Thursday, October 28, 2010

Totem profiles - Gael Ouisse

Gael Ouisse, from France, age 33, is an acrobat and character in Totem.

As with most of the acrobats in the show, he has trained as a gymnast since he was a child, beginning at age 8. He also had an interest in music at a young age, and those two activities competed for his attention throughout his school years. He played cello and piano, among other instruments, and went to a music conservatory. But by the time he was a teenager, he was committed to gymnastics, competing at a national level. He went to a university for sports education, and then took on a different profession entirely, becoming a firefighter. He worked fighting fires for three years.

Gael heard about Cirque du Soleil from a friend, also a gymnast, who was hired to work for Mystere. When he visited her in Montreal, Cirque heard of his background and asked him to audition. He did, but didn’t think much about it, until he later visited the Mystere show in Las Vegas. He was dazzled, and called Cirque’s casting department, asking them to give him another look. Cirque’s casting people asked Gael to put together a specific audition video, which he did. It wasn’t long before they called him, offering him a position in the creation of the show Love.

Gael was part of Love from 2005-2009, when he was called for the Totem show. At that point he was ready for a new challenge, and his role in the Muscle-Beach-esque Rings Trio, and also as the Businessman character, have offered him that.

He’s enjoying the tour a lot. He says that working in a big top, and moving from city to city, has more of the excitement of the real circus. He also appreciates the warm community of Totem.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Befriending Russians

The last couple of days have been very social here at the apartments. It started off with baby Daria's 1st birthday party. During the afternoon (the party started at 3:30pm, and we were the first to leave at 7:00pm) nearly all of the families with young children turned up to celebrate. There were presents, many different kinds of cakes, Russian party games, music and dancing.

A word here about Russian names. Russians tend to stick to a small number of first names, which is why, in the Totem show, we have two Dmitris, two Alexeis, two Alexanders, two Ruslans, & two Pavels. Among the wives there are two Olgas and two Anastasias. But what really throws me off are the diminutives. Most names have a diminutive, or nickname, and I can't figure out when to call people (especially the children) by their nicknames. Adults are somewhat clear... Micha has always been introduced to me as Micha, not Mikael, which is his real first name. Most adults seem to present themselves with the name they'd like to be called. But with children, I am often told the full name and the diminutive, and I'm never sure which one to use. Do I call the little boy Ilya or Ilyosha? Do I call the baby Daria or Dasha?

SO, this beautiful little Daria/Dasha is now a year old, and there was much rejoicing. One of the attendees was an older girl, age 4, also named Daria/Dasha. It would simplify my life if I could call one of them Daria and one Dasha, but I doubt this is going to work.

Today, most of the group re-convened at my apartment, for our first playgroup. Little did I know that the Russian wives were all agreeing that we should have these playgroups much more frequently, and it turned into a big strategy meeting, almost entirely in Russian. (two other wives and I couldn't keep up, so we did keep interrupting for translations.) Without any organized effort on my part, a schedule was put together for playgroups 3-4 times per week. And these are drop-off playgroups - we leave as many kids as we want, for two hours, and go off by ourselves.

This is a foreign concept to me, and I'm excited but unnerved by it. Do you mean, I suddenly have, several times a week, free childcare? And in exchange, once every two weeks or so, I open my doors and let all the kids come here? This seems outrageously awesome. The only downside so far is that everyone else has decided 5:00pm-7:00pm is the best time. It isn't the best time for me - I am often at the tent, getting the older kids, or waiting for them to come home at that time. But for this free-babysitting-swap deal, I think I need to try to re-organize my schedule.

I was proud of myself today, sitting and meeting with all of these women. It can be really intimidating, when they are all jabbering away and I can only catch a word here and there. But I remind myself that many people feel this way - anyone does, who has tried to integrate themselves into another culture. I have to not shut down, keep my ears open to improve my comprehension, and not be afraid to ask questions, or admit when I don't understand.

Nastya has become my closest ally in this. She and I see each other every day - her boys are ages 8 and 3, parallel with Baz and Isa. Her English is only a little better than my Russian, and so every conversation is a task of charades, of re-wording, of trying out words and getting them wrong, and trying something else - and when all else fails, pulling out the dictionary. We have gotten comfortable enough together to be able to laugh at our mistakes, and to look each other in the eye and share understanding. We are, in many ways, very different people. But our approach to parenting is quite similar, we want the same things for our kids, and this creates a natural common bond.

спокойной ночи (Good Night!)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

More gym-going, and TunFun!

Day 3 of the all-Michael-Jackson-soundtrack gym.
And yet another disturbing rule to contend with - shoes worn outside on the street are not supposed to be worn in the gym. Which means that instead of throwing on my sneakers and walking a block to the gym, I am supposed to put on some other shoes and carry my sneakers inside. Oh my goodness.

It was a rainy, miserable day, so this afternoon Isa and I went with some friends across the street, at last, to TunFun. (I held out for three weeks without going, I was impressed with myself!) Three hours later, we finally left when they closed the place. We have some happy, tired little girls this evening.

Pictured are Kiana, age 2, from France, Gypsy, age 4, from Italy, and Isa, age 3.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The crazy-weather week in Amsterdam

It has been such a full, satisfying week here. I called it "the crazy-weather week" in my title, because "typical" Dutch weather has finally arrived, with windy, chilly rain coming frequently and randomly. I heard today that it rains 260 days of the year in the Netherlands. I'm not surprised! What I am surprised by is the unpredictability. On Wednesday we had beautiful sunshine, powerful winds, drenching rain, and hail, alternating throughout the day.

I joined a local gym here, SportCity. It is possibly the most brand-new, modern, spacious, attractive gym facility I've ever been in. But there are some things about this gym (and I'm assuming these are Dutch cultural things?) that are distinctly weird.
- it doesn't open till 8:30am
- tank tops are not allowed - you must wear shirts with sleeves
- there is a 12-minute limit on cardio equipment (you read that right)
- there are no water fountains or towels provided
- in my 2 visits so far, the music playing has been Michael Jackson. ALL Michael Jackson.
?!
Regardless, I am thoroughly enjoying the place.

I proudly released the Totem Family Newsletter this week. Besides a full contact list for all of the families with children here, it also listed upcoming events and activities, like kids gymnastics classes and Fun Things to Do around Waterlooplein. Everyone has seemed very appreciative, and I hope this will help build connections.

I already feel like my life has picked up quite a lot in the last couple of weeks. The days are suddenly full - I'm struggling to find time for laundry and groceries, in between playdates, outings, classes, and time at the site. This is all good.

This week, I spent two full days at the Totem site. In the mornings were my own "training" times - Wednesday I am helping run the kids gymnastics class, and Friday is Aerial Practice time. Then there's lunch with the kids, and in the afternoons I've watched the show - either from the audience, or backstage. In between, I am constantly glancing at my Russian notes, memorizing vocabulary words and trying to snag any passing Russians to ask questions.

A high point of my day on Wednesday was when Alya invited me to join in a Finale Dance lesson. She was teaching it to one of the newly-arrived artists (we have two new ones, who joined the show here in Amsterdam). She thought it would be good for me to know the dance, so I can help the kids to learn it - in preparation for the December kids show they're planning. I eagerly jumped up and tried to learn. It was harder than it looked - or maybe I am just really not a natural at picking up dance choreography? so we'll see how far I get.

And the high point of today (Friday) was the Hoop Dancer 2 showing. The story -
Nakotah is our Hoop Dancer. He has been with Totem since the beginning. But the directors have long known that if Nakotah gets sick, we're in trouble - he is possibly the main iconic image of the show. So the decision was finally made to bring in a backup Hoop Dancer. They found Erik, from Calgary, and gave him a contract. They decided to make him an extra - he now plays a Moss Man and a Monkey - and also to make Nakotah's second appearance in the show, Hoop Dancer 2, a duet. This way Erik is ready to fill in for Nakotah, but he's actively performing in the show every night as well.

So Hoop Dancer 2 had to be re-choreographed as a duet. They took a few weeks to do it, and today formally presented it. At 1:00pm, everyone on site was invited into the tent to watch the staging. This included me and a few other wives, all the school kids and teachers, Tour Services people, technicians, artists, directors, etc.

It was such a wonderful vibe in the tent. I felt really like part of a family, welcoming a new brother. We clapped and cheered for Erik's debut. And later that day when it premiered onstage, everyone backstage crowded around the screen to watch; when the artists came offstage there was more cheering and high-fives all around.

I imagine that there was a lot of this kind of support among the artists during the creation of the show. But I wasn't there - and generally families were not allowed in. So this was a first for me, and it was really lovely. The photo here is of Nakotah, Christian, and Erik backstage just before the act.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Half Marathon!

This is my 100th blog post, and, appropriately, it's a bit of a triumphant one. I successfully ran the Amsterdam Half Marathon on Sunday, October 17th!

This race feels like it's been a long time in coming. I decided to run it (warily) two months ago, when two of my fellow tour-mates, Alyson Ling and Holly Lynn Nye, said they were doing it. It was summer then, and I was running more than ever, and pushing my long runs a bit more each week, so I thought, what the heck, I'll sign up. In my mind there was always an "out" - if my training didn't go well, if I got injured or sick, if it rained, etc. etc., I was OK with bailing out.

But no such excuses came through. The worse that happened, really, was that running in the fall got significantly harder. Between all of our travels, and the weather getting colder, and the long runs having to become really long runs, it was not a fun couple of months. Running in Amsterdam has been surprisingly unpleasant. Here in the center of the city, there seem to be hardly any other runners. The cobblestones, uneven sidewalks, and bicycle traffic make it all fairly hazardous, and people look at me like I'm insane. Even the times I have crossed passed with another runner, there are no smiles, waves, or shared looks of compassion. Heads down. (probably to avoid tripping over the cobblestones).

So with all this, my sights were set on October 17. I believed, and still do, that this might be the end of my running career. I've had a solid few months of challenging myself, and now I'm running a race I never would have dreamed of at the beginning of the summer! This may be a good time to retire.

In any case - race day happened! Holly, Alyson and I made our way, anxiously, to the stadium starting point Sunday afternoon. We were fully geared up - ipods, running watches, energy gels, layered clothing, electronic chips and numbers pinned to our jackets. Dressing was challenging - temperatures peaked at 50 degrees today with a bitter wind. I wore my fancy running jacket, got too hot and had to take it off and tie it around my waist a couple of miles in, and then fell into a deep freeze as soon as the race was over, wishing I'd brought a heavy coat.

I went through a whole range of experiences during the afternoon. From nervous anticipation, to feeling like a corraled animal in the starting lineup and first mile (there were 15,000 people running the Half Marathon, and an additional 15,000-20,000 running the full marathon and other races that day); there was the adrenaline rush of the beginning of the run, and the first 5 miles, realizing that the miles had flown by and I was feeling great. Then things started to get really hard, around 9.5 miles. I started feeling aches and pains in places I never had before. And stomach cramps. And a general feeling of "oh, god, I don't know if I can do this."

All that stress and discomfort lasted pretty much till the end of the race. At 12.5 miles I did get a small burst of energy, realizing that I WAS going to finish it. And the race had a really nice ending - the last 1/2 kilometer was a lap through the stadium, with loud exciting music and a cheering crowd. My finishing time was 2 hours, 18 minutes.

The adrenaline drop was immediate and harsh afterwards. From physical exhaustion, chills, stiffness and pain, to emotional - I suddenly felt terribly lonely, wishing Greg and the kids could have been there to see me at the end. Everyone seemed to have friends and loved ones seeking them out, bouquets of flowers, and hugs. Thank goodness I was able to find Holly and Alyson a little later, to at least have someone to share the success with. But overall, my biggest feelings were - thank God it's over. And I want a hot shower more than anything in the world.

So, Personal Record - check. Time to put running on the shelf for a little while, have a really long sleep, and then see what Amsterdam holds in store for me next.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Vondelpark play day

Good times today - the kids had off from school (professional development day), so I got together with 3 other Moms (one American, one French and one Russian) and we took 8 children on a tram to Vondelpark, Amsterdam's most popular green space. It was a pretty long trek getting there, but well worth it, as the children ran, played, climbed, and generally exhausted themselves for several hours.

Here are Baz, Ayla, and Isa with Igor and Ilya.

video

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Loneliness, and re-connecting

Sunday was a lonely and dull day for me. I wrote this journal entry:

"It’s a beautiful, sunny day. I am sitting in a park, watching my children play on the playground. We’re in Amsterdam, beside a canal, watching the boats drift by on a lazy Sunday afternoon. There is no rush to go anywhere. Nothing that needs to be accomplished.

I am bored and unhappy.

I wish this were enough for me, just being here, but the responsibility of the children weighs on me, keeping me always partially on guard, unable to relax and absorb my surroundings. The days sometimes seem to stretch ahead, empty. Especially Sundays, when everything is closed, and it’s just me and the kids.

Empty hours deaden the mind. I lose my motivation to do anything but sit. I think, in my busier, high-stress days, I couldn’t understand people who drifted, who wasted time, who were bored. There always seemed to be so much to do! So much I wished I could do, if I only had the time. …and now… what?"

That evening, I went to the Cirque tent, and realized the solution to all of this is simply to reach out and be with people. We watched the show from backstage, and I re-connected with many of the artists I hadn't seen in awhile. Talked to Dmitri about his break time, practiced Russian with Svetlana, discussed the kids with Alya.

I started putting together a Family Contact List document, and a sort of newsletter for families, to help us all communicate better. When I made the list, I discovered that there are actually 17 children on the tour! There are so many young ones, and some that we don't see very often. And there will be 3 more babies born in the next few months! So if we could just get them all together, it would be a great thing.

For those of you who know me, you know that I need to be busy. I need to have lots of activities scheduled, and projects to work on, to stay sane. But I'm also finding that I need friendships! In my old life, I had so many co-workers and parents at the kids schools to connect with, I never felt lonely. But here I'm really noticing it, that strong need to be social.

Monday was our day together as a family, and it was a nice one. We took the kids to the Artis Zoo. We were there nearly 4 hours, and still didn't manage to see every part of it - it includes an Aquarium, a Planetarium, a butterfly house, two playgrounds, and, according to the publicity, 6001 animals. The kids enjoyed the lemur presentation - and the lemurs came right up to the children, acting very much like housecats! Ayla couldn't resist petting the one which snuggled up to her, but the zookeeper quickly said, "don't touch them!" So they finally had to be content just looking.

We splurged on dinner at an Indian restaurant near Rembrandtplein. It really is getting easier as they get older. We can take them out, get them to try new things, and not stress too much if they don't get their regular foods and they're out past their bedtimes. Don't worry, we won't be taking them to the coffeeshops any time soon...

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Images

Some photos from the last few days...
To start off, an amusing sign.


Greg and I both said when we saw this, "DNA Spray? that must mean something else."
But our bus driver said "Oh, no, that's exactly what it means." and he explained this bizarre crime-fighting strategy they have adopted in Amsterdam. I won't even try to explain - you can read about it here:

DNA Spray

Here's a photo of me and the kids, sitting in the audience for the Dress Rehearsal of Totem. The girls have the clown noses because Daddy and Ante have just passed by in pre-show ("animation").

The play area has been set up at the site, and it's great. There is a tent, and an outside, fenced-in area, which has become an all-hours soccer field. In this picture you can see all 6 of the school kids, playing before classes: from left to right, it's Anthony, Sophia, Nikita, Baz, Ayla, and Igor.

And one last photo of my baby. Every day, when we walk past a certain gift shop, Isa has been admiring, petting, and pining over the large vase of wooden tulips outside. Today I bought some postcards there, and told the shopkeeper how much Isa loved his flowers. "Take one!" he said, "let her pick one out!" So, a truly thrilled-to-pieces little girl picked out her own wooden tulip, which she carried around for the rest of the day, at one point planting it in our local sandbox.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Totem Premiere in Amsterdam


The routines of opening the show in a new city are slowly becoming clear to me. Here is the way it works:

5 or 6 days before the show opens - Artists Call. They are expected on-site to set up the Artistic Tent, have meetings, and begin training. These first days are a light schedule - they're on site for a few hours each day, home in time for dinner.

Day before Premiere - Dress Rehearsal. They run the entire show exactly as it will be performed, for an audience mainly of friends and family. It's still necessary to get tickets for this show, but it's not usually a completely full house. Everything is the same, even the pre-show announcements, 30-minute intermission, and merchandise sales.

Premiere - tickets are in high demand, but most of the artists and key staff expect their family to be able to attend. The mood on-site is festive - everyone gets dressed up, and the cafeteria prepares an especially extensive and fancy dinner - candles & flowers on the tables, etc. Tonight's included a big dessert spread and the largest cheese wheel I've ever seen up close!

After Premiere is when things settle down to normal. Families will be allowed on site now - up till Premiere, wives and children are off-limits on the site, except for school attendees. I believe this is mainly to keep the site as focused and uncluttered as possible - and in many cities, there will still be a good amount of construction happening on site in the week before the show.

The site in Amsterdam is open and spacious. It is, of course, quite far from everything - a good 5 miles from Central Station, the tent is in the southern part of the city, and a 15-minute walk from the nearest metro stop. We are adjusting to this new situation - families are taking turns transporting kids back and forth (the trip can take almost an hour). And they have a shuttle bus to bring the artists home after the show at night. But even with that, and the fact that Greg's shows have an earlier start time here - 7:30pm - he still won't be home until after 11pm.

We attended the Dress Rehearsal last night, but are not attending the Premiere this evening. The Dress Rehearsal was marvelous. So good to see the show in its complete form! There was one artist out with an injury, but his parts were covered by other performers. All of the acts were, as far as I know, full casts and full versions, no modifications. Everyone was well-rested from break, although a few performers complained they felt stiff, not quite back in the swing of it. From the audience, this was not apparent - everyone seemed radiant.

I got chills when Nakotah first appeared onstage, which made me realize how much I have come to love this show, and the people in it. And I know that Totem's music will live in the hearts of our whole family, for a long, long time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Adventuring with Isa - on a bike!

Today, Isa and I rented a bike. I did this once before, visiting Amsterdam six years ago with my mother and sister. I cherished the experience then, and I remember why now - biking around here gives me the fullest sense of being part of this place. I love it.

The ethics and rules of the road on a bike are mostly unspoken, and it takes a good deal of time, I think, to fully get the hang of it. I made my share of blunders this afternoon - from riding the wrong way on a bike path, to turning too slowly at a stoplight, to, at one point, completely toppling both myself and Isa over sideways into some underbrush! My faux pas were never met with curses or even dirty looks from the Amsterdammers - they simply went around me, and I observed plenty of other bad bike behavior over the course of the day. It seems to be par for the course.

Our first stop was the Artis Zoo, where we purchased a membership and visited lots of animals. Isa's joy in zoos is, like every other kid I imagine, immense and infectious. We laughed at monkeys, chatted with giraffes, and gawked at pelicans.

After that we took a long ride out to the Flevopark, a great green space in the northeastern corner of the city. This took us through several different ethnic neighborhoods. I wish I could say what they were... perhaps Indonesian and Turkish, at least? Lots of foreign-looking foods, shops, and headscarves.

The park itself was marvelous, including woods, open fields, winding bike paths, and an excellent playground. Here's the munchkin in a tree at the park, looking anxious because she's up higher than she wants to be, and doesn't know how she's going to get down. (I helped.)

At the end of the day, she cried when we returned the bike to the shop. She didn't understand why we couldn't keep it forever. I promised we would come back and borrow the bike another day soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Amsterdam apartment

Here it is! Yet another beautiful temporary home that Cirque du Soleil has provided for us. Traveling with a big family definitely has its perks.


video

As with all residences, this place has its pros and cons.
Pros: it's beautiful, loads of space, and in a fantastic location, close to everything.
Things it's missing: we've had to go out and buy a stepstool, some plastic drawers for our clothes, plastic dishes for the kids, power adapters, a wireless router, and clocks for the kids rooms.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Exploring

Today the kids had no school, so I took them out exploring the city and running errands. We checked out the canals (there are so many, near us, I can't keep track of them all), and wandered around the neighborhood near the Artis Zoo.

I love pointing cultural differences out to them. In the grocery store today I showed them how, in Europe, people often eat more parts of animals than we do - displaying the packages of chickens' hearts and livers. And I spend lots of time admiring the bicycle traffic here, showing the kids how Amsterdammers have built every possible configuration of bicycle. We picked out a couple of our favorites today:



Baz and I are especially pining away for our bikes. It remains to be seen whether we break down and purchase or rent something. I'm still fairly convinced that bike-riding is not a viable option for us as a family right now - with Ayla unable / unwilling to ride on her own. I really think she's too big for me to carry on my bike. But I'm seeing bikes here that seat an adult and two kids... me, Ayla, and Isa? Seems crazy, but possible, if we were going to be living here a long time, in good weather.

In other news, we have found, within a couple of blocks, a grocery store, a library, a playground, a flea market, a "valu-plus" sort of store, a NYCity Bagels shop, and a gym. Waterlooplein is a great neighborhood. It includes the Jewish Historical Museum and this place, which is practically across the street from our apartment. We'll see how long we can resist.

The commute to the Cirque tent is not a quick one. We are 4.5 miles from the site, which turns out to be a 45-60 minute trip with walking and the Metro. The families are all happy to be living together, so that we can help each other out transporting kids to and from school.

And speaking of my fellow families here, it's time for me to get back to my Russian studies!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First days in Amsterdam

In my current blur, I haven't had the presence of mind to take any pictures. But our two days here have included...

- Killer jet lag
- Mostly normal, fall weather, highs around 60 degrees
- One heavy downpour, during my run this evening (during which I also got quite lost)
- Awesome, swarming bike traffic
- Learning to use the metro
- Difficulty navigating the grocery store; finally buying a Dutch-English dictionary
- an elegant, spacious, apartment right in the heart of Waterlooplein
- teaching Isa to use a shower, since there is no bathtub
- buying portable plastic drawer units, since there are no shelves or cabinets
- accepting that our apartment complex must be the only place in the Netherlands that doesn't recycle
- getting together with our Totem friends; socializing at the tent, having playdates
- starting the kids back at school; one of their teachers is a new guy, David
- discovering that our credit cards don't work, and we have to use cash for everything
- and once in a while, stopping to look at the old buildings, the winding canals, and the cobblestones streets, to admire how beautiful everything is here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Traveling


Here we are, packed up and ready to board the shuttle into Logan Airport, in Boston. For those of you who are wondering, what does it take to move the Kennedy family around the world? The answer: 10 large suitcases, plus our 5 backpack carry-ons. One of the cases includes nothing but Greg's computer and office supplies; a second contains only juggling and aerial equipment.

Some lessons learned from this recent journey.

- Even though they're not traveling far, the kids' backpacks should really be replaced with rolling cases. Greg and I ended up having to carry the girls' backpacks almost everywhere, as they were too heavy for them.

- buying Baz a $25 suitcase at Target, which I should have known Greg would pack as tightly as humanly possible, was a bad call. Somewhere in checked-baggage-land, the zipper broke, the suitcase burst apart, and we collected it wrapped in plastic. The only item lost? His favorite stuffed animal.

- Iceland Air rocks. They fill the airplane with little Icelandic words and phrases and fun facts about the country. And they are very kind to children, offering them special foods, activities, and free headsets. Baz and I now think our next vacation should be to Iceland. They even have a place called Isafjordur!

- And lest I have any illusions about this in future - on an overnight flight with my kids, I will not get an ounce of sleep. Must plan accordingly.

More stories & pictures to come as we get ourselves organized in our new home in Amsterdam.