The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: circus

On Art and Cultural Appropriation

Someone shared with me this delightful bit from McSweeney’s titled “A Short Description of Cultural Appropriation for Non-Believers” by Rajeev Balasubramanyam.

1. Your new friends Bob and Rita come to lunch and you serve them idlis, like your grandmother used to make.

2. They love your south Indian cooking and ask for the recipe.

3. You never hear from Rita and Bob again.

4. You read in the Style section of the Guardian about Rita and Bob’s new Idli bar in Covent Garden… called ‘Idli.’

5. You visit Idli. The food tastes nothing like your grandmother’s.

6. Your grandmother dies.

7. Rita and Bob’s children inherit the Idli chain, and open several franchises in America.

8. Your children find work as short order chefs… at Idli.

9. Your children visit you in a nursing home and cook you idlis, which taste nothing like the ones you remember from your youth.

10. You compliment their cooking and ask for the recipe.

11. You die.

It’s simple and effective in getting the point across. The line between appreciation and appropriation is thin and blurry, but the concept of profiting seems to suggest when it falls into the latter category, especially when the originator is uncredited. Worse still, is if the appropriation is hailed as the innovator and the originator languishes, and is subjugated in some sense.

I often worry whether I cross into appropriation territory. At one point, I was reading up on bharatanatyam and was very inspired by its history and spirituality. It also reminded me of back when I was in primary school, where to celebrate Indian dance and culture, my school’s Indian dance club would perform it and I was mesmerised by it aesthetically but also how different it was from my own culture. I never really sought to learn more about it growing up, until when I came to be reacquainted with bharatanatyam.

I wondered if I could incorporate elements of it into my own circus performing. I read up on texts and watch videos of the classical dance. I learned about the karanas and what each was suppose to portray, and pondered if I could portray the message of performance the way karanas do. At the end of my study, I tried to record a video of my efforts in integrating circus performing with the concepts of bharatanatyam. When I was done, there came a surge of worry: Oh no, have I simply adopted a different culture to elevate myself and made a mockery of the dance with the video? Despite coming from what I felt to be a genuine case of admiration of Tamil Indian music, dance, spirituality and culture, I still felt a twinge of guilt from appropriation.

Given the intensity of racial discussions here in America back home in recent weeks/months/years, such concerns are necessary: how does one respectfully engage with elements from another culture, especially if that culture is systemically in a minority dynamic and subjugated? We seem to have entered a time where having the ethnic majority merely reproducing the minority’s culture as appreciation is insufficient — more needs to be done. But what?

I don’t think I can be the one to answer that question — I think that has to be a process involving a conversation between the appropriator and the appropriated. That’s an interesting situation for me since I exist as a racial/cultural minority in America, but am a majority in Singapore. This is certainly a unique situation where I get to participate in discussing with people what I feel are appropriations of my culture in one place, but have to listen to the same conversation from the other side.

In the meanwhile, I can only hope that as I go about my life and art, I don’t accidentally take other cultures’ idlis and pass them off for my own.


Interesting related reading: Rich Chigga and the Difficulties of Keeping It Real [New Yorker]

Advertisements

Balance Your Chicken

Sometimes, you just gotta lighten up and take a break and create pointless, stupid stuff. I had been on the train, on my phone, extracting bridges from songs for future use on short video clips like these when suddenly the caption “Fried chicken can be part of a balanced diet too!” popped into my head. And as a fan of Cibo Matto, the idea of for this video clip came to fruition.

And I realise I’m no stranger to creating stupid things to make sense of life.

I probably made this back in 2008 or 2009. There were a bunch of other clips from that same filming session that I am not releasing because they’re very cringeworthy.

Unicorns on a unicycle at UNICON 17 (Part 1)

unicorn

I went up to witness UNICON for the first time. For those who do not know what UNICON is, it is a unicycle convention, kind of like the equivalent of the Olympics for unicycling. For the first time, UNICON is held in a location that is financially accessible to me, and it would be remiss of me to miss it again.

And so it was a trek to Montreal to attend UNICON 17, where some other Singaporeans would also be attending. Going up would also mean that the Masticating Bunnies From Hell from Ride the Lobster would be reunited for the first time in six years.

However that reunion would be tardy because Jiahui, one of the team members, would be so exhaustively busy traipsing all around Montreal visiting friends while we friendless people huddle around and twiddle thumbs.

mtl1

I’m surprised my well-worn and falling apart bicycle bag has held it together for so long after all these years. It last saw use on my trip back to Singapore in January, and with each subsequent use, it falls apart bit by bit. A zipper pull fell out previously (the zipper itself was still intact) and I wonder what else would break on this trip to Montreal.

And of course, it had to rain on my way to Penn Station. I brought an umbrella along with me, and holding on to one bag of two unicycles, a plastic bag with some food to last the 11-hour train journey, an overstuffed backpack, and an umbrella should probably be a Cirque du Soleil act of its own.

I got to the train station an hour early and I was like “Great! Maybe I’ll get a chance to snag an early seat.” I totally forgot one had to check in luggage from States-side, and because I didn’t do so, when the train opened for boarding, I had to go check in, and ended up being the last to board.

mtl2

Thankfully there was a backward-facing wheelchair-reserved seat available. I was feeling pretty much handicapped by that point, and I had the right number of wheels (big ones, at least), and there were no real wheelchair people in need, so I took it. It wasn’t too bad, I got stretch out, as I hurtled backwards all the way towards Montreal.

So, I was supposed to meet some of the Singaporeans at the college, where some of the events are held. Interestingly, no one bothered to tell me the instructions on getting there, only providing me with a street address. Well, I don’t have wireless internet on my phone, but thank goodness for being old-fashioned, and I had to ask three people how to get there. The first older station attendant didn’t speak much English (why is he working at the information kiosk at the main train station then?) but I understood enough to get to Berri-Uqam. There, I asked a younger English-speaking lad who told me to get to Pie-IX (pronounced “pea-neuf”), which I retrospectively probably remember the older station attendant mentioning something like that, but “pea-neuf” and “Pie-IX” didn’t connect as being the same thing in my mind because je ne parle pas français. Anyway at Pie-IX some teenager told me to just go down a road, at which point I took out my 20″ unicycle, shouldered my 29″ uni, my backpack, and my umbrella, and finally made it to the college.

mtl3

I think UNICON 17 already kicked off two days ago. But on my first night, it was apparently Naked Bike Ride day, and the unicyclist were planning on crashing it. So many unicyclists went, it was a pleasant surprise. I believe the number of unicyclists matched the bicyclists head for head. Males also outnumbered females maybe four to one. And there were definitely more naked unicyclists than there were naked bicyclists, as a lot more bicyclists kept more pieces of clothing on. Perhaps as the UNICON attenders were from another country, they didn’t have to worry about maintaining some sort of professional credibility in Montreal as many of the bikers did. Or maybe Europeans just like getting naked a lot more.

mtl4

As I was not registered to participate competitively, there was very little I could actually do at UNICON. I felt like making friends was an uphill endeavour, when many already had their circles of friends either from having attended UNICON before, got to know each other by virtue of participating in the same event, or were basically from the same country.

One morning, I sat myself down at a random table, and introduced myself to the table. It comprised Americans, a Canadian, and some Germans. I eventually got to see them over the next couple days and even got to hang out with them once or twice.

mtl6

Some of them (the Canadian and the Germans) went up to Mont Royal, and I joined them. One of them played the piano while I unicycle-danced in the background. It was all fun and games, until the experts showed up. Then they proceeded to defy gravity and jumped all over the place, and us mere mortals of lesser skill just stopped.

I got to see the UNICON events, of course. I was mostly there for the freestyle, and it met my expectations of what I thought it to be. Slightly dismaying was to see six to nine year olds completely outclassing me with freestyle, as the leapt onto their unis with a stand-up leg-up glide like physics was optional.

Freestyle expert solo was OK, and the first place winner went to USA Matt Sindelar, who did a Western cowboy themed routine using that very well-known tune from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, gun sounds and all.

Japan’s freestyle male expert solo entry Kaito Shoji was slightly less than what I expected, compared to last year’s winner. But he was still pretty good, and had great synchronicity with the music at the beginning.

Thomas Tiercy from Switzerland had one of the more interesting routines, though he didn’t place in top three. Perhaps it was because his routine was less about unicycling and more about object manipulation, but I felt it deserved a place on the pedestal because it was so different from the rest. It was also more show-sy than the others, which I appreciated a lot.

Shoji’s pair entry with Natsume Yamamoto was definitely much better, and the performance was more enjoyable. It featured great chemistry between the unicyclists, and felt less like a run-through of tricks, and more like a performance.

Here are some of the photos from Freestyle Solo and Pair.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

While Street really isn’t my thing, here are also pictures from the competition. I have no idea who these people are, but the UNICON list says these people are: Christian Huriwai (New Zealand), Maxwell Schulze (USA), Raphael Pöham (Austria), Josef Sjönneby (Sweden), Jack Sebben (Canada), and Casper van Tielraden (Netherlands).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m breaking up this post because it’s getting too long. More to come in part 2!

[Reblog] Dropped – The story of how the world’s greatest juggler fell off the face of the world

Image credit: Grantland

Image credit: Grantland

Dropped

Why did Anthony Gatto, the greatest juggler alive — and perhaps of all time — back away from his art to open a construction business?

BY JASON FAGONE ON MARCH 18, 2014

The greatest juggler alive, maybe of all time, is a 40-year-old Floridian named Anthony Gatto. He holds 11 world records, has starred for years in Cirque du Soleil, and has appeared as a child onThe Tonight Show, performing in a polo shirt and shorts, juggling five rings while balancing a five-foot pole on his forehead.

His records are for keeping certain numbers of objects aloft for longer than anyone else. Eleven rings, 10 rings, nine rings, eight rings, and seven rings. Nine balls, eight balls, and seven balls. Eight clubs, seven clubs, and six clubs. To break this down a little: There’s one person in the world who can juggle eight clubs for 16 catches,1and that’s Gatto. As for seven clubs, maybe a hundred people can get a stable pattern going — for a couple of seconds. It’s difficult to evenhold seven clubs without dropping them; your hands aren’t big enough. Gatto can juggle seven clubs for more than four minutes. “That’s insane,” says David Cain, a professional juggler and juggling historian. “There’s no competition.” …Read the rest of the story here.


This fairly long article speaks to me a lot about what it means to be a performer and what my craft means to me. Anthony Gatto, whom the jugglers I grew up amongst raved about all the time, fell off of the face of the performing world, after having received so many accolades. Were there to be a “king of juggling,” even today I believe jugglers in the know would not hesitate to crown Gatto still.

Fangone, the writer, did not manage to actually score an interview with Gatto, which is disappointing, but supplements his article with thoughts and analyses to try to explain why Gatto stopped performing to go into construction. Fangone wrote about, or quoted some of Gatto’s words that struck me as circus folk:

By now, though, Gatto’s relationship with the juggling community had shifted. He no longer regularly attended conventions or entered competitions. Gatto didn’t want to impress other jugglers. “Nobody cares about good jugglers in the performance world,” he later wrote in an Internet forum. “They care about entertainers.”

and this

Gatto’s frustration with young, Internet-native jugglers boiled over in 2008, when he got into a sort of arms race with Galchenko, the YouTube phenom. It began when Galchenko appeared on an NBC show called Celebrity Circus. He was there to set a record for doing as many five-club, five-up 360s as he could in one minute. He ended up doing the trick 21 straight times without dropping, breaking the previous record. After the show aired, Gatto posted a video of himself doing 24 five-ups in a minute, breaking the record Galchenko had just broken. Galchenko then posted footage of himself doing the trick 29 times in a minute. It went on like that for several more rounds.

A reporter for the Boston Globe called Gatto at the time and asked why Galchenko’s TV appearance had bothered him. Gatto praised Vova as a “great juggler,” but he also said of younger jugglers, “Until those kids grow a personality, they’re not going to wow anybody. The audience doesn’t care if you juggle 20 rings.” The reporter added, “Gatto now says he regrets getting involved in the 360s competition — though he says he can still go higher — because it sent the wrong message. The only way to judge a juggler, he says, is to watch him onstage, under the bright lights, over the course of a career.”

And finally.

(Gatto) gave in. He grew to accept the necessity of kissing the ball and lobbing it gently into the crowd with a grin. He also learned to make hard tricks look hard, to pantomime the exertion and self-doubt of a man working at the edge of his ability even though his ability stretched on and on. He learned to entertain, because for some reason, even though we exist in a physical universe defined by the relative attractive powers of massive objects, the mere demonstration of a lush and lovely control of gravity is not enough. He labored to please an audience that could never appreciate his greatness. Then he got older and watched a new wave of jugglers abandon the stage for the flicker of computer screens, sneering at the bright-light mastery he’d worked so hard to gain.

It’s at times when reading things like these that makes a practitioner of a performing craft wonder: What am I, and what do I want to be? What do I want to achieve what I want with my craft?

Do I want to push the boundaries of technical circus? My own skill have been stagnating for a while — even though I’ve over 10 years of unicycling, poi/flag spinning/etc. under my belt, my skills have not leapt beyond those “Youtube whizzes” who pick up the sport mere months ago and are coming up with insanely technical and difficult Youtube videos on their progress. I picked up the pirouette on the unicycle maybe six years ago, and the pirouette is very flashy and crowd-pleasing, but I haven’t picked up much else since then. It was only recently, as of a year or two ago that I started to push myself to go beyond, and learn something that would please less the audience and more those in the know; circus folk.

But very often I wonder if it’s worth it, as Gatto might have, when the fancifulness of its difficulty is lost on the audience. I’m not sure Gatto ever fully achieved that stage, where he could reconcile his integrity as a practitioner of juggling and perform to the extent of his ability, with what the audience can see and understand.

Handing over keys

Today marks the day that I should be handing over the keys to the circus club at New York University I helped create. A part of me doesn’t want to — I want to be able to still wield the access to the store and be able to keep my unicycle and other equipment on site. But all things must come to an end, and we must learn to let go.

It is not as if I’ll stop doing circus after today; even if I can’t attend the sessions of the school’s circus club, I will still do my own circus sessions. After all, you started out doing public circus even before the club at NYU started.

Rain clouds have gathered and the skies are grey. A fitting sombre farewell or reluctance to let me go?

I’d rather have blue skies and sunny weather, and let the transition happen as unnoticeable as possible, while still enjoying circus that I’ve grown accustomed to setting up each week.

Circus death by old age?

Someone once asked me, “Is doing circus tiring?” and I replied, “Yea, sometimes after circus, I’d get so sore and tired I wouldn’t be able to pick things up from the floor.”

“Maybe I’m getting old,” I joked.

To which he asked, “What, how old are you, 23, 24?”

“25,” I replied.

“Yea, that’s like probably like circus death, isn’t it?” he said.

Which I suppose is kind of true. In Cirque du Soleil, most circus performers get their best run in their early 20’s, and by the time they’re after 25, they start to consider retiring from circus. Or so I’ve heard.

Maybe my aches are telling I’m getting old, maybe I should cool down with the exertion, but then what fun would circus be if one is going to do a geriatric version of it?

Aches and sores are external, but what about the internal aspects of circus? Some of my circus peers and friends who are dancers feel that at a certain age, they should settle into a sort of gravitas and step away from the limelight; it is time to “act one’s age.”

But that indicates that there is a certain way to behave when one is of “that age.” Should a 50-year old stop dancing in public because it is unseemly? The moment you stop working on your craft is the moment you give in to these societal pressures about what one’s age should be.

I should be able to spin my fans in public even if I’m not considered to be “in my prime” any more. I’ll stop spinning the day my arms refuse to lift the fans any longer and my legs can work my unicycle no longer.

To be driven to despair

Job seeker, 21, with 3 A-levels and 10 GCSEs, kills herself after she was rejected for 200 jobs

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1267953/Job-seeker-Vicky-Harrison-commits-suicide-rejected-200-jobs.html#ixzz2bABkpoVL

After being unemployed for two years, and after over unsuccessful job application, 21-year-old Vicki Harrison kills herself. I read this today and I felt immeasurable sadness for her family, and empathy for her situation. While I have not been unemployed for two years, there are times when my mind have wandered into the similar regions of despair, self-loathing and frustration.

Every day gained is an extra day lost.

Time is ticking out for me; I’m currently on a visa that gives me a year’s grace to be employed in my field of study. A sixth of it has gone. Unlike Harrison, I don’t have two years.

Today, I bumped into the unemployed friend of mine on my way to circus. He told me that in the two years since he graduated from college, he has been unemployed for a total of 15 months when all his unemployment periods are added up. That’s more than a year, more than half of how long he has since graduated. It did not hearten me to hear that he could have been unemployed for that amount of time.

What if it happens to me? What if my year runs out and I still have yet to find a job?

The problem with being college-educated and being told that you’re good at what you do only sets you up higher for a bigger fall. Harrison has 3 A-levels and 10 GCSEs. I have 3 A-levels and 9 or 10 GCSEs, and a college degree. But these alone do not get you a job. Jobs these days want a minimum of “3-4 years work experience” for junior, associate or entry-level positions. Well, what are fresh-graduates supposed to do to get this magical work experience for entry-level jobs that are supposed to help them get experience? What’s the level below entry-level where graduates can glean experience from then? Friends have told me that internship experience counts, but I can scarcely imagine a hirer choosing a fresh-graduate with only internship experience over someone who has actual work experience from a time when entry-level was really meant for people to enter into the industry.

I wonder how long I can hold out before my font of optimism snuffs out?