Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sustenance through circus arts

So, I was feeling pretty down today. It's not that uncommon for me here in London, feeling so detached from Cirque du Soleil and spending so much time by myself with the kids. From discussion with others, it sounds like this city is hard for everyone. For the CdS employees, they are spending long days in a dark theater, missing the fresh air and their familiar workspaces. For the accompanying tour members, we just feel isolated. A bit to our surprise, we are all looking forward to leaving London and going to Charlotte, North Carolina! Back to our familiar community and to more sunlight.

In any case, my day brightened immensely today when I left the kids with a babysitter and met some friends out at a show at the Royal Opera House, part of the London Mime Festival. The London Mime Festival is inappropriately named - it really has nothing to do with mime, as far as I can tell. It's billed as "a once a year chance to see the very best in contemporary visual theatre, featuring cutting edge circus-theatre, adult puppetry and animation, physical and object theatre." I wish I'd had a chance to see more of the shows, as the festival calendar was full of interesting things.

This show, the one I did get to see, was the duo Atelier Lefeuvre & Andre, with their show, Le Jardin. It was wonderful! Very French in its quirkiness, the 90-minute show included comic and acrobatic interactions with a wheelbarrow, a block of stone, a garden hose, and a newspaper. As I'm writing that, it doesn't sound nearly as interesting as it actually was. ...what really made the show compelling was the two characters and their evolving relationship. It continually amazes me how far ahead of the rest of the world French circus companies are. Even twenty years ago they were making work that had more meaning and sophistication than I've seen anywhere else.

As I joined my friends at the Opera House, we ran into numerous other friends and acquaintances, all going to see the show. Names that are a blast from the past - Charlie Holland, founder of Circus Space; Tim Roberts, Greg's old coach at Centre National des Arts du Cirque in France; and, the icing on the cake, my long-lost friend Camilla Ogard, who went to Circomedia with me in 1995-1996. Seeing her was an indescribable joy.

Leaving Covent Garden, I just felt at peace with the world. This is what circus does for me... the inspiration of seeing beautiful work, the companionship of watching a show with circus friends. And how familiar it all feels - like it's 1995 again and I'm surrounded by my Circomedia class, studying the mixed landscapes of circus and theatre.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Elegance

Listening to a violinist play in a cathedral
Having tea at the Victoria & Albert Museum
Picking up the children at the Royal Albert Hall
London sometimes just feels glamorous.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

School kids

Baz and Ayla, as you know, have a unique schooling situation. They are in the Totem school, which right now numbers 6 kids, ages 6-15. None of the kids are in the same grade, and my two are the youngest - Ayla is a 1st-grader, and Baz is a 2nd-grader. They are taught in two classrooms, by two wonderful teachers, and rotate throughout the day in a schedule that includes English, French, Math, Science, Social Studies, Phys Ed, ECR (ethics/civics/religion), and Arts. They are in school Tuesday-Saturday, working around the show performance schedule; the school hours here in London are 12noon-6:00pm.

I enjoy hearing them talk about their classes and projects. Most of them are the same; though they are officially on two different grade-level curriculums, in many subjects they are taught the same lessons and given similar assignments. Baz's spelling words and math problems are slightly harder than Ayla's.

This evening at dinner I asked them to tell me some of the things they do regularly in their classes. Here are a few of their most-memorable activities:

Social studies – tracking the Cirque du Soleil big-top touring shows on a map, learning about the flags and countries.

Describing the parts of a sentence using three plates: green, blue, and red. Green = where or when, Blue = action, Red = subject

French – making little books about animals, describing them.
Ayla’s animals so far: 1. Cat 2. Dog 3. Butterfly
Baz’s animals so far: 1. Tiger 2. Bald eagle 3. Platypus 4. Poison dart frog 5. Dracorex (dinosaur)

Teacher around the world (their teacher David tells stories about his extraordinary travel adventures)

Rainforest studies (an ongoing project)

English class: 5-minute writeup - this is the one they've been most excited about today, as they brought home some of their work to show me. Apparently David gives them a first sentence, or sometimes a handful of words, and they have to write a short story with that starting point. Baz got so into his story this evening that he pored over it till bedtime, adding and tweaking things. To show you how my kids are writing these days, I'll copy both of their stories here, spelling errors and all.

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(excerpt of Ayla Kennedy’s story)
Birds were singing today while I was working on my homework. They were bothering me so much I just had to go outside then I saw a very amazing site they were not birds, can you guess what they were? there was a big group of dogs out side and it was like they were chiping. I was very suprised then I heard a woof woof I looked at the dogs again then I saw that it was the dogs that were barking I looked up at the sky and saw lots of birds they were all chriping then I walked back inside and thought the birds might have chiped so loudley I could not hear the dogs and then the birds were so quit and the dogs were so loud….

Baz Kennedy
Birds were singing today while I sat on the porch. It was afternoon and my sisters were playing in the yard. I love atum I thout to myself. The trees are ripe and birds are singing sundedley a cool autum breeze swept through the air it seemed to lift me off my feet. It blew me over to the porch railing and there I saw a wonderful sight I could not have described. It was amazing ferocis and breathtaking all at the same time. It was a dinosaur. I had longed to see a dinosaur but now it was scary. At first I couldn’t tell which type of dinosaur it was. But then I renemberd. In my dinosaur book the ultimate dinopedia it said it was a dracorex the dragon king. I stared at him for a moment then started to back away “plese don’t go” dracorex said.

I was very surprised. I took a step nearer. “come with me and meet my friends” dracorex said. I got off the porch close up dracorex was two times as big as me. “touch me and we’ll go to dinosaur world” dracorex said. I hestated. “won’t there be meat eaters?” I asked. “yes there will he answered But their all my friends.” “OK” I touched his tail. A few moments later we were spinning through the air. “One quick question” I said. “sure” said dracorex. “How did you get to the humane world?” “Oh a friend bumped in to me and I fell in a pool of magic water.” He looked around. “we should be almost there.” so I got to dinosaur world and I met all his friends like allosaurus then I went home. and here I am writing this book.


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I have a lot of fond memories of story-writing as a little kid, so I love reading these. I also love that they have a really personal education taking place. Their teachers sometimes get frustrated with them, and sometimes adore them, but no matter what, they are like a small family.

Tomorrow is Phys Ed day, they're heading back to the rock-climbing gym and they're excited!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mom & Erin visit

Here we are - me, my mother Terry, and my sister Erin, in front of my apartment door here in London. Mom and Erin came just for a long weekend to London - four days - but we managed to fill it with a good balance of sightseeing, time with the kids, and long walks and talks.

We did, of course, do a lot of things that I never would have done by myself. For example, trekking to Kings Cross Station to find Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4. Other things, I let them go off and do without me, like photographing the Abbey Road recording studio, or browsing luxury shoes at Harrod's and Selfridges. (My sister and I are very different people, have I mentioned that?)

One day we came across this sculpture in the Northwest corner of Hyde Park, and I was particularly impressed after watching this video of its installation.

One of the biggest treats for the kids during this weekend was our trip to Hamley's, the biggest toy store in London. 7 levels of toys! It is really an amazing place. And yes, that is Buzz Lightyear made entirely of Legos.

On their last evening here, Mom, Erin and I went to see the musical Blood Brothers in the West End. An amazing, intense show - remarkable actors, music, storyline - I thought it was terrifically well done, especially for a show that's been running for 21 years! How do they ever keep up the energy?

A last picture for today's blog, here's our family in front of Buckingham Palace. I dragged everybody out to hit some of the Big Tourist Spots the other day - we saw the Changing of the Guard, Trafalgar Square, and had a surprisingly stunning tour of Westminster Abbey. I had no idea that the cathedral is overflowing with tombs and memorials of kings and queens, famous writers and scientists. The experience was much less about the cathedral architecture, and more about the massive history, seeing the resting places of 800-year-old monarchs. This is particularly in sync with my reading habits of the moment, as I'm immersed in Philippa Gregory's juicy historical novels (right now, it's London in the year 1477 - The White Queen).

It's great to know that it won't be such a long time till I see my family again. We fly to Boston in 22 days! The time here is going by quickly.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January, onwards!

Just a few quick notes of recent goings-on.

Spending time with Isa this week - library storytime, ballet class, and more days at the Science Museum. We can't get enough of this place, constantly finding new areas to explore. This week's discovery was Pattern Pod, which, simply, rocks. Here's a picture of a station where you can use virtual finger paints to design kaleidoscopic images, which are then projected on the wall. Even the 2-year-olds were able to do this, and they loved it.

Baz and Ayla, in the meantime, had a good week back at school. Their Phys Ed program for London? Rock-climbing at a local gym.

My Mom and sister have arrived for a long weekend! So we are planning to see and do a lot in the next few days. Today we hit the Victoria & Albert Museum (much more interesting than I expected) and the Natural History Museum (super-crowded on a Saturday). Isa is a champion tourist, able to walk and stand around for hours. Erin observed that she's even mastered proper museum behavior, nodding appreciatively at artworks and looking thoughtful.

In other news, my Russian friend Nastya and I have made a new plan - instead of constantly speaking to each other in our mixed Russian/English garble, we're going to alternate days - Russian one day, English the next. We've been doing this for a few days now and it's super-challenging for us both, not to lapse into our native tongues. We're talking about having me teach English classes, starting in Charlotte.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Kensington, & some empty days

I'm becoming more and more impressed with this neighborhood of ours, Kensington. The history here is incredible! Every book I pick up these days seems to refer to it in some way... it was a hunting ground for Henry VIII, childhood home of Queen Victoria, the inspiration for J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, and the last home of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The other night, the girls and I walked down this nearby street: "Kensington Palace Gardens is a street which contains some of the grandest and most expensive houses in the world. It is the often cited as `most exclusive address' in London; it is one of the most expensive residential streets in the world, and has long been known as `Billionaires Row', due to the extreme wealth of its private residents, although in fact the majority of its current occupants are either national embassies or ambassadorial residences. As of mid 2010, current market prices for a property on the street are an average of £18 million."

Huh.

(don't get confused - this is not the street I live on!! but it's only a couple of blocks away.)

So I'm inspired to explore this corner of the world a little more, despite the gray, drizzly weather. The kids and I ventured out to find Peter Pan today. This statue was placed here, with support of the author, in the early 1900s. It's a lovely statue and the kids very much wanted to play with it - making up games with the little animals around the base, running around and laughing - but I had to keep pulling them away so that tourists could take pictures of the statue. How ridiculous is that?

I was surprised by this one stretch of the gardens that is completely luscious green, in the middle of January. How is this possible? In the rest of the park, the trees are bare (though the grass is still mysteriously alive). But along this one corridor, everything is green, trees, bushes, ground cover. The signs indicate that in spring, it's bursting with flowers.

There is a fascination in this park with squirrels. People (including Cirque friends) love to feed them and admire them. Do they not have squirrels as commonly in Europe? My kids were delighted to discover that the squirrels in Kensington Gardens are practically tame - they are so used to being fed by people that they will run right up to you, and nuzzle into your hand.

So Kensington is great.

The other part of this blog post, though, is about my less-than-happy past few days. It was just a hard week. Baz and Ayla were out of school (teachers away at a conference). So I had all the kids for the whole week, and I expected that we'd pack the days with playdates and sightseeing. I called and emailed friends, asking them to get in touch with me as they made plans.

The first few days, I was energetic. We went to the playground. We went to museums. We did projects and practiced cooking and got new books from the library.

But by Thursday night, with no messages from friends at all, I began to feel despondent. My will to get through Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, by myself with the kids and no social contacts, seemed to just evaporate.

Still, the days had to pass, and I couldn't bring myself to drag them through another museum. So we stayed home. Ventured no further than the playground. Lots of books were read, games were played, and we're all still intact. For me it was lonely, and dull, and I'm not proud of the amount of time I spent surfing Facebook and reading novels, sending the kids off to play by themselves. I feel like I accomplished nothing, for three full days. And I'm really disappointed that our Cirque friends didn't seem to miss us all week. I don't know whether everyone just gets into their own routines and forgets the outside world, or if they're just disorganized...? All of the parents will say how much they want their kids to play with other kids. But I don't want to be the one initiating it all the time.

I'm also finding it so hard, not being able to visit the Cirque site. In previous cities, the energy of the circus sustained me ... just being around the tent, practicing Russian in the kitchen, watching the show from backstage, these things kept me feeling positive and connected. Now Greg disappears to work, and I feel so far away from it all. There's nothing to be done about this, except to wait it out.

This week promises to be better. School starts again, and Isa will have ballet classes, and my Mom and sister arrive for a visit at the end of the week! I'm ready to come back to life.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Interviews & videos

Here's a link to some "exclusive" new Totem video footage, interviews and such, including a great one of Greg.

Totem

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Enchanted Palace


It's been very hard to resist the lure of the Enchanted Palace, these past three weeks here in London. From my front door I can practically see Kensington Palace, which is surrounded now by a fence bearing signs like this one. (that's Isa in the middle)

Kensington Palace itself is undergoing a multi-year renovation project, but they have opened up one section of it in a special exhibition, called the Enchanted Palace. Using modern art installations and costumed actors, it invites visitors to discover the stories of seven princesses who, at one time or another, inhabited the palace (including, most recently, the late Princess Diana).

The kids and I quite enjoyed it. It's set up as a quest, you are searching for the seven princesses through the different rooms. Some of the stories are so complicated, it's hard to keep track of who's who; and some of the art installations are seriously bizarre (see disembodied dress in above photo). But there were enough elegant princess-outfits, and grandiose state rooms, to keep us all fairly on track. We liked this room, the Gallery of War and Play, where you are invited to play with the King's Toys.

So now our curiosity is satisfied... the seven princesses who lived here are
Queen Mary II (1662 - 1694)
Queen Anne (1665 – 1714)
Queen Caroline (1683 -1737)
Princess Charlotte (1796 -1817)
Queen Victoria (1819 - 1901)
Princess Margaret (1930 - 2002)
Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Things I miss

Being on tour has lots of perks. But there are also a lot of things we simply can't bring with us. Things I miss ...

Pets Books on bookshelves Bulk shopping Seasonal things like rain boots, snowpants and beach toys Holiday decorations Photo albums My own desk Kids after-school activities Preschool Newspaper & magazine subscriptions Choosing my own housewares: coat racks, oven mitts, art on the walls Not destroying small appliances by messing up voltage converters Sending kids out to play in the backyard Vacuum cleaner Laundry baskets Tupperware

Monday, January 10, 2011

Old friends

As I hoped, my time here in London has been nicely filled in with visiting friends, people I haven't seen in many years.

We've been spending a lot of time catching up with our beloved friend Sam Veale, who lives in the Wimbledon area, south of London. Greg first met Sam in January 1994 in Las Vegas, and I met him the following year there. In the 17 years since then, he has attended (and performed at) our wedding, served as a gracious host on numerous London-visiting occasions, and kept in touch during all this time. He is an excellent juggler, a master yo-yoer, and a brilliant stand-up comic. He is also now a husband and father to two little girls, pictured - he's holding 3-year-old Isa, and that's Millie (age 4) and Sophia (age 2) in the stroller.


This weekend we were joined in London by another old friend, Jay Gilligan. We've known him for just about as long. Jay is one of the top performing jugglers in the world, known for crazy original work. He grew up in the U.S. but lives now in Europe - mainly based out of Stockholm, but traveling constantly. His wife, Miku, flew in from Berlin today - she is a trapeze artist performing at the Wintergarten. Here we are all together at the Science Museum.

Jay and I had the chance to get out for an evening, and so we went to the discount-ticket booth in Leicester Square and picked up tickets to see Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. Oh my!! I've got to say, although I absolutely loved getting out to the West End, and thoroughly enjoyed the performance (which incidentally includes a bunch of circus performers), this is one head-trip, wacked-out story. The musical has not reached the U.S. yet, so I won't spoil it too much for you - but as a teaser - the Phantom, 10 years after the opera debacle, resurfaces in Coney Island running a freak show. And it just gets weirder from there.

In Totem news, it's been a bumpy few days. The reviews came out in the papers, and they are decidedly mixed - the British critics are harsh. A couple of acts had to miss one of the shows this past weekend, for reasons unknown to me. And Greg's having troubles with his newest set of glowballs. After 250+ shows of full standing ovations, every single performance, the artists have accepted the fact that the audiences here are a bit tougher to get to their feet. On the brighter side, ticket sales are phenomenal, I guess everyone wants to see it for themselves.

The kids are off from school this week, as the teachers are away for a conference. So, it's more sightseeing for us! I'm sure we'll spend a good amount of time at the Diana playground and the free museums, which are much quieter now that the regular school holidays are over.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Premiere in London


Last night was the big event, Totem's premiere in London!
Premieres, in every city, are special, but this one had an extra level of excitement, inside the grandiose Royal Albert Hall. It is Totem's first time playing in a theater. I think we are all feeling a bit lost without our tent, but trying to enjoy the immense beauty of this space.

Before the show even started, there were some oddities - like this paparazzi-scene out in front of the RAH, where apparently a number of English celebrities posed for pictures. I hadn't heard of any of them, so you UK folks will have to tell me whether I should be impressed or not. Here they are. Now, if it had been circus celebrities, that would have been something else...!

Then there was the challenge of navigating the circular hall. Everyone working in here has warned me that it can be very confusing - they're not kidding! ...but with a little luck, I was seated with all the children just moments before the show began.

The show itself was not as wildly different in this space as I'd feared it might be. It filled the stage space very well, the sound quality was excellent (from the audience - the performers are having a hard time hearing from their side of it). Overall the show was clean, strong, and energetic. Everyone was relieved, since some technical glitches during the previous night's dress rehearsal had caused a lot of stress. We are thrilled to have our doubles trapeze act back in the show, and a new porter has joined the Russian bar team - but otherwise, the show is just what it was in Amsterdam.

After the show, we climbed to the top level of the theater for the Premiere Party. This photo shows the view of the theater from that level - in its empty, after-the-show state. It's a fascinating angle, several people have told me that the staging and video projections are wonderfully viewed from up here.

At the party we enjoyed this cake, topped with figurines of Nakotah, Massimo & Denise, and Umi! Stayed out till past midnight, which makes a record late-ness for the children getting to bed. Isa, at least, had a short nap, as she fell asleep in my lap during the second act of the show. :)

It was a lovely evening, celebratory and convivial. Despite my relative apart-ness from the show site in this city, with each passing month I am feeling more a part of the Totem family.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A smattering of London, part 3


It's been a beautiful start to the New Year here in London.

We spent a couple of days recovering from the excesses of the holiday season :), and then doing some more exploring around our new city. The children have fallen in love with the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, a short walk away in Hyde Park. It honestly may be the greatest playground we've ever been to, full of amazing things to climb on, secret passageways, swinging things, sand, and a giant pirate ship! Even in the middle of winter this place is pretty irresistible.

But today we were determined to venture a bit further, so we took on the City and the South Bank. Climbed to the top of the Monument, crossed London Bridge and Millennium Bridge, explored the Tate Modern, and heard the chorus sing at St. Paul's Cathedral. (Isa's loud commentary: "you mean they're just singing, but not dancing?!") It was a great day.

Here is the family contemplating the latest installation in the Tate's Turbine Hall, Sunflower Seeds. We were alternately fascinated, moved, and horrified by this exhibit (which is really the goal of modern art, isn't it?) If you're curious, check out this explanation of the artwork.
I truly loved taking the kids around the Tate, getting them to really look at some of the works, and offer their own ideas about them. It was a chance to explain to them some basic concepts about art - about the artist's intention, vs. what is actually experienced by the viewer; about the word "abstract"; about how the title of a piece can completely change your impression of it. Matisse's The Snail was a favorite example of this. We tried to figure out how artists made certain complex pieces, and why, and whether they were any good at it... :) and of course the kids, when asked to give artworks their own names, often came up with things like "Ugly Scribble".

And now Greg's first week of performances begins. Dress rehearsal tomorrow, Premiere Wednesday night. It's been a crazy challenging time for the technical team, settling into the Royal Albert Hall. We are all excited to see the results!