Saturday, September 15, 2012

Damn Everything But the Circus


I’m picturing a typical day in a high-school guidance counselor office. The counselor:

“What are you interested in, Maria?”

“I’d like to be a lawyer and focus on the environment.”

“Very nice. And you, Josh?”

“I went to a Montessori school and loved it. I think I’d like to be a preschool teacher.”

“Wonderful. And what interests you, Julie?

“I’d like to get some round cloth and twirl it on my hands and feet in various gymnastic poses. Either that or ride around on a unicycle and toss bowls onto my head. Or maybe stand in a big glass cylinder and roll colored balls around me in intricate patterns.”

Welcome to the circus. A place where people have spent countless hours of meticulous, disciplined practice doing completely useless and bizarre things— and then gone on to make a living out of it! The above were just some of the astounding acts from Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM show. There were men with large poles balanced on their heads or shoulders while other men climbed up them, folks doing Native American hoop dances, gymnastic feats that far outshone anything I saw in the Olympics involving breathtaking twists and turns and somersaults in the air while landing on beams held by others. All topped off by state-of-the-art lighting and technology and heavily amplified flash-and-dazzle music. The circus has come a long way from the Ringling Bros. Shows I saw as a kid. And yet, much the same—the circus tent, the traveling life, the unusual career choice of the performers and pushing the boundaries of the norm far beyond what we imagine human beings can do.

Yesterday I had lunch with one of the musicians, our Orff course recorder teacher Annette Bauer. She has been with this show for several months now and when I asked her how it’s going, she replied without hesitation, “I love the circus!!” Of course, what is sheer thrill for the audience is relentless dedication from the performers and a demanding and sometimes grueling schedule, but the magic holds from both sides of the stage. What can be better than sharing the fruits of everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve and see the wide-eyed open-mouthed audience thrill to your every move?

“Damn everything but the circus,” said e.e.cummings. “…damn everything that is grim, dull, motionless, unrisking, inward turning, damn everything that won't get into the circle, that won't enjoy, that won't throw its heart into the tension, surprise, fear and delight of the circus, the round world, the full existence...”

Not a bad description of a good Orff music class as well. Minus the applause. Hooray for the strange, the offbeat, the extraordinary, the juggling balls in the air and the suspense of the crowd— will they be caught? Hooray for the circus!

PS If you see the show, Annette is the musician dressed as a flamenco dancer playing the killer electric recorder solo at the end.

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