Monday, June 30, 2014

Kids Dreams Come True

Coolest school-event waiver ever.

Somehow the last few weeks of the Totem tour have turned into school kids' heaven.  Our company members have been showering them with love and attention and special permissions - like this excursion to climb on top of the Grand Chapiteau (with kid-sized safety harnesses and hard hats, of course).  A massive thank-you to Nick Creech, and to all of the riggers, site technicians and management who made this possible.

A few days prior to this, on Sunday, the school kids and teachers all got VIP tickets to watch Totem from the front of house, and they were loaded down with popcorn, candy, and soda.  That was followed by a BBQ, with a giant bouncy castle and an ice-cream sundae bar.  That was followed by a sleepover in the Artistic Tent.  Our brave schoolteachers chaperoned, there was late-night movie-watching and S'more making, and we picked up three very tired, sugar-hungover, and happy children the next day.

The special things just seem to keep coming, one after the other.  There was the music / drama performance, and their Yearbooks arriving.  (marvelous compilations of photos and messages, which all of the school community contributed to).  Then, last night, we celebrated Cirque du Soleil's 30th Anniversary with a beautiful party at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden.  For the adults, it was elegant and ambient; for the children it was a labyrinth to explore, a free-play zone full of interesting passageways.  We didn't get home until midnight.

How am I ever going to bring these guys back to reality?

(P.S. - added a week later - on the kids' last day of school, they got to go onstage with the carapace, jump around on the trampolines, and write their names and messages on the undersides of the carapace with a Sharpie.)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Goodbyes… beginning

I promised myself I wouldn't start saying goodbyes yet.  The emotions that flare up are too strong, and I can't stand a whole week of that.  So for everyone who said something at the party tonight like "I can't believe this is all ending so soon." I responded something like, "it's not ending tonight.  we are not saying goodbye tonight."

And yet, a few hours and a few drinks into an evening of incredible beauty at the Chinese Garden, I couldn't help but feel that some of these conversations might be my last meaningful ones.  I will see these people on site again this week in passing.  But will we ever share an unhurried moment again?  Open our hearts to one another?

Goodbye, Marina.  Goodbye, Alya.  Goodbye, Eva.  Not to mention Gael, Olli, Riki, Umi, Annette, Guilhem, Sarah, Francis, Jeff, Tara, Svetlana, Massimo, Denise, Genevieve.  (and previous losses: Ante, Pippo, Fabio, Louis-David, Joe.  Should we even mention Mark, Rachael, Odessa, Rosalie, Nakotah? the list becomes long… Kate, Kai, Michela, Ade, Sasha - you are not forgotten!)  Our life's spheres intersected, just barely, just briefly, and now we're rebounding back into the universe again.  These friendships were never as in-depth as we might have wanted.  We were just too different.  But my life is still richer from having known you.

The women I have spent my time with, and their husbands and children, go into a separate category.  I will not say goodbye just yet to Nastia, Tanya, Melanie, Olga, Oyuna, Natasha.  Or to Aliaksey, Dima, James, Micha, Tamir, Zhan.  Men who are amazingly strong and amazingly gentle; fallible and imperfect; in the end, men who care deeply about their families and take care of them at all cost.

My mind is reeling from the conversations tonight.  It was an exquisite party venue.  I want to hold on to the threads of the evening, to capture them somehow, to not let them spin out of the world into empty forgetfulness.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Becoming a trapeze artist again

It's finally time to write about this journey, the one that led me to a once-in-a-lifetime performance on the Totem stage.  I've kept silent about it (on the blog at least) for all these months… maybe I didn't want to jinx it.  But it really happened… and I am glowing with joy and pride.

It took 5 months.  In January 2014, I decided it was time to get back in shape again, after years of being away from the aerial equipment.  I set myself some goals, and a training schedule, and started climbing.  

A few people dropped in on my practices during the early months, but very soon I was joined by Oyungerel Davaatseren (Oyuna), who became an incomparable, consistent, amazing training partner.  Some background:

Oyuna was a professional circus performer many years ago.  She grew up in Mongolia, and began training acrobatics at an early age.  She was particularly driven, and leapt quickly into work, performing  professionally for the first time at the age of 15.  While she had a full range of circus skills - she can juggle, and tumble, and do hula-hoops, and goodness' knows what else - duo trapeze became her specialty.  She performed for many years in traditional circus companies, until she met her husband-to-be, Tamir Erdenesaikhan, who was a Russian bar porter in Alegria.

Oyuna and Tamir married, and she dropped her career completely to become a touring housewife.  She says the early years were hard - she didn't speak the same language as anyone else in Alegria.  Over the years she has come to understand Russian, but she still doesn't speak it; but she has learned to speak English well, and the other Russian bar wives can also get by in English.  In 2005 her daughter Kherlen was born, and her role as full-time wife and mother was cemented.  Along the Totem tour, Oyuna got pregnant again and gave birth to daughter #2, Saikhan, in 2011.

While Oyuna doesn't always see it in herself, to the rest of us she has always been marvelously slender and beautiful.  She takes great care with her clothing, her shoes, and her makeup; she appreciates nice jewelry.  When she started coming to train with me, though, I discovered so many new things about her.  For one, she was never happy with her thin physique - she missed her more muscular days.  And that was one of the things we both set about changing.  As the months passed, we admired each others' newly-defined arms, shoulders, and backs.  We became cheerleaders for each other, trying new tricks and exercises on the equipment.  I learned that Oyuna has a tough, determined side, and an enviable discipline when she trains.  Morning after morning we showed up in the tent - some days overtired, some days worried about our families, some days with head colds and muscle pains.  But every day we left our cares at the door of the Artistic Tent, and without fail we got caught up in our practice, always running out of time to do everything we wanted to do.

When the Kids Show took shape, it was originally planned as a cabaret, with adult acts included as well. We started talking about performing, and quickly jumped up to try some duo trapeze tricks.  Oyuna's memory of duo trapeze was rusty, and she performed as a base; I never had much of a duo repertoire, and now it was my turn to be the base.  So this really took some figuring out.  We watched videos, looked at photos online, and begged help from Sarah and Guilhem, who graciously came out on several mornings to coach us.

The cabaret idea eventually got tossed out, and it became a Kids Show instead - but Oyuna and I still wanted a chance to perform our act.  Fortunately, there was a time slot available - when the kids all needed to be preparing for the finale, we could have our moment.  The training continued.

I will remember so many things about these months.  I'll remember building and sewing the trapeze, and loving the look and feel of it.  We raised the trapeze a little higher each week.  Working on tricks, we had moments of exciting success and moments of confused failure.  I learned to take moments in the routine just to breathe together, getting ready for the next sequence.  As we got closer to showtime, Oyuna took charge of our costumes and makeup, sewing sequins and rhinestones and doing my hair.

And then - the performance!  Exhilaration.  The lights, the faces in the audience.  The delicious feeling of being lifted and lowered on the automation system.  The sparkles of our costumes, the way the children hugged us afterwards with delight and pride in their Moms.  And the bond of friendship, made ever so much stronger by this experience - something beautiful that we could not have done alone, but that we achieved together.

Monday, June 16, 2014


…and it was everything, and it was beautiful, and it was quite possibly the special-est special thing we have ever done.

There will be a full video available.  In the meantime, just a few photos and some memories…

This was Baz's clown act, performed with Yahor. They were coached by our prestigious Mykhail Usov, and the act is called "Hats".  Baz says that the fun part was thinking up something new for the act in every rehearsal.  Micha was a demanding coach, and kept everything in closed-door practices, but he really enjoyed working with the boys.

Here is Ayla's solo trapeze act, performed to a George Winston song called "Joy".  It was graceful and elegant.  Ayla says "I really enjoyed it, and I hope I can perform that act again."  She says her favorite trick was the Susan, which is the one in the picture.

Ayla was very nervous in the days leading up to the show.  But afterwards she was elated, and said she was surprised by how much the audience applauded.

This was the group fabric act.  It was a 5-girl act, including Isa, Ayla, Kherlen, Gipsy, and Sophia.  Each girl had a solo turn on the fabric, and Isa was the last one, climbing nearly to the top and inverting.  Everyone commented on how fearless she was, so high up there.  She says she loved doing it (even though she did get a bit of a fabric burn during her final descent).

Putting together this piece was one of the bigger challenges I had during the prep for the show.  Getting the 5 girls practice time together, and trying to get them strong enough to perform on the fabric, were huge hurdles.

But the performance turned out to be their best-ever run-through.  They  all executed their tricks perfectly.  They all remembered their entrances, their exits, and their bows.  It was one of the first acts in the show, and the first moment that brought tears to my eyes.  After so many mornings working with these girls, this was the last time they would do this.  I was so proud of them.

More to come….

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Kids Circus Show - We're Really Doing This!

It's happening… this head-spinning journey that has been the creation and rehearsal of the Kids Circus Show.  From a small idea 9 months ago, to the dazzlingly complex and wonderful production that is going to be unveiled tomorrow night, it's been a long process of blood, sweat and tears.  I just can't believe we're really doing this, so I'm blogging now to let it sink in.

When I started this process last fall, all I really had were 11 scatterbrained children, a nod from the Artistic team to use the tent for morning trainings a couple of days a week, and parents who would reluctantly drag their kids in occasionally.  While all of the parents liked the idea of their kids training,  most of them couldn't get over their own exhaustion to make it a priority.  In the meantime, among my own 3 I had one rebellion - Baz early in the fall started refusing to participate in circus class.  Anthony also had no interest - so at best I had 9 willing ones.

Things began to turn around during the winter, when the Totem School signed on to the idea of doing an end-of-year circus show, possibly on stage.  We committed to doing circus for Phys Ed in Portland and Vancouver, and I started getting more serious with the kids' training while we were in California.

Many steps happened after that - and none of the steps were simple.
We got Baz and Anthony to agree to participate.
The Artistic team agreed to have the show on the stage.
The parents started bringing their kids in for more-regular training, as much as 4 or 5 times a week.
Alya stepped in to take over key pieces - the show's opening, closing, and general artistic direction.
Kids chose acts - sometimes having to step up to a greater challenge, sometimes having to scale back their ambitions.
Other parents began accepting responsibility for other acts, choreographing and finding music.
Costumes were purchased, made, and modified.
Props were built and acquired - trapezes, hula-hoops, clown props.

And along the way, the operations and technical and artistic departments of Totem began to take us more and more seriously.  It wasn't until mid-spring that we finally got the riggers to agree that we could do the aerial acts on the stage.  And then there was a key meeting, which brought together all departments - including PMed, the Head Coach, lighting, sound, automation, carpentry, etc. - for a review of what we wanted to do, and to make a plan moving forwards.  I was stunned when I came out of this meeting - I had expected crossed arms and "No"s - and what I found were a dozen people saying "what can I do?  how can I help?"

After that, it felt like everything changed.  All of a sudden I had JS and Lucie (some of the best professional stage managers in the world, let's acknowledge) asking me about lighting cues and rehearsal schedules, and Nick measuring our trapeze heights, and Margarita sewing costumes, and Gael compiling all of the show music.  Now we have follow-spot operators.  We have video projections and rigging automation.  And we have artists who are at the absolute top of their game choreographing and directing acts.  It is just beyond the scope of anything I could have imagined.

Dress rehearsal photos courtesy of Annette Bauer.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Safe parenting

In the last couple of months I've spent a lot of time thinking about, and reading about, safety.  In particular - what boundaries I need to give my growing children to keep them safe, and yet let them develop some independence.  I started considering it in Portland, which was the first place we've lived where I could realistically send the kids out the door and say "be back by the time it gets dark".  Around that time I also came across this video for "Odds Are", which continues to give me lots of laughs, and also lots to contemplate.

An online article called "The day I left my son in the car" crossed my path last week, which brought the issue back to light (at the same time that we've started letting our kids bike to and from school on their own, on the easiest-most direct-bike path route we've ever had).  And that one led me back to a favorite Atlantic Magazine article, "The overprotected kid" .  Before I knew it I was reading up on Lenore Skenazy and the Free Range Kids movement.  I just got her book out of the library.

An interesting thing happened in the middle of all of this.  A couple of days ago, while the 5 of us were out hiking in Squamish, there was a shooting outside our apartment building.  When we returned home, the entire area was roped off with police tape, and several of our lobby's tall glass windows were shattered.  It apparently involved the owner of the bike shop across the street, and a disgruntled ex-employee, who tried to race off on his bike along the same path we take to school & site, and was eventually gunned down by police.  A mess - and not at all something you'd expect in a posh area of a Canadian city.

I posted something about it on Facebook, and many people responded with "so glad you're safe!" or "stay safe!" … and this got me thinking even more about security and precautions.

This is probably the closest my kids and I have ever come to a violent crime.  Though we didn't see it, it was just a matter of timing - the bloody victim was lying outside our front door on a Tuesday around 11am.  On Wednesday around that time, we would have been near the lobby on our way to school.  But there is no imaginable way that we could have "stayed safer" or put ourselves at less risk (other than staying at home all the time with the doors locked?)

On the other hand, we spent 10 years living in a gritty part of Philadelphia, down the street from one of the city's "persistently dangerous" high schools.  The streets near our home are frequented by ex-cons and drug dealers - but even more people who are, themselves, victims of bad choices and bad luck, health problems and financial problems, addictions and mental illness.  We all generally stay out of each other's way.

Here in Yaletown, we are no less safe today than we were yesterday.  The random bit of violence that crossed our path isn't any more likely to cross it again.  I still sent Baz out that same door alone this morning, on his way to school.

Lenore Skenazy, in her book, has a lot of excellent points.  Her first chapter is called "Know When to Worry", which talks about accurate assessment of risk.  I like this line:

The greatest risk of all just might be trying to raise a child who never encounters any risks.

We live in a very fearful society - and a judgmental one as well.  One of our fears is that our peers will point out some poor decision, some neglect, some way in which we were terrible parents.   And that this momentous task we've taken on - of bringing new babies into the world and releasing them as good, contributing citizens - will be entirely botched by our irresponsibility.

I'm beginning to believe that the solution to this is not more vigilance.  That I will never be able to protect my kids from everything - even from a random act of violence like the one we saw this week.  And that a better strategy must be to teach them some risk-assessment and problem-solving skills of their own.  Those kinds of things can't be learned through explanation - they have to get out in the world and try things.

What will it be like in a few weeks, when we really have to make these choices for the first time in our permanent home?  When we have to decide if the kids will be left home alone, or allowed to walk unescorted to school, or get cell phones?  

Stay tuned….

Friday, June 6, 2014

Getting outside

This past week we ventured out of downtown a bit more, spending a day exploring the Capilano River area, Lighthouse Park, and a bit of Stanley Park as well.  The kids had already done the Capilano Suspension Bridge with Greg in their first week here - sounded fun but expensive!  With my Mom and Dad in town, we did some less hair-raising stuff like visiting the salmon hatchery.
We watched these salmon in the fish ladder for a very long time, but the lazy guys wouldn't jump.
The forests here are amazing and beautiful.  They call some of these areas "enchanted forests" and it's easy to see why - the towering old-growth fir trees create peaceful enclaves below, and filter the sunlight emerald-green.
Stanley Park has its own set of charms.  We've explored the bike trails (the seawall, the dirt paths, and the actual roadways where the more-serious cyclists zip around).  There are also beaches and cafes and a totem pole display, and this Inukshuk which is at the southern edge of the park.  (this is where I run to, on the mornings that I go running).  

They say that Vancouverites are healthier and happier than the rest of Canada, which they chalk up to more time outdoors - the weather here is much milder, winters are shorter and less brutal, and the opportunities for outdoor activities abound.  Here in June, on the waterfront, it seems like everyone is running, cycling, rollerblading, kayaking, dragon boating, and stand-up paddleboarding.  It's hard actually to coop myself up in the apartment to get anything done.