The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: circus

Don’t smile the Mirthless Smile

I went performing in the park again today, and the collection wasn’t as good as last week’s. But it is an amount that will go towards helping me through this period. However that is not today’s topic.

Prior to today, I haven’t had much reason to smile. I lived the past few days with nary a need to even twitch my facial muscles upwards. Ultimately, I actually did not smile at all for the past three to four days. Personally, I don’t smile very much anyway, unless I have to or something or someone is really funny.

However, while performing today, I was all smiles and winks, a stark contrast to how I’ve been living the past few days. After a while, I was starting to wonder if I was really smiling or was I making my face resemble a smile for the purpose of my performance?

I have a friend who is an actor/comic. Every now and then a laughter comes out, but it sounds executed on demand; bitter and a little forceful. That is less a laughter than it is an exhalation. I say, “Don’t laugh the bitter laugh,” yet here it seems that I am smiling the Mirthless Smile, committing what I preach not to do.

Studies have shown that simply arranging your facial muscles into the semblance of a smile is enough to trigger endorphins that makes one happy, which in turn makes them smile. Was I unhappy when I was smiling, or was I trying to make myself happy? I have had so little to smile about recently.

But perhaps I was really smiling because I was happy to be performing. From when I was learning to unicycle, the moment I sit on the saddle, almost uncontrollably, a smile begins to form, because I like unicycling and simply sitting on my unicycle makes me happy. Granted, today, I was probably more washed out from the heat (38c/100f), making it hard to notice if I was having fun or not, but I believe that I was still happy to be spinning and unicycling around.

You see, performing takes up so much of my focus and attention I could scarcely spare any mental faculties for ruminating on whatever sad thing in my life. At the moment, putting my all into my moves and producing art that pleases me does make me happy. Satisfaction at a job well done, so as to speak.

My smiles while performing could not be Mirthless. The day that happens will be a day when I stop enjoying performing, and start to see it a chore. Which is kind of why I’ve resisted putting out a collecting box for my performance, until now. Let us hope that the Mirthless Smile never comes.

And after today’s performance, it’s back to another period of stony-faced austerity.

Orientalism vs Occidentalism: Circus Edition

I’ve been unicycling and spinning various stuff for about 10 years now, probably. I’ve spun in Singapore, and I’ve spun around the United States. I’ve seen buskers in the Czech Republic and in Germany as wells. One thing that always struck out to me was how similar Asian performers are with one another, but markedly different from Western performers, who are similar amongst themselves.

Let me show you two videos from the Olympics of unicycling, UNICON.

The above two videos show the winners of UNICON 16, Kazuhiro Shimoyama (Japan) and Janna Wohlfarth (Germany), of the Freestyle Expert category, Male and Female respectively. Notice the vast difference? Shimoyama does a lot of pirouettes, and is generally a lot more dance-attuned and rhythm-attuned to the music that’s playing. Wohlfarth, aside from the Marge outfit and the Simpsons soundtrack, looks more like a showcase of all the nifty skills she’s learnt.

And that actually quite sums up the difference between Western and Eastern performing. If you think I’m generalising, here‘s a link to the performance of Haruka Sato and Ryohei Matsuda (Japan), Pairs Expert, where Sato also came in second for Freestyle Expert, Female. And to compare, here‘s Philipp Henstrosa (Switzerland), who came in fourth in the Expert, Male category in UNICON 16, but this video is from UNICON 15. You’d see that the generalisations I made still pertain.

Such similarities transcend unicycles. Having been in New York for a while, other (Western) spinners never fail to be amazed by my movements, even though the tricks I’m doing are relatively simple. I can’t do a stand-up wheel walk or do a unispin or a flip; I can’t even do a hyperloop on a poi, but I do move my body a lot, and always in reaction to the music that’s playing. To me, music sense is very important to me, because it shows the audience how your mind and body interprets its surrounding and the music to the best of the limitations imposed by the props one is using and of one’s body.

In the spinning world, such a dichotomy is one of ‘Tech’ and ‘Flow’. ‘Tech’ is the pursuit of technical skills, the equivalent of stunts or tricks. They usually have a name, like “Rubenstein’s Revenge” or “Reverse Wheelwalk” or the ilk. Tech spinners tend be grounded on the spot and they let their skills speak for themselves. ‘Flow’ is simply movement. They don’t even have to be graceful and fluid; popping and locking while performing is a form of flow. It is the natural progression of the body as applied to the prop that gives flow its meaning. You can’t name ‘flow moves’, else it would be named something like “Hip-wiggly-thing-as-I-round-my-shoulders”. Less cool-sounding than tech moves.

Also fundamental difference, you can teach tech, but you can’t really teach flow.

I mean I do wish I were actually more skilled in tech. I always tell people “Nah, I just go flow simply because I’m bad at tech.” Which is not completely incorrect; my tech skills are very limited. But I do wonder why it seems almost¬†racial that Eastern spinners tend towards flow (even if it’s crazy, mind-blowingly hard Japanese flow) whereas Westerners tend towards hard skills. I’m sure there are tons of tech-versed people who are trying to marry tech and flow, but the number who succeed, well. I’m not so sure.

You don’t have to run away

runaway

I’ve been keeping myself occupied, none of these occupying things are going to lead me to an occupation. But it takes my mind off of less savoury things, like why haven’t the companies I’ve applied to replied.

Tomorrow’s the weekly Circus in the Park which I hold in Washington Square Park. It started out as a thing I did on my own, where I’d just practice poi and unicycling by the fountain. Eventually, people got interested in what I was doing and started to join me. That was how I got to know the spinning community here in the city, really. Even though we haven’t talked in a while (Dale, Gwen, Rappo, etc), I will always remember them opening my eyes to the magnitude and vibrancy of the spinning community.

Funnily enough, back home, I was always surrounded by lots of jugglers and nary a unicyclist, except among the Singapore Unicyclists. When I did my outdoor practice, those who would join me were jugglers. Here I find the opposite: many poi-and-staff spinners, and I did not get to know many jugglers until junior year in college.

A contributing factor to why poi is so much more pronounced here is simply because there are rave scenes. Poi and glow-sticking are essentially the same thing, and they are constantly a mainstay at rave scenes here in the city. Not to mention that there is a hearty drug market that goes alongside these raves. You can scarcely find a light-show back home save for tourist landmarks, and it’s a death penalty for drugs (I heard the ‘mandatory’ part has been repealed but that’s another story).

Anyway, I created the above cut-and-paste notice to bring to Circus tomorrow, and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while but have never found the time. Guess what,¬†I now have all the time in the world. Go me.

I must say, the tedium of drawing, cutting and pasting the drawings by hand has a certain charm to it. It gives me a sense that I’m doing work. Granted, it’s elementary, but it keeps my hands and mind busy.

Here is another set of pictures I’ve drawn for the circus club last winter.

pbcircus

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