Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Totem artist profiles - Eric Hernandez

Eric Hernandez, age 22, is from Covina, CA, and he is a Hoop Dancer in Totem, one of the most important characters in the show.
Eric has two older brothers, and he is of mixed descent - his mother is full-blooded Lumbee (a North Carolinian tribe of Native Americans) and his father is a mix of Spanish, Irish, and Mexican. Eric has an uncle, Terry Goedel, who is from the Yakima tribe in Washington, and a world-champion hoop dancer. This was Eric's first exposure to hoop dancing - his uncle Terry taught him when he was 10 years old.
Eric quickly began accompanying his uncle to pow-wows and school performances.
In highschool and junior college, Eric played basketball and football, but he never entirely drifted away from hoop dancing. He was offered a scholarship to Brigham Young University, to be part of their Living Legends program, and was excited for the opportunity. But he only stayed at BYU for one year, because partway through that year, Cirque du Soleil called.
It was not the first time they had called Eric. Cirque's talent scouts had seen videos of Eric's hoop dancing, and when he was 19, in junior college, they called him with an offer to be a backup hoop dancer for Totem. At the time, he knew nothing about Cirque du Soleil, and he declined the offer. But when they called back two years later, he took a closer look. This time they wanted him to be the primary hoop dancer (to replace our original hoop dancer, Nakotah Larance), and they were ready to fly him to Montreal for contract-signings and costume-fittings. Eric signed on.

It wasn't the easiest transition for him at first. The hoop dancing he was asked to do was quite different from the style he'd originally performed. In Eric's original act there were no fewer than 14 hoops, and the whole routine was performed in one small space. He never threw or caught the hoops, and he moved to a slower beat. Now he is using 5 hoops, filling the entire stage, throwing and catching them, and moving at a rapid pace. But his coach in Montreal, and his backup hoop dancer, Shandien Larance, helped him, and by the spring of 2012 Eric had joined us on tour, in San Jose, CA.

Eric has been lucky to have had friends and family in every city we've visited so far. He loves the adventure of traveling, and is looking forward to going overseas. He appreciates that, as a hoop dancer, the exposure to such a wide audience is a fantastic opportunity. And he is honored to be sharing a valuable part of his own culture.

Here is a great video Eric made recently documenting his trip back from California to re-join Totem in New York.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Parks & field trips

We continue to spend a lot of time in Central Park.  It seems impossible not to, now that spring has finally arrived.  I like the picture below of my sister Erin and I, look at those trees blooming!

I also wanted to mention the two excellent school field trips that the kids took in this city.  I didn't join them for either one, because it was Isa's first time joining the school for excursions, and we all felt it was best to let her go on her own.

They had a great day at the Museum of Modern Art, and then they visited the Blue School - this is the art & technology private school founded by the members of Blue Man Group.  This was a wonderful experience for all of the kids - mostly for the sheer normalcy of it.  They joined in classrooms of elementary-aged kids, participated in discussions, and had lunch in the cafeteria.  Ayla said "At first they all treated us like celebrities!" which seems funny since they probably know all the Blue Man Group's kids ... but I guess it's important to realize that yes, kids traveling with a circus do still seem, at first, exotic.  (readers of this blog know how exhaustingly normal all these kids actually are....)  Although I was very curious to see the Blue School myself, in the end it's probably better I wasn't there.  I have enough anxiety pangs already about the social environment my kids are missing out on, without being reminded.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Totem artist profiles - Sarah Tessier

Sarah Tessier, age 21, is originally from Montreal. She is featured in the Duo Trapeze act "Lovebirds" in Totem.
Sarah grew up in Montreal, the second of four girls, and as a kid she tried lots of different sports and activities. Gymnastics she only did when she was very young, but always missed it.
When she was 15 years old she auditioned for l'Ecole Nationale de Cirque's highschool-level program. At that time she had no circus skills at all, and only minimal strength and flexibility. She says, "I was accepted on my potential." They gave her a 2-week probationary acceptance into the school, but were quickly convinced that she could rise to the challenges of the program.
After two years, she had to audition for the diplôme d'études collégiales en arts du cirque (DEC), which is the higher-level professional training program. She wasn't accepted into the full program right away, but instead put into the mise à niveau, a 1-year preparatory program. After that, she auditioned yet again, and was granted acceptance into the DEC.
During that last audition process, she announced her interest in trapeze, and she met Guilhem. They were set up as a duo act, and began training. The specialty-training progresses gradually at ENC - in the first year they spent 5 hours / week on trapeze, in the second year 7, and in the third year 10. Alongside this, they were given a full courseload of general studies in acrobatics, physical conditioning, and performance.
Between Sarah's 2nd and 3rd years at ENC, she and Guilhem sent a video of their act to Cirque du Soleil. Cirque was looking for another duo trapeze act for Totem, and the process of negotiating and contracting went quickly. By October of their 3rd year at ENC, Sarah and Guilhem had a signed contract to begin performing for Totem at the end of the school year.

In that whirlwind summer of 2012, Sarah and Guilhem completed their final presentations at ENC, spent 5 weeks at Cirque headquarters training the "Lovebirds" act, and arrived on the Totem tour. Sarah says that all of her new colleagues in Totem were warm and welcoming from the very beginning. And now she is enjoying tour life. Visiting so many different cities is one of the best parts of this experience - because we have so much time in each place, it's a chance to really get to know many other cities.
Sarah and Guilhem had a great moment in January, when they took a break from Totem to win the Gold Medal at the Festival Mondiale du Cirque de Demain, one of the most prestigious circus competitions in the world.
For Sarah, performing is still exciting. She gets butterflies in her stomach, especially in the very first moment that she sees the audience, as the bridge lowers down at the beginning of her act. But she is a true professional now, performing up to 10 shows a week, and "Lovebirds" is one of the most popular acts in the show.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Some recent New York experiences

Melanie's 40th birthday... a ridiculously indulgent dinner out with a lot of laughs, and the company of a whole bunch of women on tour who I rarely hang out with.  Definitely an evening to remember!

My sister Erin, our niece Rebecca, and my Mom came to visit for the weekend.  We spent a lot of hours enjoying the spring weather in Central Park.

Today we spent the whole day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and didn't even make a dent in it!  What an amazing and beautiful place.  Room after room of treasures from around the world, and astonishing masterpieces around every corner.  We took at least an hour for the Egypt wing alone.  We also spent a good amount of time chasing down the key locations from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which Baz, Ayla and I just finished reading.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Parenting older children

I've been thinking this week about my role as a stay-at-home parent, now that Isa is getting so close to school age.  I also came across, recently, these two excellent blog posts about parenting small children:

They're both just beautifully honest about how hard it is to take care of little kids, and I can relate to everything they're saying.  Though I'm not a pastor or a writer, trying to do anything adult (work. exercise. financial management. shopping. etc.) while being an effective parent to preschoolers and babies is hugely frustrating.  

I'm kind of shocked to discover that I'm starting to get beyond this phase.  My kids are older now (10, 8, and 6).  And though they are still needy in their own ways, they can also be astonishingly independent.  Baz and Ayla have just left the apartment to go visit their friends, at 9:00 at night, by themselves.  Isa knows how to ride the subway and navigate an iPod.  When they get home from school, we often all retreat into our own pastimes.  

Ayla really wants nothing more out of life than to be left alone with a pile of library books.

Baz's latest thing is studying all of the lyrics to the Matilda soundtrack.  (when he's not playing with his Erector set, Legos, or various Spy devices). 

Parenting at this stage is a different set of skills than it was 5 years ago.  I seem to spend a lot more time arguing with them and nagging them to do things.  They have real homework and real grades to worry about, classes they dislike and quarrels with friends to grapple with.  I struggle to remember the toddlers they were, in some other lifetime.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

First day without Isa

Today, Isa went on a field trip with the school kids, to the Museum of Modern Art.  It was her first time doing a school activity without me - the school likes to bring upcoming first-graders in for special programs during the spring, to get them ready for the fall.  

Isa is, academically at least, absolutely ready for school - but both she and I had butterflies this morning about spending the day apart.  

I planned a full day to keep myself occupied, and Greg and I went to the Morgan Library and Museum to see a special exhibit on Degas's Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando.  This is Degas's one big circus artwork, and it depicts an aerialist hanging from her teeth.  We had a docent-led tour of the small exhibit, which was fascinating - to see the sketches Degas did leading up to the final painting, and studies of the actual Miss La La and the Cirque Fernando building.  

The other fascinating part of this place is the personal library of Pierpont Morgan, who was apparently a massively successful banker in the late 1800s.  He collected all sorts of expensive things, but the really beautiful part is the library. 

I told Greg that if I am ever fabulously rich, I don't want jewelry, or a yacht, or oceanfront property, or a sports car.  But give me a multi-level personal library like this, with spiral staircases to reach the upper levels... oh yes.  There's something worth accumulating wealth for.  (I could do without the ornate ceiling paintings).