Sunday, May 10, 2009

Monkey Time, Danger and the Meaning of Applause

Performers Busy Not Talking About The Obvious.

They don’t talk about it.

It’s like that weird Uncle who lives in the attic that nobody talks to.
But He’s there.
He comes down for meals and sits at the table, silent and brooding.
But There.
I’m talking about Danger.
The frightening possibility of serious physical damage.

You see it in the suddenly stern caste that comes over the usually smiling face of Yao Deng Bo just before he steps into the tunnel that will lead him to the stage where he will balance on one hand on a three story stack of chairs for 2,600 people.

You see it in that moment of readiness when Marina Tikhonenko signals by slapping her thighs while poised on the low end of the teeterboard, both legs strapped onto a single 8 foot stilt.

You see it in the no-nonsense demeanor of the black clad riggers who must set up the double-decker tightrope that the Dominguez Brothers must dance, jump rope and sword fight upon while we clowns cavort below, shooting confetti cannons at the distracted audience.

You see it in the way the fearless Columbian Carlos Loaiza goes through an elaborate ritual of crossing himself in the mirror before stepping into Le Grand Chapetau to perform upon The Wheel of Death.

And eventually you hear it in the applause (and screams) of the crowd. The relief they feel when the act is done and they can finally exhale and pick their tongues up off the floor.

Gifted With Guts

Watching the Wheel of Death is a lot like witnessing a car/train/plane crash all rolled into one that lasts eight minutes and nobody gets killed.

has lots of contraptions and none is more awe (and “Ooo”) inspiring than the Wheel of Death. The Wheel of Death presumably earned it’s name on the basis that it is shaped like a wheel and if you fly off it (perhaps because you’re jumping rope on the outside!) you will risk death.

All these performers are gifted in unimaginable ways. The Colombians seem to be gifted with a special Wheel of Death requirement: They are gifted with guts.

Guns and Bungee cords

In a way all this danger floating around the big top takes the pressure off me. If I drop a line or screw up a timing I risk killing the laugh. If the guys on the Wheel of Death miss a handhold or the tight-rope walkers miss a foot step they risk killing themselves.

Sure there will be pressure on me as I finally start performing in the show next week and lots of eyes will be on me (including directors Luc Trembley and Melanie LeLande’s, stage manager Vera Zuyderhoff”s and about 2,600 others) but I have close to 30 years of performing under my dance belt so my knees won’t be rattling too terribly loudly.

Because the fact remains: a lapse in concentration for me, a momentary falter in the flow of energy- (and believe me fifteen minutes of clowning takes more energy than most three act plays I’ve done) –and I risk losing the audience. The same lapse in one of these death defying acts in Kooza and they risk losing their lives.

Even master pick-pocket Lee Thompson risks more than me out there. Sunday night, (Mother’s Day no less) Lee was busy stealing the watch, wallet, cell phone and tie off a volunteer/victim he pulled from the audience and discovered the guy was an under cover cop with four- count ‘em four- guns on him.

Mike Tyus, who plays our Trickster takes risks with every amazingly acrobatic dance move. One wrong step and his hamstring could snap like a worn out bungee cord. (No Joke- it happened to original Trickster Jason Berrent in a dress rehearsal. He fortunately recovered and later returned to the show.)

Which brings us to:

Monkey Time

Apparently it used to be every night. They’ve cut it down to Sunday nights only. For a half an hour after the show.

Sunday Night. Time to Go (rilla)

Monkey time is when the entire company lets all the pent up pressure of performing these daring feats, from Anthony Gatto’s every mid-air grasp of his nine- count ‘em nine- rings to Yulia Korosteleva’s mid-air clutch of the trapeze- when all the demands of that laser like concentration is released and it's time to howl like a monkey. And these folks can really do some serious Monkey Time.

Monkey Time hits and the dressing rooms in the Artistic Tent sound like a casting call for the riot scene in Planet of the Apes, only much, much more wild.
My first Monkey Time and I was swept up in the frenzy as well.
I had yet to perform with these guys but the feeling of release was infectious.

Sunday night.
Monkey Time.
Then a day off.
Then it all begins again next Tuesday.
The Danger
The Risk.
The Applause.

Marian Taga, who can support four fully grown men. Literally.


Besides the obvious (the paycheck) these people are taking these risks for something Zen-like in its simplicity: the sound of two hands clapping.

Applause (according to Webster's)
1. hand clapping as a demonstration of approval, appreciation, acclamation, or the like.
2. any positive expression of appreciation or approval; acclamation.

It is because of these risks that Kooza is more than a show.
It is an affirmation of life.
Every person in the audience walks their own personal tight rope. We risk death every time we cross the street or step in the tub.
(perhaps an explanation of my preference for showers)
But when we applaud these skilled daredevils perhaps we are applauding ourselves.
Applauding the human penchant to face our own Wheel of Death, to live our lives fully and somehow make it to Monkey Time.

Danger lives in your attic.
Your next breath is the applause.

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