Thursday, June 30, 2011


If you know Baz, you probably won't be surprised to hear that he's found a real niche in karate these past few weeks. It's brand-new for him, but it has just the right mix of focus/concentration, physical energy, and warrior-mystique to fill pretty much all of his needs. I love peeking in at him in class, seeing his ultra-serious face in rapt attention. We really like Studio Breathe, where he attends the classes up to 3 times per week.

Also I promised I wouldn't post a photo, but Baz's other big adventure here in Montreal is that we had a palatal expander installed by a pricey orthodontist. Multiple dentists & orthodontists had told us we needed to get this done - his upper jaw is simply too small. The adult teeth don't have space to come in, and he's compensating with a crossbite. So he's got this device in his mouth that I have to turn with a key, once a day for 4 weeks, which will open up his upper palate. He'll keep it in for another 3 or 4 months after that - including a couple of braces on his front teeth, to keep them straight as the mouth widens. I was a bit shocked that we had to get into this already, but so far it is going pretty smoothly. Though Baz was very resistant to the early appointments preparing for this device, now that he has it, he's being great - carefully following all instructions, and taking it as a serious responsibility.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ecole Nationale de Cirque

Yesterday we finally got a glimpse inside North America's most prestigious circus school, Montreal's Ecole National de Cirque. Kyle, a first-year student there, gave us a tour of the place after his classes had finished. He's in the middle of a three-week required summer session, which is a simple training regimen to keep them in shape during their break. (well, simple... if 5 hours a day of hard physical work can be called simple). Between this, and Kyle's performances in the upcoming circus festival, Montreal Completement Cirque, he will really only have the month of August free for summer vacation.

We were happy to have this tour of ENC, which is not the easiest thing to arrange. You can't just drop in and ask to walk around the school - appointments must be scheduled in advance, and students are limited in the amount of visitors / hours they can bring people in. This is just one of many rules that govern the workings of ENC, preserving its privacy and exclusivity. Visitors (or students or employees for that matter) are not allowed to take pictures or videos inside the school for posting on the Internet. (photo below from their Web site!) And Kyle explained that from a student's perspective, there are a myriad of other regulations - such as no training without a teacher present, which can be a challenge for these ultra-driven circus students who want to be training at all hours of the day.

While the environment seems, to outsiders, in the words of a friend of mine, "not warm and fuzzy", there is no arguing about the extraordinary caliber of training that takes place inside, or the incomparable facilities they've built for it. Infusions of funding from the Canadian government and private sources (Cirque du Soleil is their biggest donor) have provided for multiple soaring studio spaces, walls of windows, smaller classrooms, dormitories, offices, meeting rooms, and the most comprehensive and beautiful circus library I've ever seen.

The main studio spaces themselves are dazzling to walk around. With 40-foot ceilings covered with rigging grids, everything is custom-designed for circus. Powertracks, swinging trapeze rigs, Chinese poles, Cyr wheels, trampolines - the rooms are simply circus heaven, and surprisingly uncluttered - even the rooms where equipment is stored are spacious and neatly organized. On one of the higher floors, there is a huge, light-filled studio which is rented out by professional artists and companies who come in to develop work. As Kyle says, there is always something going on at ENC, shows being created, famous performers visiting.

As a student, Kyle's studies are intense and highly planned-out. Every student takes a certain number of general classes, including dance, acting, flexibility and "muscu", which is physical conditioning. They each have a primary coach for their specialization, and occasional guest professional artists as instructors. While some students come in as generalists, without a specific plan, others, like Kyle, know their specialty beforehand. Students are primarily Quebecois, with a sprinkling of Americans and Europeans.

It is an inspiring place to visit, especially after seeing the student shows a couple of weeks ago. If the future of circus is here, it's looking very bright indeed.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our Montreal apartment

Enjoy this bit of silliness from the Kennedy kids...


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

First images in Montreal

Finally – after a few weeks of problems with my camera’s batteries and connecting cables (…ok…full disclosure… I simply lost these items completely, and have spent these few weeks hunting for replacements) – I finally have the ability again to upload photos! Here are a few from the past two weeks.
The first is Isa in our Montreal apartment, painting.

Here is a pretty picture of the little girls of Totem at the Montreal Premiere. The fresh roses laid out on the tables were a big hit. The girls brought them in to see the show, and if that didn't mark them out as special enough, Gipsy and Isa stood up in the audience and danced along with the Finale!
The girls shown - at the top is Sophia, and then from left to right it's Alina, Alyona, Dasha, Ayla, Isa, and Gipsy. The roster of children changes frequently... two 8-year-old girls (not pictured) have just joined us, and two of the other young girls are away for the summer with their Moms, we'll see them again in Toronto.

I thought this was great - a couple of school students from another Cirque show joined our Totem school for a day last week, and they all planted vegetables together. Showing some plants is Sylvie, one of the heads of the Supervision of Minors department - they are able to visit us more frequently now that we're near CdS headquarters.

The summer in Montreal is simply beautiful - temperatures in the 70s, gorgeous sunshine, the waterfront, and a city just teeming with people from all over the world. We are happy to be here!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Totem profiles - Fabio Luis-Santos

Fabio, age 24, comes from Itajai, in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil. He was an energetic kid, and at age 9 his parents sought an outlet for him in a local gymnastics school. He was immediately hooked, and by age 10 was training there every day.
Throughout his teens, Fabio was sponsored by the local and state governments to compete in gymnastics.

At the age of 22, Fabio heard that Cirque du Soleil was auditioning gymnasts in Brazil. He traveled to the audition. 6 months later, he was offered a job with Totem. He is one of the “frogs”, the high bar acrobats who open the show in the act called Carapace. It was an original creation for Totem, so he spent months in Montreal developing this act with the other gymnasts.

The touring life has been great for Fabio. Before joining Cirque, he had never traveled outside of South / Central America, and now he’s seeing the world. At the beginning, he needed a Portuguese interpreter – now he speaks English comfortably. He loves the energy of being onstage, and the great structure that Cirque provides.

But he does miss his family and his hometown, and is looking forward to going home at Annual Leave time in October this year.

Friday, June 17, 2011

One Year

It has been one year since I left Philadelphia to join the Totem tour with Greg.

Things I’ve learned

About Cirque
- The Cirque du Soleil performers, with their superhuman beauty onstage, are really ordinary people behind the scenes. Like the rest of us, they have insecurities, weaknesses, and bad moods. Uniquely, however, they are able to let go of all of that when they walk onto the stage. And truth be told, they are above-average beautiful. When they walk around outside, they are striking.
- a Cirque du Soleil touring community, which I initially perceived as completely equitable and hierarchy-blind, really isn’t. Artists are given many more benefits, privileges and considerations than any of the supporting staff. Though it seems unfair at times, everyone seems to accept it as necessary and inevitable.
- Officially, the costume department is not responsible for sewing your personal items. But if you show up with a child’s torn or damaged clothing, chances are good that someone will help you out.

About the kids
- They are, of course, resilient. They have adapted to our new lifestyle with barely a hiccup. In place of a physical home, we have our family unit – they know that, where-ever we go, Mom and Dad, Baz, Ayla, and Isa will always be together. I believe this gives them the security they need to cope with the constant changes.
- Their exposure to other cultures and languages is working out exactly as I’d hoped. They completely understand now that people surrounding them may or may not speak their language. They know how to grapple with this. And they understand how hard it is to learn another language, from their own studies of French. While I do not have children chattering away in Russian or Chinese just yet, they are absorbing the importance of all of it, and opening their minds to the learning process. It’s invaluable, and I can see a big difference in them already.
- They are book-smart, my kids. We’ve always known that. But I appreciate this educational system, which continues to challenge them in academics, but also gives them many opportunities to stretch their wings in other areas. They run, they climb trees, they dance in the aisles of the circus tent. They plant fresh vegetables and eat them; examine treasures brought back from the rainforest by one of their teachers; they memorize the flags of all of the countries of Totem’s staff. …I know that every good elementary school provides diverse opportunities, and I am just glad that the Totem school is able to do so, as well.

About me
- I can do this.
- The things in my personal life that aspire to be good at: parenting, housekeeping, physical fitness, language study – are mildly improved by having more time. But they are still far, far from perfect.
- Based on the above, and also, I expect, on the fact that I’m getting older – I am becoming more accepting of the things I will never be. A cook. Fashionably dressed. A parent who loves open-ended playtime with her children. etc.
- I am an organizer / instigator. This is who I am. No matter what situation I’m in, I feel a need to structure it and move it forwards. I get a lot done; but I don’t relax and enjoy the moment very well.
- Every city, I arrive, and find in the apartment a dozen different things that I’m missing, that I feel I can’t do without. Instead of rushing out and buying everything - my recent strategy is to write everything down. For a few days I pine away and lament the absences, but after a week or so, 90% of the things on the list really don’t seem to matter anymore.
- I have no idea how anyone survived a touring lifestyle in the days before Internet.
- In most ways, I look around and realize that I am living all of my dreams. Right here and now! I am in a beautiful apartment, right in the heart of a big, French-speaking metropolis. I have time for hobbies, and for my family. I am a (peripheral) part of Cirque du Soleil, and so continually surrounded by my strongest passion. What’s more, my other passion – the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts – thrives without me, and will be there whenever this particular dream path comes to an end. It is a life of such near-perfection, everything I have ever wanted, that I can only feel an immense gratitude.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

ENC shows

We were lucky enough to arrive here in time for the annual end-of-year shows of the Ecole Nationale de Cirque. ENC is the creme-de-la-creme of circus schools, and their end-of-year show primarily features the 3rd-year, graduating students, though the 1st- and 2nd-years have supporting roles. There are two entirely separate productions: This year's shows are Pomme Grenade and Messa.

I saw Pomme Grenade first, this afternoon, with the children. I am so glad I brought them to this one, and not the other. Pomme Grenade was a really fun show. The director kept things upbeat, moving, and colorful throughout. The opening scene was just a joy, people moving through space, with acrobatic vignettes emerging, and disappearing, fluidly. It was a show of constant surprises, as acrobats dropped down from the ceiling and popped out of trap doors.

The featured acts in Pomme Grenade left nothing to be desired. The elegant handbalancer; the beautiful hammock choreography; the Korean plank (new to me, I'd never seen this rockin' skill before); the masterful cigar boxes; the lyra with its exquisite final sequences on the upper rope. I thoroughly enjoyed the hoop-diving, the amazing trampoline tricks, and the rotating pole act. (what on earth was that?) Overall, everything I'd hoped for in an ENC show.

Then, this evening, Greg and I went to see Messa. First off, thank goodness I didn't bring the children to this one, with its bizarre theme (religious cults?), dark and scary lighting and sound effects, and long bits of dullness. It might have turned them off modern circus for good. Even I had so much trouble with the uncomfortable directorial choices, it was hard to see through to the artists. ....Everywhere that Pomme Grenade had beautiful acrobatic transitions, Messa had people acting like lunatics. Use of TOHU's extraordinary space was limited. Costumes were uninspired, lighting was bleak and depressing.

Of course it had its moments. The aerial sequence, with the entire cast suspended on aerial equipment, filling the stage, was a moment of true beauty. The diaboloist was great, the straps guy fantastic, the Roue Cyr girl mesmerizing. The comic lyra act was a welcome chance to exhale and laugh. I think that despite their crazy director, there was some real talent in the cast.

I haven't mentioned how happy we are to visit our young friend, Kyle Driggs, who is a 1st-year student at ENC this year. He took part in the pre-show "animation" for Pomme Grenade, and even among these elites, stood out as exceptional. Kyle is a gifted juggler from the Philadelphia area, who made PSCA his home for the year or two prior to ENC. We gave him as much support as we could there, and watched his discipline and performance skills evolve. We were thrilled to send him on to Montreal, where he could really flourish. He's promised me a tour of ENC soon, so more blogging to come on that.

Back at home - Greg has finally arrived, and spent his first hour here rearranging all of the apartment furniture, as expected. Now we can relax and sort out some kind of routine for ourselves here!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Back in Montreal

It has been quite a week! Last days in Pittsburgh, packing up our lives again, and transitioning out of the country again to Montreal. I lost my camera-battery-charger, so there will be no photos for this blog post, but I still have plenty to write about.

Our last few days in Pittsburgh were good. The kids and I explored the Three Rivers Arts Festival and the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, and spent another hot afternoon cozied up in the Carnegie Library, which had become one of our favorite haunts in the city. We said bittersweet goodbyes to our scenic bridges, the Strip District, and of course to my beloved Bikram Yoga.

Being so close to the site, we were able to observe some of the tearing-down of the tent. The "fly-in guys" made their usual appearance - this is a crew of who-knows-how-many tech guys & girls who fly all over the world tearing down and setting up the tents. One of the technicians told me that on Tuesday, they had to work 6am-2pm, and did a mad scramble to get the main poles down before the thunderstorms rolled in - with success! The whole show was loaded up on tractor-trailers and sent off to Montreal.

Tuesday, travel day, was just bizarre. First, the travel & lodging people were unable to get us a late check-out for our apartment - our shuttle to the airport didn't leave till after 4pm, and we had to vacate by 11am. So they got us another apartment for the day! It seemed a little silly beforehand, but I greatly appreciated it as the day went on, a place to just unwind out of the rain, do last bits of laundry and feed the kids.

Greg had to leave early Tuesday morning, because he had a show booked in the Philadelphia area. Although it seems insane, Greg continues to book occasional shows during his weeks off from Cirque. Whenever this happens, it's a good deal of stress, as he has to rehearse all of his old material, haul all of his equipment out of storage, etc. But he's determined to keep doing this, just to exercise those muscles and not lose his ability to do the 1-hour show. Even now he's having a harder time with the traditional juggling skills like beanbags, clubs, devil stick - because he's spent the last two years rolling balls in a cone. So, as much as I roll my eyes about these bookings, I do understand what he's trying to do.

The kids and I didn't go with him, because Cirque did a nifty thing - they chartered a plane for us to Montreal. Apparently this is something they do now and then! though most of the people on tour had never experienced it before. When a plane is chartered, all employees and their families are given free seats. However, they don't reimburse anyone the cost of their own travel. Many of the artists made their own plans anyway, especially those who owned cars. Nevertheless there were 113 people on the flight. ...I expected this experience to be tons of fun, some sort of VIP / party bus kind of trip. But it turned out to be rather ordinary. There really wasn't any difference from a regular international flight, except for seeing more familiar faces. Everyone pretty much kept to themselves and we arrived in Canada uneventfully.

In my little clan, things started to fall apart after that. At the customs desk, the kids all acted rambunctious and badly behaved while the official grilled me - why was I traveling without the kids' father? If he's working here, where is he and where's his work authorization? Did I have a letter, signed by him, authorizing me to take the kids out of the country? ....all rather difficult, but we did get through it.

The shuttle bus on the way home took forever, stopping at a number of other places. We were the last stop. Baz and Isa had fallen sound asleep by that time. When we arrived at the second-to-last stop (around 10:45pm), I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to call the apartment to get someone to let us in. I got a little panicked, and I saw one of our travel & lodging staffers outside the window, helping with another building. I told the bus driver I had to ask her a question, I'd be back in a minute, and I jumped off the bus and ran in the building to ask her what to do.

When I came back outside a couple of minutes later, the bus was gone.

....Oh, it was one of those moments. If you are a parent, you have probably had moments like this, when your world starts spinning in an absolute panic. The children are gone. You have done something stupid and turned your back at the wrong moment, and the children are gone and the longest minutes of your life ensue.

It couldn't have been more than five minutes. Maybe ten at the outside. I don't even know what I was doing - running to Joann, running to other Cirque friends, pacing around the street, telling myself it would all be OK.... and then the bus driver circled back from where-ever the hell he had gone with a bus containing no adults, only my three tiny children, and I scrambled onto the bus, finally breathing again, trying to communicate in broken French. I never did figure out where he had gone or what he was thinking. My belief in his good character was further shattered when he dropped us off outside our building - by that time Isa had woken up and was screaming at the top of her lungs - with all our suitcases, in front of a locked door, late at night, and he left us there.

Our very nice property manager, Adam, thankfully appeared only a few minutes later, helped us with our suitcases and got us into the apartment. Once the kids were safely tucked into their beds I could finally catch my breath, and begin to look around.

We've got a great place here in Montreal. What a location! A block from Notre-Dame Cathedral, about two blocks from the waterfront. We're on the 9th floor... from my bedroom window I can see the cathedral and the river and the science museum. And it's a 3-bedroom apartment, spacious, comfortable. I'll be sure to post a video soon.

The only thing I'm really not excited about so far is the swimming pool. It's a "rooftop" pool, which sounds awesome - but it's an indoor pool. What's more, it's a small, cold, deep indoor pool, with no comfortable chairs around it. The kids are all in over their heads, and I am not at all interested in getting in with them. I think we'll be buying some floatation devices just to keep them occupied.

We've walked around the Old Port a little bit, and I am thrilled to be back here. I forgot how much I enjoyed this city. I love speaking French. I love the street performers and the shops and the fountains. We're going to have a great time here!

To kick off a new summer activity, I took Baz today to his first karate class! We found a studio here, and his friend Yahor is also taking the class. They are very excited about it, and Nastya and I are happy to have found something like this for them. They can go to class as often as 3 times per week, if we can organize ourselves. ...and for me, I'm enjoying having the time hanging out with Nastya. Today was Russian day, and we talked all afternoon. Admittedly, on Russian day she does a lot more of the talking. But my comprehension is really improving! I can understand so much more now. Even if my speaking is still at baby-level, I can definitely see progress.

Getting through the week here.... Greg comes up on Saturday evening, only two more days with just me and the kids. The hardest part for me is not having an hour free to get out for exercise, even at 6am. (it keeps me sane!!) But I can do this, just a couple more days.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Catching up

A number of things have kept me away from the computer this week, but the biggest one is that my 3-year-old HP laptop abruptly died. It had been giving me signs of discontent for some time - in recent months I hadn't been able to use the webcam, Wi-Fi, or anything requiring sound. But we persevered, HP and I. Until the morning that it simply wouldn't start.

I was persuaded to switch this week to a Mac. Why do I feel like I'm too old to be undergoing such a conversion? ...nevertheless, so far I am charmed by my little MacBook Pro, which came into my household just this morning. Apple sure does care about aesthetics. Every detail of the packaging and purchase-experience has been well-thought out. And you know, getting this machine up and running was almost comically easy. I am usually prepared to spend days trying to configure a new computer. But guess what? Here I am, blogging, instead. Yay Steve Jobs.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Pittsburgh over the last ten days or so. What an amazing city this is! I love so many things about it. It's so walkable, bike-able, and green. The bridges and rivers are beautiful. I don't normally pay much attention to architecture, but it's fascinating here - I love street scenes like this one, with a jumble of new and old buildings. ...I like the neighborhoods, the people, and the businesses I've come across here.

We spent a good amount of time this past week looking at animals, at the Pittsburgh Zoo and the National Aviary. I have to voice one complaint - the Pittsburgh Zoo seems to be completely inaccessible to pedestrians. Our trek with 4 adults and 9 children on a school field trip can only be described as arduous. How can a park, ostensibly about nature, contrive surroundings with no nearby bus routes or even sidewalks?

It's hard not to forgive them, though, when you get a close look at animals like these.

The Aviary was surprisingly great, too. (I think that should be Pittsburgh's tourism tagline. "Pittsburgh. Surprisingly great!") My mother, Isa, and I did this one, and were able to observe the most colorful tropical birds we'd ever seen. And Isa, of course, loved the penguins.

One last place I have to mention is the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. Here's something I'd never seen before - a giant, beautiful, ornate cathedral that is not a church - it never was a church - it is a university building, a place to revere education. Besides this grandiose main space, there are "Nationality Rooms" all around the perimeter - rooms that were sponsored by different cultural groups in Pittsburgh, classrooms designed in the style of a historical period in their country. To take a self-guided tour, we were handed a cassette recorder and a key. We unlocked each room, played the tape recorder, and locked the door again on our way out. Totally marvelous.

In the middle of all of this exploring, I spent a full weekend doing an intensive course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. This pursuit is partly for fun, but I've always really loved teaching English, and it's a great chance for me to take it a little more seriously. Many of the ideas we explored are going to come in handy immediately, with my Adult English classes and Kids English classes at the Cirque tent.