Monday, September 16, 2013

Annual Leave

It's Annual Leave!  The once-a-year tour break when Cirque flies everybody home.  It's usually 2 weeks - this year it's 3 weeks.  It's unlike the other breaks we have between cities - because at all other times, it's really variable, what people are doing.  Some just go right on to the next city; others head to their homes; others take mini-vacations.

And although not 100% of our fellow artists and families are heading home for the break (a few who live in really distant parts of Europe and Asia are taking other vacations instead) - the majority are native-country-bound.  That means wives and small children on multi-stage flights to Kiev, Minsk, Madrid, Berlin, London.  There are tour members headed off to Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Indonesia.  It's an exciting time for everyone.  They are buying suitcases full of gifts to bring home to their families, and we'll all reunite in California in October, culturally and linguistically shell-shocked.

We Kennedys have a multi-stage trip of our own; Boston, Philadelphia, and then a cross-country drive. Road-tripping begins again.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Empty nest struggles

I feel like I've been craving this solitude and freedom-to-work and focus for so long, and now it's finally here, and I'm freaking out.  I don't know what to do with myself.

Most of the time, I am hovering around the Cirque site, just close enough to be here if Isa needs anything.  A couple of days into school, I realized that she really doesn't need anything.  And so began the first of my new stages of panic.

In the first week, I tried to keep myself really damn busy.
I took classes at the fitness center, and went out for long bike rides alone.
I read a couple of books.
Studied Russian nearly every day.
Started a new knitting project.
Taught English lessons.
Wrote blog profiles.
Managed the circus school's bookkeeping.
Conference-called with colleagues in other countries.
Worked on the kids' scrapbooks and photo albums.
Caught up with friends at the site.

Around the beginning of Week 2, the Wall of Depression hit.  I know the signs - depression and I are old frenemies.  But in those early-warning signs, nowadays, I'm a fighter.  I don't succumb easily.  My strategies usually start off super-healthy - pushing harder at the gym, treating myself to giant salads - and if that doesn't work, I might shift to sappy-movie-watching and chocolate.  The end of the road for me is when I don't want to get out of bed.  And fortunately, in this round, we have not gotten there yet.

So, a couple of days into the effortful pick-me-ups, I hit another couple of stumbling blocks.  A long-planned coffee date with a friend fell through, leaving me feeling despairing about the social universe of the tour, and my inability to find truly compatible friends.  (Women who are hard-driving, and ambitious, and adventurous, and down-to-earth.  Women who get up early to hit the gym, who take classes for personal challenge, who love their families but need breaks from them, who read, who don't care about fashion and manicures, who have fears and anxieties and like to talk about them....)

Then I had an unpleasant interaction with someone at site, who gently reminded me that I don't have a  role here .... I am not a company member, only a wife, and I need to remember my place.  This wasn't what my ego needed this week.

I'm now entering a new phase, let's call it Lethargy-Apathy.  I'll save the full exploration of this phase for another day.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What can I say about our time in Ohio?

We have 6 more days in Dublin, aka The Town With Abruptly-Ending Sidewalks.
Although I have tried to take an anthropological approach to the whole experience, my scientific curiosity ran out a couple of weeks ago, and I'm now just looking forward to moving on.
I can't say I've given this town a really fair trial.  But I have explored a few things....

Today we did our one sightseeing trip of the city, heading over to the Columbus Zoo, which is only a couple of miles away.  Though all of us have visited far too many zoos over the last several years, this one has a great reputation and it was too close to pass up.  There were some specialities - excellent views of manatees eating lettuce, and a couple of animals we'd never heard of before: markhors and red river hogs, for example.  It was nicely laid out and we picked a perfect non-crowded day to attend.  Ticket prices are quite affordable for a zoo.  But I can't say it was an extraordinary place.  The San Diego Zoo and the Bronx Zoo are still too fresh in our minds, not to mention the Georgia Aquarium, Sea World in San Diego, the National Zoo in Washington DC, the New England Aquarium, Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Jungle Island in Miami .... (this is all just within the past year.)  And Columbus has some odd omissions.  No zebras or giraffes?  No platypuses in the Australia exhibit?

I've struck out on my bike a couple of times to explore the downtown.  It's not terribly inspiring.  But with some hunting, good spots can be found, such as the North Market, and this nice independent bookstore, the Book Loft.  The bike trails are OK, and there seem to be some interesting areas like the German Village and Short North.  (why I'm taking notes on these things I'm not entirely sure... I hope I don't ever have occasion to be sightseeing in Ohio again).

When we look back on our time here, we are undoubtedly going to remember the kids bike-riding.  It's the first place (and probably the last) we've ever experienced, where we have a garage, and the kids can just hop on their bikes and ride around the neighborhood whenever they want.  We spent the first couple of weeks practicing diligently with Isa, to get her really independent on two wheels, and now she doesn't need any help at all.  The three of them ride out on their own and I tell them to be back by dinnertime.  They find their friends, they turn in circles, and race, and do who the heck knows what.  It's a remarkable independence for them, and an amazing feeling for me, to let them go.  (more on letting go, in a future blog post!)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Totem artist profiles - Umihiko Miya


Umi, age 32, from Tokyo, has been with Totem since its creation.  He plays one of the Frog characters in the act called Carapace, doing the high bar, and he is also a Monkey in the show.  (He is, currently, the Monkey who helps out with Greg's act.) 

Growing up in Japan, Umi's family was not particularly into athletics - but he got into sports in regular after-school programs as a child.   He liked all kinds of sports - swimming, basketball, soccer, gymnastics.  The program directors wanted him to take gymnastics more seriously, and start training with an advanced coach, but he didn't follow their advice until he was 12 years old.  But from that point onwards, he trained seriously in gymnastics, and competed.  Eventually, in his senior year of highschool, he won Japan's National Championship in two events, vault and floor. 

When he went to college, Umi's priorities shifted.  He was still doing gymnastics, but he also got interested in work and in socializing.  He didn't train as hard as he would have needed to for an Olympic run, and instead studied Economics and Business, and thought about working in business after graduation. 

A big change happened for Umi when he participated in a government program of international service for developing countries.  This program sent Umi to Panama, to work for 2 years coaching their national gymnastics team, and also developing a physical education program for their schools.  Umi became fluent in Spanish, and was hooked on travel and service opportunities.

He decided his next step was to move to the USA and learn English.  He was able to find work at a gymnastics school in San Francisco, and stayed there for 2 1/2 years, while taking English classes in the mornings. 

In 2009 Umi filled out an online application and submitted a video for Cirque du Soleil.  A week later he was called for Totem.  For him, these years of work on the show have fulfilled many dreams, allowing him to travel, work, stay in shape, and perform.  He feels like tour life has everything he needs.  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Totem artist profiles - Guilhem Cauchois


Of the many artists I've interviewed for this blog, Guilhem Cauchois, age 24, is one of very few who have been working towards a profession in the circus since childhood.  Guilhem grew up in France, which helps.   When he was small, he had a stutter, and his parents enrolled him in theater classes as a remedy.   Circus was an extension of that, and from the age of 6 he trained regularly at l'Ecole des Arts de la Piste in Boulogne-Billancourt, on the outskirts of Paris.  By the time he reached adolescence, he was a regular fixture at the school, training, hanging around, and helping out every day. 

At the age of 14, he and 9 other students at the school formed a youth circus troupe, which they kept together for the following 5 years.  They practiced together year-round, and during holidays, they would drive a truck around the region and set up a free outdoor show, where-ever they could get permission.  During these years Guilhem mostly trained acrosports (partner acrobatics and hand-to-hand) but also became proficient in juggling and duo trapeze.   Throughout his highschool years, he was able to do a combined program, studying academics in the morning, and training circus arts in the afternoon.

After finishing highschool, Guilhem spent 8 months intensively preparing for circus school auditions.  He applied to both l'Ecole Nationale de Cirque in Montreal (ENC), and Centre National des Arts du Cirque, in Chalons-en-Champagne, France (CNAC).  In addition to hours of daily circus practice, he also trained at a local ballet school.

In February 2009, he auditioned for ENC, was accepted, and was immediately paired with Sarah Tessier for duo trapeze.  That was the beginning of the greatest 3 years of his life, immersed in the rich environment of Montreal.  Guilhem notes the support of the school, the close-knit community, the intensity of the training, and how much he learned about himself during this time.

Sarah and Guilhem were the first students in their year at ENC to be offered a performing contract, with Totem, immediately upon graduation.  Now, they have been on the show for 1 year, and Guilhem says he is still trying to process it.  In the middle of this year, he and Sarah went to Paris to compete in the Festival du Cirque de Demain, and they came home with a Gold Medal.  

Tour life is physically exhausting - there is the rigor of the shows, but he, like many other artists, also supplements that schedule with a regimen of personal training.  He has been thrilled to work with so many amazing, renowned artists.  He enjoys the travel, and the challenge of new cities and new premieres all the time. 

Here's a link to a short Instagram video that Totem recently posted of Guilhem, preparing for a show.