Sunday, July 31, 2011


Canadians seem to really like pictograms, and we've come across a lot of weird ones. Here are a few of my favorites.

This is posted outside a metro station. My kids didn't get it at first, but if you read the French at the end it sort of makes sense: Every Person Counts. (public transit)

This is the standard sign on the metro, asking you to give up your seat for any of these unfortunate types.

You've got to wonder about image #3. ??

In case you weren't sure where you are, from the top sign, there's a helpful pictogram.

I have no idea.

You're not alone if this one takes you a minute. It's a sign for a spa!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Totem profiles - Yann Arnaud

Yann Arnaud, age 32, from Chennevieres, France, is an acrobat and a character in Totem. His main act is on the Rings, pictured. Yann is the husband of my aerialist friend Adelaide, and father to Kiana, age 3.

He grew up outside Paris as a very restless and active child. His parents put him in swimming, then soccer, but it wasn't until the age of 10 that he found gymnastics. At first he was just practicing on his own, but soon convinced his parents to let him take a class. His talent came out very quickly - in his first year he was put into competitions. By the age of 11 he was training every day and was on his way to competing at an international level. But at age 14, a back injury sidelined him. Though he didn't stop training completely, he had to greatly cut down his practice for several years.

Yann rebounded, and by age 17 he had won a national championship on the high bar, and integrated into France's national gymnastics team. He met his future wife, Ade, at the national training center; they were married in 2003.

However, at age 21, he injured his back again. He was in a cast for three months. At that point, he decided he was done with competitive gymnastics. He spent a couple of years coaching, but then heard they were looking for acrobats for a show at Eurodisney, and jumped at the opportunity. He discovered that he loved being onstage. When auditions for Cirque du Soleil came through France in 2002, he auditioned. Two weeks later he found himself in Montreal.

He trained for two months in Montreal and joined the cast of O in Las Vegas. He spent two years doing the lyra act in O, and then left Cirque to be part of the creation of Le Reve, Franco Dragone's marvelous Las Vegas water circus production. He spent five years with Le Reve; then it was time for a change, and he auditioned to re-join Cirque du Soleil with Totem.

He's now on a rotation with the Rings act, performing 2 out of 3 shows. And in every show, he is one of the Neanderthal characters. He appreciates, on Totem, the ability to save money on tour - compared to the shows in Las Vegas, where artists pay for their own housing and transportation and food. And he is enjoying being part of the community here, which is more like a big family. Here's my favorite picture of Yann with his little girl.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Visitors, part 2

The last half of July has brought more wonderful visitors… my Aunt Marilyn, Uncle Bob, and their friends from Plattsburgh; my old friend Scott Jameson from Massachusetts; and my parents.

Mom has been here for the last several days, and her visits always give us an excuse to get out sightseeing. This week we managed the swimming pool at Parc Jean Drapeau, the Biodome, the Botanical Gardens, and Parc Safari.

The Biodome and the Gardens were decent. Lots of plants and animals I had never seen before. Ayla and I especially enjoyed the Chinese Gardens and the water lilies.

But Parc Safari was the biggest hit, I think. It's not too often that you can pet a zebra, or feed a yak. And though a part of me found it creepy, the endless stretch of cars driving through this yard of domesticated wild animals, there's no denying the excitement of taking photos like these:

We also enjoyed the rest of the park. This is what the underneath of a lion looks like. No, it's not on top of our car... the carnivorous felines were kept in a separate place. This photo was taken from the Lion Tunnel!

Here's one of our funniest images of the day... they gave this crane a mirror. He just stands there all the time, staring at the mirror.

Towards the end of the afternoon, it started to rain. As you can see, this lion didn't mind it too much. And for us grownups, this allowed us to avoid going to the Water Park! Not too many tears shed. Parc Safari really has a lot to see and do - we were there for nearly 5 hours even without doing the water park.

So, Mom left this morning, heading back to Massachusetts. We've changed our plans for the week between Montreal and Toronto, and now we're going there - to Natick, for a few days. We're going to leave the kids overnight with the grandparents and go to New York City to see Zarkana! So that should be exciting.

Now, it's just packing, and more packing, and a few last days here in Montreal. I took my last class this morning at Bikram Yoga Montreal. It's been awful. I only managed to get there about once a week over the last two months; I really disliked the classes and the studios, and they rarely run early-morning classes, which is the only time I can go. In the beginning, I sent this email to Bikram Yoga Pittsburgh:

"I'm just writing to say I miss you all! I am in Montreal now, and the Bikram classes are not the same. They turn the heat up too high, drink water during class, and say things like "this should hurt! feel that pain sensation!" ugh. What's more, the teachers don't learn the students' names, and I'm missing the gentle encouragement, joking around, and telling us the benefits of each posture, that you do so much of in Pittsburgh. I tell the teachers I started practicing in Pittsburgh, and they know you guys! They admire you so much. I didn't realize how lucky I was to begin Bikram classes with such world-renowned instructors. Anyway, only a few more weeks here and then I'm off to Toronto, where I will try again to find a studio that's as close-knit, supportive, and down-to-the-basics real as you all are. And hopefully my journeys will lead me back to Pittsburgh one of these days."

(sigh). Hoping for better luck in the next city.

For now, it's a beautiful sunny day here in Montreal and it's time to get out and enjoy it!

Monday, July 25, 2011

A glimpse of wow

It's nice to be the family of a Cirque du Soleil artist. Today we got a 2-hour private tour of the Cirque international headquarters (IHQ)!!

Greg arranged this for us , because last year, he was in Montreal for 6 months without us. We never saw the artist residences, or the studio. So it was especially nice for us to be able to explore. We had already looked around the outside of the grounds quite a bit - a change for Greg - he was here in the wintertime and everything was covered in snow, he never spent any time outside. Now it's a beautiful summertime, and there is lots of green space, and people are enjoying the sunshine.

Taking photos is not allowed inside IHQ. In the creation room, where new shows are being staged, you have to check your cell phone at the door. They're not kidding. But they do give tour participants a nice little booklet at the end of the tour, with some photos of the interior.

A couple of figures - CdS employs some 5000 people, 1500 of whom work at IHQ. The building was constructed in 3 parts, from 1997-2007, and it's massive - but they are still outgrowing it, and having to keep some offices off-site.

We saw the 2 cafeterias, the outdoor sand volleyball court (which converts to an ice rink in winter), the physiotherapy area, the training gymnasium, the kids' schoolroom (at Ayla's request), the 7th-floor party room, the library, the rainwater-collection systems, the water-filtration system, the shipping and receiving departments, the head-cast displays, the shoe factory, the prop-making areas, the wood shop, the extensive costume department and the fabric collections, the fitting areas. We capped it off, at Baz's request, with a visit to Guy LaLiberte's personal office. (he wasn't there at the time.) He has a nice outdoor patio. We peeked in the window at the Michael Jackson show in rehearsals. We generally had an awesome time.

Our guide, Frederic, had lots of interesting bits of trivia to share with us. Like the fact that when the artists land in the 8'-deep foam pit, they can't climb out, it acts like quicksand, they need trainers to pull them out. When a show is first developed, the library orders every imaginable piece of media existing about the topic at hand - such as Elvis, or evolution - for the creators to use for inspiration. The costume department, ever-busy, has to replace all of the costumes for O every 6 to 8 weeks. That's what the swimming pools will do. They catalog and archive everything. Every type of material used in a costume is preserved and recorded in a database. Thousands of fabrics are collected and displayed for the designers to reference, but they still, oftentimes, choose to make something from scratch. Wigs, every hair sewn in by hand, can take months of full-time work. They make 3500 pairs of shoes per year.

Besides all of this learning, today's tour served an important role for me - it re-energized the sense of purpose, and passion, that I have being on the periphery of this amazing company. Greg, too, felt inspired by the experience. He says that, in the day-in, day-out of touring with a big company, you can forget the genuine goodness of the people behind the scenes, who are all working hard as well, trying to do their very best for these shows. Cirque du Soleil seems like a truly good company, deeply committed to the welfare of its people, and the surrounding community. If it has any fault, it must be that, by examining every repercussion, thinking through every side of a problem, and carefully considering the feelings and needs of the whole universe, it can be bogged down in slowness and indecision. But cold, or thoughtless? I think it will never be.

We are excited for the Michael Jackson show (it seems the whole company is!) It will debut in October, and tour arenas. A permanent Michael Jackson show is also in the works for Las Vegas, a couple of years down the line. There are always new projects, more things to tackle, and the Cirque du Soleil world just continues to expand.... it is a privilege to witness it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Les Minutes, part 2

Another clip of Les Minutes, ENC's street performances - this one involves a high-wire walk! maybe 30 feet up. It's called "Slackline" - as you can see it's a tightwire rig, quite well-built, but it's so long, the wire really becomes slack and wobbly in the middle. The artist, some kid named Pierre, is barefoot. He's not using a balancing pole, but does have a safety cable clipped to the wire, dragging behind him. Quite a feat.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Totem in the heat

So, it's hot here. OK, it's not as hot as it is where all the rest of you are - New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, etc. But it's still hot, and you should all be grateful you don't have to wear a monkey costume. :) Here are a few images of Totem's Montreal heat wave.

Acrobats getting some sun between shows.

Nikita in the ice cooler.

Sign in the kitchen.

And on really hot days, besides water, they also break out the Gatorade coolers in the kitchen.

And this is not about the heat, but just a sign of Canada's sense of humor. Sorry it's blurry - it's the over-the-highway sign during a heavy traffic jam outside Montreal. As you sit unmoving in your car for 30 minutes, you can enjoy the message saying "Public Transit. It's Your Choice."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Des Feux, & misc.

I think I've mentioned that Montreal is the city of a thousand festivals in summertime. (it's really kind of overkill). July includes l'International des Feux Lotos-Quebec, a huge international fireworks festival. Cirque du Soleil's schedule is actually structured around this festival, with early shows on Saturdays and Wednesdays, because the fireworks are viewed at the waterfront. Each evening of the event, one country does a 30-minute show at 10:00pm. We haven't attended any of the previous shows, we are early-to-bed types ... but decided tonight, the USA night, we'd let the kids stay up. It was a glorious show, full of all kinds of intricate designs, different types of firework shapes than I had ever seen before. It had the theme of "The Wizard of Oz", and if you were close enough (we weren't) you could hear the accompanying music. Still, someone nearby had a radio, and we were able to catch the last notes of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" during the grand finale...

In other miscellaneous notes from today....
- My English/Russian lessons continue with Marina, though some days I feel like neither one of us is making much progress! I love spending time with her, though, and I think if we just keep working at it, we'll eventually see improvements.
- The girls had ballet class with Odette, at Ballet Divertimento. We are struggling now to find a place for them to do ballet in Toronto, not having much luck.
- My English classes were held this afternoon in the kitchen. Not ideal, because it's very noisy and busy. The kids, especially, can't focus. But the conference room is always occupied here in Montreal, and it was simply too hot to be outdoors. In Toronto it looks like all of the families will be staying in one apartment building! Which I'm really excited about. So we will probably have classes there, instead, for a couple of months.
- Then I took the kids to see the show today, always enjoyable. Nothing too surprising in the show today... Ante lost a devil stick handstick in the audience, which I think was a first; hand-to-hand replaced roller skates, Massimo & Denise are only doing 5 shows a week right now which is hard for everybody I think! And Russian bar only 2-bar version, as Tamir is in Washington DC welcoming his new baby girl into the world! We can't wait to meet her in Toronto.
- There was a BBQ this evening, hosted for the CdS headquarters folks. It was okay. Baz attempted to imitate Yahor's tree-branch trick, where he leaps from a chair to the branch (a la Frogs / high bar) - Baz landed on his back in the dirt, there were some tears and a trip to see Anouk. All is OK.
- Otherwise just nice visiting with people... chatting with Olga about our cross-country itineraries this fall, getting thank-you cards signed for the school teachers (last day tomorrow!) etc. another day at site.
- And tomorrow I'm getting up early for yoga... I am determinedly getting to Bikram classes once a week or so. Wish it could be more often, but the schedule just won't allow it. I really hope I can live someplace, in future, where I can get back to going every day.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

More of the circus festival!


The kids and I were delighted to be able to catch one of the Ecole Nationale de Cirque's street events yesterday. These are big performance-art projects, held outdoors in various locations of the city, during the three weeks of the festival, two or three times a day. There are at least 5 or 6 different shows, and they're all called "Les Minutes". The one we caught was "Les Minutes: Revolution" and Kyle says it's one of the most-fun shows that they do. As you can see from the attached video, it was super-fun. In fact, I can't think of anything that could be much more fun than 49 of the fittest young circus acrobats in the world playing a big French version of Simon Says in the middle of the city. The whole event was about 20 minutes, I cut it down to a few minutes of highlights here, just so you can get the idea. It totally made my day.

Today's adventure was Le Cirque Invisible, which, I must admit, I enjoyed less.

Everyone raves about this show - basically because of its pedigree. The performers, Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée and Victoria Chaplin, are undeniably two of the most groundbreaking VIPs in modern circus. According to their biography, this show has been touring (and evolving) for 30 years. "Legendary figures, pioneers of the new circus genre and inventors of a unique style..."

so, I was impressed, and felt I should see it. But that didn't make me enjoy the show.

The show is essentially a long series of prop-comedy gags, some more entertaining than others. Jean-Baptiste and Victoria take turns on stage throughout. While her bits are usually quite lovely - some remarkable use of costumes and acrobatics - his tend to be goofy, trite, and over-the-top. I was tired of watching him by his second appearance (and he must have appeared twenty times or more). Above all I was blown away by the excessive use of giant comic props, which must be an absolute nightmare to pack and pre-set. There must be hundreds of items used in this show, many used for only a few seconds. Every time they brought out something like a giant tuba, a long magic table or a mardi-gras-sized buffoonish costume, I was mentally calculating the shipping containers. Truly horrifying. Maybe this contrast was greater to me because we just saw Circa last week, which used almost no props at all...

(and let's not even mention the doves, ducks, and rabbits! how ever do they travel internationally?!)

It is somehow inspiring and worrying, at the same time, to see these two performing onstage. Knowing how old they are (according to Wikipedia, Victoria is 60, Jean-Baptiste is 74!) a big part of me doesn't want to see them up there. Shouldn't they be settling down somewhere enjoying their grandkids at this point? But admittedly, Victoria is still lovely to watch... who can imagine moving with that much elegance and strength at the age of 60? ...overall, though, I just think their time has passed. I'd rather pay tribute to them in some other way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Circus week

Really, nothing can center my world like circus performances, and this week is off to a great start.

We are just wrapping up Greg's double-dark, two full days off. We spent most of it in Plattsburgh, NY, visiting my extended family.

On our first day in Plattsburgh, I took a group of people to see Circus Smirkus! It was our second year doing this, and second year feeling proud watching Aaron Berman in the show.

Aaron is a talented young aerialist from the Philadelphia area, he has been training at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts for a few years now. Seeing him shine onstage is wonderful, and I'm quite sure this is just the beginning of his performing career.

A good afternoon was spent with circus acts and cotton candy, and we headed back to my aunt's house. Here's a bunch of us in the pool - that's me and my cousin Lisa, with all of our kids.

Today, after a few last visits and shopping (just like the Canadians, we stocked up on groceries and household goods before driving back across the border - prices are so much cheaper in the U.S.), we came back to Montreal, and left the kids with a babysitter so we could partake of a Montreal Completement Cirque performance. This one was called Wunderkammer, by an Australian group, Circa. Circa's mission statement is pretty fun: "...we progress with ceaseless inventiveness... guided by safe danger and fuelled by love and respect."

We were glad to have seen the show, but had to give it a mixed review. It had some gorgeous moments - a brilliant opening manipulation number with a hoop; great solo trapeze; a hand-balancing piece in pointe shoes; and a beautiful group acrobatic act that had all six artists throwing each other around in quite original ways. The show was heavy on dance-acro, incredibly physically demanding for the artists who were onstage for almost the full 90 minutes.

However, here again was a show bogged down by a wacky director. Entirely too much writhing and dragging people around, and too many burlesque moments. It seemed to us that many great bits in the show just had no finish, no punch line, and you were constantly left wondering, where is this going?? Glimpses of interesting ideas disappeared, and there were only a handful of times you could really exhale and grasp a concept in front of you.

This lack of simplicity was, I'm sure, mostly intentional, and I had to admire the way the acts flowed into one another, continually changing shape, rarely beginning or ending obviously. I loved how a performer would finish a particularly challenging routine, and instead of disappearing offstage, would simply join in with the group for the next set of maneuvers. The structure of the show was anything but boring.

I'd like to see more of Circa's work - apparently they have several shows, and multiple casts, though this is the first time I've ever seen them.

Cheers to Montreal Completement Cirque for bringing so much international talent to one place! And the circus festival is just beginning.

We have a mad week ahead. Greg, in addition to his regular work schedule, is going to appear on the Today show Thursday morning (just as the Scientist character, not juggling). So there are extra rehearsals for that. And it's the President's Tour this week, extra meetings. Myself, I have a full schedule of teaching classes, running kids around to activities, and welcoming round 2 of visitors. It's nice to be busy!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Le Village

This week I discovered a new area of the city, Le Village, Montreal's gayborhood. What a great place! Decorated, closed off to vehicle traffic, and full of interesting shops and restaurants.

I liked this sign a lot - it translates to "It's Summer - The Street Belongs to Pedestrians!"

But my favorite discovery here must be this art installation. The poles are all free-standing, you can run around among them, and the letters light up at night. The rough translation of this phrase is: There will be a place for each of the freedoms that you will grant to yourself.

This "manifest" explains the concept of the work very well. "... this installation reminds us that the most essential thoughts surround us, without our even guessing, and that we just need to change perspective to see them in full view. And if the trees sometimes hide the forest, the tops of this grove reveal a message of hope."

Just beautiful, really.

And the other small moment of beauty today... after 4 weeks, I finally succeeded in getting a library card!!! :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Visitors, part 1

It's a month of many wonderful visitors here in Montreal. First was Patrick McGuire, a very old friend of Greg's who is a performer in Quidam. Quidam is now touring arenas, and he had a few days off in between cities. A whole bunch of the Quidam cast came, actually.... it's something of a tradition, whenever a Cirque show has a double-dark within a few hours of another show, a contigent of tour members will make the journey out.

After that, my dear friend from Circomedia, Ludger Hollmann, came to stay for a few days. Ludger was using Montreal as his first stop on a 7-week journey cycling around Northeastern Canada, alone. We were all amazed to see his bike fitted out with carrier bags including a tent, a cooking stove, and everything he'll need to live on the land. I sent him out the door nervously this morning; he is so excited to be off on his trip.

The photo above was taken from the clock tower on the waterfront, which has a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence River and the Old Port, including the chapiteau.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy Canada Day!

Who needs the beach? We love our urban fountains.


Summer in the city!

....Today also has to go down as The Day in Which Random Quebecois People Chatter Away At Me in Completely Unintelligible French, and I Pretend to Understand Them. It just kept happening. Must be something in that patriotic-spirit air.

In any case we sampled the Festival International de Jazz, messed around in public fountains, and whiled away some time in our new favorite, overpriced English-language bookstore. A fine holiday, all in all.