Saturday, November 24, 2007

Demi pointe and retirement

The circle is complete. We reached the halfway point in the theatre where it all began so many years…uh…weeks ago. I am counting dates here for once, as shows are still being added and shuffled around and none of us are really sure any more how many we are doing. For the count, we have now done 50 shows in 57 days.
But there is good news! We stayed in one place, in the same hotel, in the same bed for the unbelievably long time of 8 days! And this place is of course Sydney and not some tiny one-horse town like Whyalla and furthermore, (wait, are you sitting down? Good) we had 3 days off! It was almost too good to be true, and of course it was to good to be true. Everyone did have 3 days off (I had 4, but more on that in a bit) not consecutive though, but as we learned after the first of these long coveted days we would be facing 7 days and 13 shows a couple of times in the very near future. Lesson learned: whenever time off, rest, adequate sleep or any of those luxuries pop up on the schedule, it is because something hideous is lurking around the next corner.
But how sweet those days were and I was terrified that I would be too tired to actually enjoy them and get the most out of being in Sydney. As I am likely to start doing Swan Lake with a new partner who’s never done it before, I was even given the day after our shows in Sydney off. That meant 3 days in a row for me. I was not too popular with the “girls” when they found out, but so far I have not found itching powder in my dancebelt or broken glass in my shoes, though I am not sure if this is the reason why they have cooled off on the trying to assure me that I am missing out on a huge part of this tour and life in general by not becoming their boyfriend. By “their” I mean all of them, sort of a reverse harem I guess it would be.
But back to my days off and my new favorite city, Sydney. What a place, reminiscent of Copenhagen by the harbour, the Mediterranean, with it’s crooked alleyways in Old Town and San Francisco by its sheer atmosphere and casually sophisticated bohemian conservatism and hills.

It’s an odd feeling to feel the familiarity with a place of recent acquaintance, that is normally associated with places one has had longer association with, but such was the case with the State Theatre in Sydney. It felt like being back home and to my original group, those of us that started here it felt like we should stop now, that we had made a complete circle. Sadly we only had two shows, in one day here, it would have been nice to have an actual run in a big city in a beautiful theater, but I won’t complain as the days we could have performed were given to us to enjoy the city instead.
And enjoy I did. I met up with my friend Marshall from Perth, had dinner with the composer Ross Edwards, his wife and a young composer Drew and had plenty of coffee and good times with Ilmar, a good friend of the woman who’s keeping me on the straight and narrow. Ilmar has, in my opinion a perfect life, he lives and works part of the year in Sydney and the other part in Paris. I know what you are thinking and I had to get a box of Kleenex too, to wipe the tears from my eyes when he told me.
Having been joined by a Turkish guy for the next 4 weeks, the group made an uneven number, and I was able to be apart from my involuntary roommate for a week. I never thought that solitude could be so sweet.
Thinking that I would catch up on my journals turned out to be wishful as every day was spent walking through Sydney. Here as in Melbourne I ventured in to a few museums and am most amazed by how many kids visit and how they are truly invited in. In one museum with an exhibition on the prison ships (the Australians are truly proud of their origins) I ended up following a group of about 25 young kids, fascinated by their tour more than my own. Not only fascinated at them being given assignments putting them in situations the prisoners would have been in, making them experience what they were shown visually but equally if not more fascinated by the kids’ active mental participation, their questions and their skills in keeping attention and ability to think critically.
Sydney has a wonderful museum, rather large classical building, located on the way from Pott’s Point, where I met Ilmar for coffees, to the Opera House, very close to the Botanical Gardens. Most people can’t miss it when they go for a walk in the gardens. I did. I am still not sure how, but I managed to walk right by it, in broad daylight, so I have no thoughts about this museum. But the Botanical Gardens are a treat, the sheer variety of indigenous trees is mind-boggling and I ended up dozing off on a bench in the shade of a tree long thought to be extinct, listening to birds and realizing how I do not remember the last time I heard birds in SF while lying under a tree. Well, I actually don’t doze under trees at home as most trees there are used as toilets by the homeless.
But Sydney is a truly Australian city in the sense that I have come to know this country. It’s a place of dualism and contradiction. It’s friendly and familiar, dangerous and foreign. You are constantly reminded of something, some place, some atmosphere when you walk in Sydney, but right as you are about to put your finger on it, you turn a corner and the light changes, the weather changes, the people sitting having flat whites change and you are back at square one, racking your brain for what it is this reminds you of. Now that I am sitting writing this it comes to me what it reminds me of: Having a good time.
Aside from marking the halfway point of the tour, Sydney also marked the retirement of what is the most amazing pair of ballet slippers I have ever had. After 50 shows and enough rosin to make the soles look like Pirelli tires I decided to place these trusted pieces of canvas in a hermetically sealed plastic bag (for obvious reasons) before they could run away on their own.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Party time

The final morning in Melbourne before heading to Tasmania, happened to be the day of the Melbourne Marathon and our hotel was smack in the middle of the course, the streets were blocked off and most café’s were packed to the hilt. After countless attempts at crossing the street, being “protected” by very eager traffic controllers I finally managed to cross the street and was lucky to find a café with an outside seat as hunger was now getting the better of me. If there were as many police/traffic personnel on a normal day, there’d be no traffic accidents at all, as people would choose to stay at home out of sheer frustration. Enjoying a flat white, I suddenly noticed a long queue of cars and thought myself lucky to have found a place to sit, obviously being in one of the more popular viewing areas. As it turned out, this was just another example of how the Aussie’s do things. After having waited for about 15 minutes, very patiently, the driver of the first car decided to sneak across the roadblock. He had barely moved a few feet, when he was stopped by the traffic controllers. The ensuing conversation brought tears to my eyes. The driver was instructed to turn around and leave the neighborhood by one of the side roads further down. Exasperated he very politely, but firmly explained to the event personnel, that he had lived in the area for 23 years, knew every street and had just driven around for 45 minutes trying to get out of his neighborhood. All roads were blocked as the marathon course ran in a circle around the area! At least they were thorough when it came to the runners’ safety.
Most Australians will tell you that you can tell how inbred the Tasmanians are by the scar they all have on their necks from when their second head was removed. Every country has one part of their population they make fun of, but never have I experienced this in such an erroneous manner! Not that two months in Australia makes any one, much less me, an expert in beauty, but I would like to go on record (now that I am sitting in New Zealand) to say that the Tasmanians are much better looking and seem much less inbred than their northern relatives.
Launceston our first of two stops, reminded me a bit of a small Danish provincial town, which on first looks may seem to be very country bumpkin, but where there is a real theatre and people are actually wearing shoes when they leave their houses! The climate may have colored my opinion a bit too, as the fresh cold sea air was also reminiscent of both SF and Copenhagen.
We were only there for a night, so the morning after the show I got up at the crack of dawn to go to a gorge just on the outskirt of the town. The crisp (freezing cold) morning air was like an ice bath, and I might have taken a more leisurely pace had I been adequately prepared clothing wise. (I should quickly note here, that we were all advised to only bring very little on this tour and that warm clothing was not necessary, except maybe a sweater.) But it was beautiful and a great way to start a new year as I was to celebrate my birthday that night in Hobart. After the show in Launceston, as we were having dinner, Vladamir, a very funny, quirky Brazilian, who does an amazing Tina Turner impersonation, announced with a Cheshire Cat grin: “Tomorrow your birthday, we must have party-then we give you many drinks and when you fall asleep…kisskiss!!” Giovanni (Colombian) turned in his seat with the most incredulous look on his face and reprimanded: “Nooo! It should be present for him…not you!”
Well, the present turned out to come from someone else entirely! I had decided to take everyone out for a drink and had spread the word on the trip to Hobart, reminding everyone during the show on the day of as it is notoriously difficult to round up groups of people, especially dancers. So after the show we all went back to the hotel, around the corner, to freshen up and go celebrate. I waited in my room, called a few of them to make sure they weren’t skipping out and got no answer! Manolo and Victor thought we should just go, but since we hadn’t picked a place, but was going to find one, I decided to wait a bit longer. Finally I had had it and exclaimed that if the “girls” didn’t want a drink on my bill, then that was fine with me and we headed out. In the lobby Victor went down to the hotel bar suggesting we went there. You have probably guessed it already, but I hadn’t so the surprise was total and complete when I entered the bar area and the entire company and the crew screamed: Happy Birthday! Behind my back, Susan had arranged cake, champagne and the whole shebang! Eddy, our sound guy, told me that the best part had been trying to keep a straight face as I was almost panicking trying to round everybody up, making sure they would come out with me. It was the party of parties, lasting until 7:30 in the morning and numerous bottles of champagne. Luckily we were staying in an old wool storage building with very thick brick walls and had the day off the next day to regain what little we had left of our senses. When I awoke, I was startled to see that not only was Victor missing, but everything had shrunk, the beds, the room and the windows. It took me a while to realize that I was not in my room (the absence of Victor should have made that clear from the moment I opened my eyes. He never leaves the room unless forced to), but had apparently chosen the first available bed and passed out while a handful of the “girls” were perfecting a “step, ball-change, ball-change” to the tunes of Tina Turner all the while doing household chores such as vacuuming, pouring tea etc. Though I had been given a video camera (also by Susan) I had been in no state to immortalize this unique and exciting dance.
The theatre in Hobart is the oldest in the country, dating from 1834 and appropriately called the “Princess Theatre”. It is a darling of a doll box romantic theatre, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less in a city like Hobart. It instantly became my favorite city we had been to (now it is one of two cities that I can see myself re-visiting here). Along the harbor were numerous little cafes, each with an interesting menu, making it difficult to choose, so I café hopped a bit, before coming across a wonderful bookshop that damaged my bank account greatly and made me wish I didn’t have to carry my own suitcase when we had to leave this beautiful little island. The only thing I never saw was the local devils, but then again, if you make a diva mad there’s plenty of devil to go around.

Wagga means "place of crow" in Aboriginal. Since they have no plural form, they add the same word again to, so the real name of the city Wagga Wagga means "place of crows". I am slowly becoming more fascinated with this people, who are so completely under the radar that they are actually off it.
I went to the theatre early with the crew, to have a walk around the town, which seemed bigger than some of the other small places we've been. Here I counted 4 lively places when we arrived the night before, so there must be something to do.
Right behind the theatre was the local museum and after reading Bryson and how much he encounters in these small town museums I decided to go in for a look. It consisted of the local city council chambers that I was welcome to walk through the lady at the counter kindly told me, and then there were two rooms behind the chambers with the actual exhibitions. Well, a council chamber might be of interest to some, but I didn't quite feel I missed something of great importance after a brief look at the generic office/boardroom chairs and the heavy blue drapery, so I went instead to learn about this place of crows.
The two rooms mentioned absolutely nothing about the city, it's history or crows for that matter. Instead it was wholly devoted to a very extensive and informative exhibit on various types of drugs. After gleaning the prices of cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and a few other useful facts in case I was on the prowl for hallucinogenics (as if I need help hallucinating after travelling with 17 "girls" for this long) I thought that maybe the towns history was so tedious and boring that its inhabitants had turned to drugs, or that this museum was the main information point for druggies coming to Australia. Turning to Duncan, our trusted driver with an encyclopedic knowledge of his country, I was proven halfway right. The area of Wagga Wagga and Griffith, which was one of our first stops (don't excpet me to explain in logical terms why it has taken us 5 weeks to play two cities an hour or so from each other) were the main centers of marihuana growing back in the day. Why Griffith has chosen to keep a low profile of its local history and "attractions" and Wagga has chosen not to, made me wonder exactly how far back “back in the day” meant.

Wagga is also the hometown of a sporadic crew member of ours, Tiana. As she was no longer going to be touring with us, a few of us went out for a drink at one of the establishments on the main street, where I finally felt that I really met, and got a taste of the Australian hospitality and joy of life. The place was packed, live music was happening in a corner, while a couple of crusty guys played pool, completely unawares of the hubbub around them. It seemed like everyone knew each other and I hoped to chat someone up. That was thwarted by some of the largest V&T's I have had. Asking for mine in a larger glass (i.e. a double) the bartender, whom Tiana had befriended the day before, swiftly pulls out a pint glass and poured me a handsomely strong drink, even for me. Not that one drink, even that large, would stop me from mingling, but somehow when I put the glass down it had an automatic refill feature and within a short time I had had three of these tubs of V&T and the patrons had grown up all of the sudden. When we arrived it was full of twenty-something’s in jeans and skimpy dresses with hair that looked like it was still in bed, and when I looked up after number two amphora, they were in their forties and wearing tuxedo's and gowns. What an amazing place! We did have to leave sadly as the place closed, so we headed across the street (per bartender recommendation) and here I got my first real glimpse at how warm these people are. As I sidled up to the bar (to steady myself, though the sticky carpet would have kept a kangaroo from jumping) a bloke turns to me extends his hand and yells: "How you going? wanna drink?" I declined as I already had one (not sure how), but he wouldn't take no for an answer, especially amongst friends. "You are a dancer? he asked and I expected the standard American reaction to my profession, of taking a step back and acting real macho, but was surprised to see his face turn in to a giant grin and hear him call out to his friends: "you gotta meet my new friend Peter, he's a dancer! - can you teach me some moves mate?" he said turning to me. When I told him that I did ballet and mostly did lifting of girls, he said, "that's alright, I'm not that heavy, 69 kg, lift me and show me some moves. Though some of them looked big and burly and something you wouldn't normally want to meet in a dark alley, they all joined in and soon we were all introduced around the bar and had rounds of shots. Being a guest in their town I was not allowed to buy them a single drink, no way mate! And when Marlon commented on one of theirs' footy socks, he promptly took his shoes of and gave them to Marlon. Maybe being given dirty socks is the universal sign of friendliness in Wagga Wagga, the place of crows and their feet?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Namecallings

As you may recall I mentioned earlier that there seems to be a lack of logic to the order of our travel, but even in the illogical can one find an order. The order I found (or made up for my own sanity’s sake) is that we will do a handful or two of small towns and very small towns and very very small towns and right as we are all getting a tad antsy from the lack of people and activity we go to a real city.
After the Ports, Adelaide seemed as big as New York, people on the streets even after the sun has set!
I was beginning to feel the hard floors and my body was in need of some attention. I had a fantastic treatment at a sports/physical therapy clinic that left me feeling so ready, alert and invigorated that upon returning to our hotel I went for a walk to look around with Brian aka Debbie. He and I seem to be the only two of the group that are more interested in seeing the places we visit. That is not to say the others don’t see anything, but they are usually shown around by local “guides”. At first I was surprised at how many friends a lot of them had in almost every city we’ve been to, (it was an athlete friend of one of them that directed us to the clinic where I got my massage) especially since they hadn’t been here before, but I have now seen for myself how powerful a tool the internet can be in bringing people together with other people.
The Adelaide museum was the perfect size and with a just right balance of interesting works. Much was of course dedicated to the works of Australian artists, some of which weren’t bad. It has now become part of my speech too, to say “she” about the “girls” and not feel mentally disturbed by it. The very laid back Adelaidians did look at me like I needed some serious attention, when I tried to get Brian’s attention in the museum. I guess it must seem strange to the uninitiated to hear someone say Brian three times and when they get no response say Debbie and the person, who looks like he should go by Brian turns around.
I was starting to feel the effects of the massage and left Brian/Debbie to explore more of the city and headed back to the hotel to lie down for half an hour before getting something to eat and go to the show. Well the effects of the massage really kicked in and I woke in a panic two and a half hours later, frantically throwing my things together and ran to the theatre. It was just across the street so I figured I did have time to grab a quick sandwich in the café in front of the stage door. The kid behind the counter politely waited until I had perused the board and made my choice, to tell me that he had closed the kitchen (sandwich bar) since he was there by himself and had to keep an eye on the place and it was too much work for one person to run the place. I looked around at the 6 tables in there, two of which were occupied by ladies having coffee and thought to myself that maybe the afternoon rush was coming in, but saw no one on the street. Things make a different sense here in Australia and I am getting used to it.
What I am still not quite getting used to is the very early morning calls we’ve been having and the next morning’s took the prize as the more difficult of them. When we got on the bus after four hours of sleep, George and Marlon launched a verbal nuclear attack on each other. George is in the seats across from me and Marlon in front of me, neither of them had slept much, if at all, and I was so tired that all I could do was to realize that if they started swinging at each other they would probably hit me and I would be too tired to move out of the way in time. Luckily they never resorted to physical violence as their verbal assaults degraded from infantile to pathetic name calling. But when we arrived at the airport 20 minutes later and they were still going at it, my sleep-deprived head might have preferred a hit to the yelling. They resolved their differences like true divas: they don’t speak to or acknowledge each other now.
Arriving in Melbourne at our usual haunt, we all looked forward to getting into a room and away from those two. But the tour is a being of it’s own and it has decided that if something can go smoothly, it won’t. Our rooms weren’t ready and where the “girls” have usually been docile about glitches, the atmosphere created by the altercation unleashed 17 very diva-ish divas! Our tour manager (whom we later found out was having his own issues to deal with) unraveled at the seams when a handful of them bared their teeth at him. Throwing his arms up in the air, he yelled that ensuring the accommodations (a tour manager’s job) was not his job and that we needed to talk to the promoter directly and he left us at 10 am, never to be seen again. I called the promoter and gave him a heads up on the situation, while most of us were contemplating grabbing our bags and heading to the airport (this was not the first time we arrived at a hotel after a crack of dawn departure to find the rooms not ready) and was able to get some of the logistics issues dealt with. Interestingly enough, neither the director nor the ballet master nor the company manager seemed too eager to deal with the situation and thought it wrong of me to make the call instead of just sitting down in the lobby to wait with them the 4 hours it took to get into the rooms. The end result: changes were made to our travel and accommodations that ought to make them a bit more sensible (somehow sensible and Australian doesn’t mesh very well on this tour) but at least we got a fantastic breakfast paid for by the promoter.
The next day we boarded our bus again, which Duncan had driven from Adelaide the day before, heading for Warragul and two shows. I thought I had seen quite a bit of Australian small towns, but this one seemed more like a cluster of houses. Staying the night, our ballet master decided to have a meeting with myself and one of the “girls” about having us do Swan Lake together. The director has done the role of the Swan for 20 years and is not too keen on someone else getting to do the part, so the ballet master wanted to keep the meeting quiet, so we were to meet in his room after the show and talk over a glass of wine. I need you to imagine a couple of things that make this scenario worth pointing out. First, this is a group of divas, drag queens and dancers…it’s hard to keep anything under wraps in this crowd. Secondly, we were staying in a motel with 20 rooms, in the middle of a dark highway with nowhere to go. Thirdly, my room mate is the director, who’s not too happy about the situation. For all intents and purposes we might as well have had the meeting in the parking lot! Everyone knew something was up and were mulling about outside their rooms trying to look like they weren’t curious. The meeting itself was rather uneventful. The ballet master was very excited about having this dancer learn the swan and started the meeting by asking him what he had in mind with the role, his thoughts etc. The poor dancer seemed a bit stumped and they sat and looked at each other for a bit. Apparently the ballet master expected us to come up with the version and jokes etc. and the dancer and I thought we were going to be told what they expected from us. I threw some ideas on the table, which the ballet master didn’t really seem too interested in and we went back to staring at each other and having some wine. When the bottle was empty I decided my participation in the staring contest was over and went to my room. Of course my room mate asked where I’d been, which I told him (without the staring contest details).
The stops were now slowly starting to blur a bit. Since the Melbourne drama, changes were being made almost daily to our itinerary, so I stopped checking the tour book for information that would be different anyways. This was the cause of me looking twice as we drove into the next town and saw a sign in a shop window advertising a hooker sale! As it turned out, this was a very respectable city called Sale, pronounced the way you think it should be, and L.J. Hooker is the name of one of the large real estate firms in the country. The initials L.J had been obscured by some bushes and I thought maybe they should trim the bushes so as to not give visitors the wrong impression.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

From Port to Port with some wine thrown in

Next after Port Pirie, were two very short and uneventful stops.
Port Lincoln is the city with the most fish and millionaires in Australia and home to some great restaurants due to the fish and the millionaires. For those that have followed these haphazard chronicles it will come as no surprise that we did not get to experience any of the restaurants, but had veal scallopine (cold and somewhat tougher than I remember veal scallopine to be) in plastic containers en route to Whyalla.
Whyalla…the first part of the name says it all. There was really nothing to do. When we arrived at the motel, the surrounding houses looked deserted and there was almost no traffic on the street. When we got back to the hotel, the houses were still dark, with curtains drawn. Either there was no one there or they prefer their homes dark around here. Walking in the dark to a service station to get something to eat (yes there was no supermarket within sight nor driving distance), I wondered aloud what people do in places this quiet, to which one of the other dancers replied: “drink”, he paused and added as an afterthought: “it’s also places like this where they go nuts and become mass murderers.” Suddenly the road to the service station seemed longer. Trying to change the topic I noted the peculiar scent in the air and was immediately answered by the same guy, that it was probably the smell of rotting human flesh. It did have the perfect setting for a horror movie, but as I am writing this now, you can all breathe easy again, we all arrived intact (physically at least) from our service station trip, where the attendant was even friendlier, than most Australians. Must be a lonely job in a town where no one seems to leave their houses and I wondered if maybe he lived there behind the cigarette stand and only got to talk to involuntary visitors like us.
If the veal in Port Lincoln was a bit tough, the roast beef in Whyalla brought back childhood memories of watching Charlie Chaplin in “Gold Rush” and finding out that our motel who supplied us with our dinner was the best restaurant in town, it made sense why no one was out in town - their shoes had been commandeered for the roastbeef.

Germans are not usually known for their emphasis on making things cozy, but the Barossa Valley town of Tanunda was very cozy and founded by Germans. It is of course a fact of life that wherever there is wine, there’s good food and good times! And frankly I sometimes feel a bit too old to be fed my meals every day, without having a choice in what or when I am served, so I skipped out on the after show meal and took a handful of the dancers with me to a great place in town for dinner. Never has the clinking of glasses and cutlery scraping porcelain sounded so good. Many of the other guests had been to the show and were delighted to be able to express how much they’d enjoyed themselves. One family, where 3 out of 4 kids danced, made us a sign their napkin and returned with their own napkin memento for us. I have always felt that the connection with the audience extends beyond the stage, and living as we have in our own little bubble (eating behind stage, getting on a bus and taking off) can make it a sad, lonely existence, out of touch with the rest of the world. Some of my dearest friends are people I have met via my work on stage but outside my stage persona and it was a delightful reminder, that life still exist as I know it.
We were literally in and out of Tanunda as well, but driving through it is like driving through Napa, which a Mercedes club seemed to think too, making a quaint little town even quainter by filling the streets with beautifully restored classic 1930’s-60’s cars. How nice would it not have been to go to Adelaide in a two-seater cabriolet hooting the horn to get the geese off the road? Okay that was a bit much to ask for maybe, so forget about the geese. Of course at this point anything beats a bus, even with the memory of some truly delicious wines still on my palate.
Speaking of bus, I mustn’t forget a true treat: Duncan, our driver. Not only is he an excellent chauffeur, but a living encyclopedia on Australian history, its nature, people and politics. He has made the painful rides a bit more interesting by keeping us informed of all the places we pass by and don’t get to see. What is particularly amusing to me, is to observe the "girls'" reactions. Like most dancers, they tend to not pay particular attention to voices on intercoms, so Duncan will be talking away and throw in the occasional magic word that gets their heads to start popping up from their seats, confused looks around with that expression of: “what-kangaroo-where?”. So even though the landscape doesn’t change drastically, the view from my seat on the bus is never one of monotony.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Running behind

We are now on the Gold Coast and I am way behind on these updates, for which I apologise. I was meant to get back on track during the week we stayed in Sydney (last week) where we had 2 days off. I ended up being rotated out of a show so I had 3 days. Complete luxury! But instead of sitting in my room writing, I ran around Sydney, meeting with friends of friends.
Of course more detailed notes will follow, but I do wish to keep the chronological order intact, hence this interlude.
I have been close to calling it off as we have had so many mishaps and poor organisation, making an already hard tour getting close to becoming unacceptably hard. The days off did help of course, but one does really need rest and food to do 104 shows with the travel involved. But I am still here and still finding lots to enjoy, as you will see as soon as I post from where I left off. Here's what you have in store: a basketfull of small towns, Adelaide, Canberra, Sydney and more small towns. Sound familiar?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mining and memorials

So I’ve picked up Bill Bryson’s Down Under which converges with my own recollections straight away as he passes through the mining town Broken Hill, as I myself have reached that town in my recollections. Through Bryson I am now also getting a bit more background information about the country and its sights, but fear not, I shall not fill these pages with his observations, only recommend it to anyone, particularly to those who feel in need of some abdominal workout.
I do have to briefly veer off my journey’s track and dispel a rumor that has reached me here on the other side of the world. Apparently it was reported that I have been married and am traveling around Australia with my wife, when in fact I am not married and traveling around Australia with my 17 “girlfriends”! And after 52 days the honeymoon is still in full bloom…everyday I carry some of them over new thresholds, of pain that is, neck, back, knees etc..
Getting to Broken Hills from Mildura took us over the Darling River and into dry and arid country. All water around the town of Broken Hill is used for the mining, so not much grows here. And though small towns all look alike after awhile, it gives you a different sense of what makes a country function. Kalgoorlie, with the world’s largest goldmine and Broken Hill, which is still the home of the world’s largest mining company are both unassuming towns, sans frills, that help carry the country. Judging from the look of its inhabitants, Broken Hill could be the place where the freaks from the traveling circuses retire to; I have never seen a more eclectic group of characters and faces assembled in one place. Maybe it’s the lack of water, as most water is used in the mines? At any rate, it tasted very strange coming out of the tap, a bit like when you are in a spa in the hot mineral pool with a chili-sage-celery mask on and swallow a bit of the water as you doze off and slide down submerging your face under the water.
My lunch lady looked like she had done that a few times too many, and was moving with utmost caution in case she should lose consciousness again. Wearing an acrylic hounds tooth sweater, pulled down and belted to make a dress and possibly show the cleavage that she had had made when she left her policeman/drug dealer husband, at the age of 60. According to two guys we met, she had never been a looker in that way. If she had her head turned sideways you had to look at her feet to tell which was front on her, she used her (her ex’s?) money on a front, but was still single. Between buttering slices of bread for our sandwiches, she would shuffle around, wiping sporadically on any surface that came within reach. She preferred to keep her hands to herself, so the wiping didn’t venture far on said surfaces. Meanwhile her 4 employees stood silently, waiting for her to come back to make the sandwiches. Apparently they were not trained yet to do it themselves.
The above-mentioned guys were a rare blessing on the trip. After the show, we met them as we were looking for a place to have a drink. (Yes, so far nothing is ever open when we are around). They invited us home to their place, and I felt a pang of fear, images of gay bashing or gang rape passed through my head. Yes we were 5, but at least 4 of us would not even be able to swat a fly. In the end I was finally exposed to the Australian hospitality that I had heard about from friends at home. Admiring a print on the wall, I asked Ryan our host about it and it turned out to be a Norman Lindsay print. I had only a few days before on a coffee break from the bus, stumbled upon a book of this Australian artist’s work of fauns, satyrs, voluptuous ladies and fairy tale creatures and was ecstatic at seeing one in real life. Over some good wine and some bad wine we had a wonderful conversation about art, artists and I was surprised (happily so) to encounter a 20-something year old living in such a small town, far from big cities, that were as culturally minded as this guy was. My surprise only grew, when his roommate told us that he had never left Broken Hill. That turned out not to be true as Ryan assured us, he had moved to Sydney for 3 months once, so a complete country bumpkin he was not!
But we did have to leave Broken Hill, so after a fun evening, we parted ways, wondering if our paths will ever cross again. I sadly doubt I will be in Broken Hill anytime soon, or later for that matter.
The next morning as we tried to get comfortable on the bus, Duncan our bus driver and sometimes tour guide, suggested we took a look out the left windows. “If you look closely”, he said, “you will see nothing. If you look to the right, you will see more of nothing and that is what it will be like for the next 2000km if we keep going straight”. Luckily we didn’t have to go that far, only to Port Pirie, about 4 hours or so.
One of Port Pirie’s claims to fame is its war memorials. Where many towns have memorials to their fallen servicemen, Port Pirie was particularly devastated. In World War I, the town’s population was around 4000, of which they lost 234 young men. A beautiful park was laid out with various monuments, the strongest being a plaque listing fallen names, with only a very few surnames occurring only once. In a relatively short time, entire families were denied growth.
Another striking part of Port Pirie, was their gaming lounges, which is not rooms in which one hunt game, but merely wastes one’s money in the slot machines. Having coffee one morning at a café across from one of these hotel/casinos, I noticed a sign in the window advertising their happy hour. Now there’s usually nothing uncommon about a sign advertising happy hour, except this sign was right next to a street sign depicting a 24 hour ban on bottles on the block (much like a no parking sign). Made me wonder how they get their deliveries?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The way the fly flies

Criss-crossing the continent the way we have done so far in a seemingly random manner, has made me wonder if our itinerary is following or based on the aboriginal songlines. These are “paths” that cross the country, which the ancient gods walked and sang everything they saw in to existence, and which aborigines still will set out on. But since the white man can’t really see them I then I got to think that maybe our presenter had merely employed a smaller size child with a crayon to draw connect-the dots on a map of Australia. At any rate we have now made it to the South part of Australia in the most round about way and are going to and fro.
Coming back to the East coast to the hotel in Melbourne was the closest we get to coming “home’. We stay at the same place every time we go through there, even if it is only for 6 or so hours.
If a 14hour bus ride seemed long, it was a mere moment compared to the 17 hour travel day from Kalgoorlie to Perth (wait in airport) to arrive completely drained at “home” around 1:30 am. I thought of taking a hot bath as most of the motels only have showers, but with about 6 hours to go before we were to head out for Warnambool and the southern part of Australia I opted for some sleep instead.
We seemed to have brought the rain with us from the west, for as we arrived in Warnambool with the rain pouring, they did not seem to be aware of it there. At least the radio kept forecasting a chance of showers in the area, leading me to believe that they might not have windows in the radio station there. Maybe kangaroos bounce through them at night on the way to the roadways?
Much to my surprise, I was given the show off here. Needless to say I was in two minds about it. It was, on the one hand, nice to be able to rest, but in the rain? And in a tiny town, where everything was closing down and our motel was not within walking distance of anything but a lot of big beautiful trees. I pondered for a moment about going by the radio’s weather forecast and take a walk or listen to my instincts, or rather the sound of the rain outside. In the end I went with the group to the venue and decided to watch the show. Taking advantage of a bit of clearing up in the sky, I took a brief look around town, all 4 round abouts of it. Though I am a sucker for theatre atmosphere I have ceased to spend too much time on the theatres; there’s only so much character you can cram into a community assembly hall and 400 folding chairs. This was a real theatre though but not much to speak of, so I went to look for a place that might still be open for dinner. So far everything closes during the day around the time we arrive into a town and open up as we are getting ready to do the show. Yet not 40 paces from the stage door was a very quaint restaurant, that seemed strangely out of place in this little town with its extensive wine list and the lack of deep-fried food on the menu. I missed the first part of the show as I was enjoying the most delicious meal I had had so far. It cost a bloody fortune too, but well worth it after a month of fried, greasy, or overcooked take-away food. Sometimes it’s actually easier to cut the plastic plate than the meat with the children’s safety plastic utensils we are given, so the sound of real flatware hitting real porcelain made this dinner even sweeter. I did make it back to watch Swan Lake and was surprised to see that quite a few of our jokes seem to require more of a background knowledge that many people in these small towns have. I doubt the Australian Ballet go to these places even. I also made a mental note to self to try to steer away from too many “insider” jokes, the kind where we are rolling with laughter in the wings, but the audience may not.
But as we all know, in this business you are never allowed to be too comfortable. Having enjoyed a glorious meal and a night off, we headed to Hamilton where we passed the South Sea (4th ocean) and where my neck went out of whack. This last bit was only exasperated further by the fact that the heating blanket in my bed only warmed down by the feet. Feeling the stiffness get worse I tried in the middle of the night to turn myself upside down, to get heat on my neck. I recently read that Giorgio Armani is a stickler for perfectly made beds; well he would have loved the maid who did mine. The sheets were tucked in so tight that I couldn’t loosen them with my feet and my arms were totally worthless because of the pain in my neck. I almost suffocated trying to maneuver myself, like a seal down to the foot end of the bed, ending up with my head lodged between the mattress and the sheets. But there was heat from the electric blanket!
So I did two shows on the tiniest stage the next day in Frankston with a bum neck, where I in my past life of luxurious treatment in a big company could have taken the night off and gotten massage. In the end, the neck’s fine and it is a wonderful feeling of going out there night after night. The pain lifts with the curtain every time.
I had read about Bendigo, our next stop, in the airline magazine and was looking forward to this town of art galleries, bookshops, and cafés, but our bus broke down in the morning before we had to leave, so we were delayed for a few hours in Melbourne and thus missed most of the sights in Bendigo. I did take a photo of a signpost directing visitors to the sights. It was a very cute town and one that I hope to re-visit one day, even though the wine bar across the street from the theatre ran out of limes after making Emanuel and myself an after show drink each…
The next stop was the Robert Helpmann theatre in Mt. Gambier, named after the city’s famous son. Here I did my first ever Prince in Swan Lake, not exactly how I in my early eager days of dancing had envisioned it to be, at least in choice of partner…but it fit me well to do it this way the first time. Again I play it straight, while Victor, my “queen” is the main comedic element, complete with foot-long eyelashes, ancient-looking wig and turns that make him look like a bent pencil, to quote his usual partner.
I have know come to a part in my notebook, where more notes are about the hellishness of busrides and the many last minute changes, that it reminds me of a similar tour I did to Russia many years ago, where every morning the first thing out of our director’s mouth was: [Imagine heavy Russian accent] “Guys, we hrhave small problem”. Not to say we have problems, except for the trunkloads we have all brought with us ourselves, but let’s just say that I have a book with our schedule that I choose not to refer to anymore.
On the road to our next stop (Renmark cancelled) Mildurah, it suddenly struck me what has been strangely missing when I look out of the windows of the bus. I was listening to Art Tatum’s fingers racing across his keyboard, not sure if we were trying to keep up with him or if he was trying to race us, whilst reading Patrick Leigh Fermors memoirs ‘The Wind and the Water” where he recounts meeting shepherds in the hills of Hungary. Where are the shepherds gone? There are plenty of sheep here, but the romantic, idyllic picture of a slightly musky smelling lonesome being who runs around keeping the sheep rounded up, while his master sits under a tree, telling stories to the traveling passer-by and offering him his jug of (insert: beverage of choice) or his pibe is sadly missing.
Mildurah, a hot town full of red dust and flies. The name comes from the aboriginals, and means, sore eyes. I heard two versions of the origin, one was due to the dust getting in the eyes, the other was that flies get in them. I only experienced the latter, so in my memory that’s the version that sticks. Having the show in Renmark cancelled (I suspect to give us all a bit of a rest, though the reason we were given were lack of ticket sales), we all found ourselves with almost an entire day to lounge by the pool in the sun, luxury I say though not so relaxing considering the number of times you have to wave flies away to not get that pock-marked looking tan. The locals are of course used to them and go about their lives as normal people do. We must have looked like a group of lunatics on a field trip, walking down the street waving our arms frantically in all directions. Maybe that’s why all the shops are closed when we come into town?