term.

He is proud to be a part of this show. It is a cast of mature, professional artists, which helps keep him and some of the other younger guys grounded. He says “I love seeing talented people do what they do best”, and he finds it fascinating that such a diverse, international group of people can come together so beautifully.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A day in Boston

Today my Mom and I took the kids to spend the day in Boston. It was a beautiful day to be there. We rode on the Swan Boats, saw lots of fountains, statues and old cemeteries, ate lunch at Faneuil Hall, and visited the Aquarium. Isa spent a good deal of time honing her skills at shark-intimidation. (see video)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Home with old memories

It's Annual Leave, the one time per year that all of the members of Totem scatter around the world, going to their home countries, families, and friends. We have an extra-long leave this year - four weeks. (Most of the time it should only be two weeks - it's longer this time to allow the show to move across the ocean to Amsterdam). Our comrades have flown to Australia, Brazil, Germany, Russia, China, Italy, Mexico, and Spain ... just to name a few.

Greg and I are happy to have some time back in the States. I'm spending the first couple of weeks with the kids at my parents' house in Massachusetts, while Greg is in Philadelphia working on his solo show and organizing his studio. We'll meet up with him in Philadelphia mid-month.

Being here at Mom and Dad's house is always relaxing and fun for us. Last night the kids got to join in on First Friday, Guitar Night by tradition. My Dad has been hosting this music gathering for 30 years.


When I tucked them into bed, with the music still playing, I told them how I remember so many nights, as a little girl, falling asleep to the same songs.

My parents recently acquired a big envelope full of old photos, taken from my grandmother's house in Plattsburgh, New York. Now that my grandmother has been moved to a nursing home, her children (5 of them - my father is the eldest) divided up the pictures in the photo albums.

The images, like this one, are really extraordinary. This photo shows my grandmother, Marion Miller, with my father, Ron, in 1946. And this isn't the oldest photo in the collection - we have a few here dating back to 1917, when my grandfather was born.

I'm in awe, handling these photos, which have passed through so many generations of my family. I study them, looking for clues about who these people were, what they were like. Imagining my grandmother as a young woman, caring for her children. Trying to reconcile this image with the fragile old woman at the nursing home, who, though she retains her sharp sense of humor and her deep affection for her family, has long lost most of these detailed memories.

Here is one more for today.... it's my grandfather, Edward Miller, in France during WWII. When I was a teenager, and Grandpa learned of my love for foreign languages, he told me the story of his time in the war, when he became invaluable to his company as the only one who could speak French. I think he told me this story every time I saw him from then on, with a glow of pride.

My grandfather died in 2003, just one month after Baz was born. I brought baby Baz up to New York for the funeral, and was sorry that Grandpa never got to see my little boy.

He was a flawed man. And yet, despite his failings, I know that he loved us all. And I continue to seek myself in my memories of him, knowing that I have inherited much from my father, who in turn inherited much from his.