Monday, September 24, 2007

3 oceans, part 2

Well, the 3 oceans became 4, or at least we have pretty much made it all the way around the continent in a few weeks! I am now sitting in Mt. Gambier, which is on the south side, somewhere in the middle, where the half hour goes missing.
But I should try to stick to the chronological order, so let me back track to the West coast.
After Perth we drove to Mandurah (one would think that after a month one gets used to sitting on a bus for hours on end, alas no. Where toes get callused from the shoes & dancing, our buns do not from sitting and it becomes increasingly difficult to “unfold” one’s self after 6-7 hours on a 2 lane road). Mandurah is a quaint town, situated on an inlet that is almost level with the streets, creating a wonderful Swan Lakey effect in the moonlit evenings. We could just glance the Indian Ocean from the rooms, but my plan to walk over to see it was thwarted by the elements. An incredible rain hit during the night soaking everything in seconds. It was a rain I have not experienced before, big heavy drops coming down at Fomula One speeds, only to slow down right before impact, bursting ever so gently like soft wet and COLD kisses. The theatre itself was a nice modern alternative to the old rickety places we had been to, though the hardness of the stage in Perth was still in my body. We got two days here as we drove for a “short” 1.5 hour drive to Bunbury to do two shows, then 1.5 hour back. The Bunbury theatre was of the rickety kind, complete with water leaking in on the hallway floors and a stage door that wouldn’t close because of the windgusts. Luckily the stage was tiny so the fact that none of us were able to stay warm was too noticeable (we hope…) but then again it’s comedy right?
Soaked near an ocean is not the same as being there, and I really wanted to dip my feet in the Indian Ocean on this side of it, as I had done some years ago from the African side. But Fortune does seem to travel with us (at least so far) and the next stop Geraldton was on the beach itself and I did manage to dip my feet inadvertently as I was balancing on a rock showing them all how you can make the waves come to you by calling “Rul bølger rul!” (“Roll waves, roll!” an old Danish sketch by one of my favorite Danish comedians Dirch Passer) Well roll they did, all the way to my calf standing on a rock-pile pier a good 6 feet above the water level. And the water looked calm! But there it was, 3 oceans or bodies of water in about a week.
I am not documenting the shows that much, as we were just trying to maintain the level every show, having no time to rehearse, much less the energy after busrides and lack of sleep and pizzas for dinner. The jokes were still there of course, but not a lot of new gags were introduced except my “buttspeak” joke, where I enter downstage, face upstage and flex my cheeks to the delight of the first few rows. Some of the “girls” offer feedback after most shows as to how well the individual cheeks are doing, it is nice to be amongst a group that cares so much for the overall show…
Our final stop on the Western part of Australia was the goldmining town of Kalgoorlie. The only town in the country where prostitution is “legal”. That means they look through fingers with it, as it keeps the crime rate and domestic and sexual abuse rates down to less than 1%. Our costumier Max, the mad Hatter, threw a fit to the reception upon our arrival after being approached by 3 working girls; maybe he had not been listening when they told the rest of us the history of the town.
I should briefly mention the 14 hour bus trip to get to Kalgoorlie. It will be brief as some of us (myself included) apparently got a little tipsy on the trip, or should I say smashed? It was fun, especially when I decided to show class combinations made up on the spot in the very narrow aisle of a moving bus. I am told they were quite difficult…
But back to Kalgoorlie. No I did not visit a “house of ill repute”, but did walk around marveling at a town loaded with money, where they can’t get school teachers because you will make more working in the mines as a guard than 3 teachers in a year, sad to see how our reliance on money make us forget to interest ourselves with investing in the mind.
The money present there, did not show in town though, except for the lavish old hotels from the turn of the last century when the town was built. It seemed like it had sprung up overnight and remained that way till the present day. With the exception of Perth I was not sad to leave the Western part.

Monday, September 17, 2007

3 oceans part 1

Three oceans, three days. Well maybe not quite but almost. The day after the show in Melbourne, we went on our first flight within Australia, bags packed to a bare minimum, as we had not been told that we couldn’t have any overweight on internal flights…
First stop was the North Shore to the city of Darwin, which on brochures will give you the impression that you will spend glorious days a la Riviera. Not quite so, as much else has seemed here. Still no sign of kangaroos. Darwin is a very small, quiet place judging from the “sight-seeing” I managed to squeeze in on one of the performance days. Arriving around midnight, it was a treat to feel warm air caress us as we got up the next morning. Here we had sold so well, that yet another extra show had been added for a total of three, two of which were completely sold out. It is most interesting to experience how the Australians react to the show. From what I am told by the “old-timers” of the company, some of the jokes that the Japanese really like fall flat here while parts that are not meant to be jokes at all get great laughs. For some of us it has meant that we have begun palying around a bit more with our material. After having my derriere on national television, I figured I might as well add that to the show and now enter for a variation by facing upstage, flexing my buttocks, separately and together before making a VERY slow sacheing walk to the upstage corner, keeping the deadpan look on my face. Judging from the whistling, giggles and guffaws I think it works, unless it’s because there’s not much to look at in Darwin otherwise…
On the final show day I managed to get some beach time in, looking out for crocodiles of course as instructed, but only being joined at lunch by a lizard, who seemed content with being a spectator. The water was like a warm bath and the tide brought in many interesting shells. Having made my mind up that I cannot leave this continent without some Aboriginal art, Momchil and I set out to peruse the galleries, which we were told Darwin is known for. At first it seemed very touristy until we came across a second hand bookstore with a gallery attached. Finding many interesting contemporary canvases stacked like rugs, I found it hard to decide, much less know what would be considered traditional and not just painted by an Aboriginal. As showtime was nearing I ceded to the sad thought that I would come back home emptyhanded and we were about to make our way out, when the lady who owned the place recognized us from the show the night before. We were given history and information about the artists and the art itself and at cost prices as a thank you for our performance.
The following day we flew via Alice Springs to Perth. There seems to be a pattern on this trip: We always leave early! 5 am buscall to get to the airport, only to sit for 2 hours in the hotel lobby in Perth waiting for our rooms to be ready!
At least we got to see Ayer’s Rock, albeit from 30000 feet up it doesn’t look that big. I am slowly getting used to the idea that I will see the Australian sights from afar or from inside a bus or a plane.
In Perth, my dear friend Andrew, had made introductions to a delightful friend of his, Marshall. Marshall is a harpist, who now works in the artistic administrative side of West Australian Symphony. So on that first night in Perth I felt a bit more at home again. The weather (rain) and the city had a distinct San Francisco feel at first glance. Later I felt it is more a combination of Portland Oregon (up and coming) and San Francisco (lots of character and characters). Marshall picked me up for dinner with Ivan, who is the new director of the ballet here, Enrique, a guest conductor for the ballet and the executive director of the ballet. The company aside, it was nice to have a decent meal, yet I did not know what was still in store for us. Marshall and co. decided to se the show the next night (we only had one here) and Ivan invited a handful of us to dinner at his house afterwards. Ah, oysters, pasta made by an Italian and glorious Australian wine. As much as the local food (meatpies etc) can be delicious, Ivan’s meal felt like we had just crawled across the continent without food or drink. Of course a good meal is only as good as the company and the conversation and it was a breath of fresh air to be able to have conversations about music, art and life that did not center on ballet exclusively. I was sad to leave Perth the next day, but look forward to meeting up with Marshall again when we are in Sydney, as our paths will cross again there, hopefully the first of many crossings.
The show itself in Perth was the hardest for many of us. We have been going non-stop, most of us are somewhat sleep deprived and I for one find it very hard to arrive into a new city and not try to see and feel a little of it. But dancing on very hard stages does not become easier and Perth’s was the hardest so far. I think I would prefer a sidewalk to that, at least the sidewalk looks hard, with some stages you don’t feel it until you try to stand up after removing the makeup and find that your legs can’t help you.
Here as in Darwin did we have most of the day off before the show, so I am still not sure when or how they think we can put the ballets together we have yet to rehearse, but it does give time to explore and I finally saw kangaroos.
About half an hour outside Perth proper is a Koala park, not over run by tourists, so in spite of the heavy downpours, Momchil and I went to visit the marsupials.. Feeding kangaroos by hand and tossing fish to pelicans is such a delightful pastime making you feel like a little kid again forgetting about the rain and hard stages. Koalas are as cure and cuddly as they look and fortune looked after us by making short dry spells for us whenever we needed to leave a canopied area for an inside area and for introducing us to Shirley, who is one of the keepers there. After taking the obligatory photos holding the koala Ginger, she said we had to see the babies. We could see them wrapped up and cozy in the adults’ protective grip, but that was not good enough for Shirley, so she went and got Stitch for us to see, though not hold. The picture is of Stitch, one of the youngest and a guy whose name escapes me, who is the oldest they have at 17 years of age. It was like seeing a grandparent and –kid, so very comfortable with eachother.
The trip almost turned sour when I got out of the back at the train station to go back to Perth and realized my camera with all the photos had fallen out in the cab. Frustration grew to annoying proportions as I spent 45 minutes trying to get in touch with the driver to have him come back to the station. Apparently there was no way for the dispatcher to contact said driver. I thought, maybe he is the only person left who does not own a cellphone or does not know how to read the computer terminal in his cab. I tried very hard to keep my cool and not be too attached to the material object and instead focus on the beautiful experience I had just had, but still I wanted to share it in more than words. At 3 am when we arrived back to the hotel after dinner at Ivan’s, it still had not shown up and I was going to take up Marshall’s offer to continue on my behalf to call the cab company. Double checking with the receptionist in the morning, she also offered and while I was sitting at a great little café having my “flat white” (coffee w/milk) my phone rang. The driver had found my camera lodged in his back seat and was on his way to me with it! I am not religious in the traditional sense but I sent thanks for getting it back and apologies for having had some not so nice thoughts to whatever powers that makes it possible for me to keep more of the koalas than my tactile memory of them.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Tourist time



We have now covered more than 8000 km/5000 miles in two weeks. It must be because we are down under where things go the opposite way (the sun, water going down the drain) that it is becoming harder rather than easier…
We have done 12 shows now and those first two seem very far away. The next stops were in small towns Tamworth, Wollongong, Albury before we had our first big city show in Melbourne. This is the part of the tour we were warned would be hard, getting up at 6 to sit on a bus for 6-7 hours, drop bags off at hotel (if they had the rooms ready), then go to the venue and find a place to do class, while the crew got the stage ready, perform, sometimes twice and get up and do it all again the next day. But like birthing pains do not remain in the physical or the psychological memory I have to refer to my notebook to remind myself that my ankle got jammed and my back spasmed on me on a regular basis.
We have been selling well, to near capacity in most places. Some are small though - both stage and audience. The Tamworth was in the town hall!!! With metal folding chairs and a tiny raked stage designed mostly for handing out diplomas. There might have been a glitch in the planning, because none of us got one…
Wollongong was a bit harder, with a 6 am bus call, 7.5 hours on the bus and two shows with an hour between. The town itself had a nicer feel to it. After all we were closer to the water and the smell of cattle not as prominent outside. This area of the country is supposed to be the largest flat part of land anywhere in the world; it looks like Denmark with the horizon farther away, a LOT farther. This may be why the bustrips remind of the trips I made as a child in Denmark to my grandparents’ summer house. In little Denmark, those 1-hour trips were looongg when I was small. I guess it’s proportional; I got bigger, the countryside (Australia) is bigger and the trips longer, which must equal to being close to a 1-hour trip in the back of the car when you are 9 years old and antsy.
Still what makes this what it is, is the fun we are able to make on stage and off. There truly is no better cure for pains and aches than a good laugh.
After 4 shows in 2 days in Wollongong and another 7 hour bus ride and another show in Albury we made it to our first (and possibly last) days off before Dec. 3.

Those two days in Melbourne were truly days of recharging, spent eating, drinking and taking in the place we were in for the first time really. The first day the sun was taking care of us, so I took Paul to the Botanical Gardens. Upon discovering that no one had brought Mary, we brought along Max the Mad Hatter (our costumier genial) and Manolo aka Fifi. It was a truly spectacular day and a wonderful Gardens. Staying in an apartment-style hotel we were also able to make home-cooked meals. After just one week on the road, the meat pies did become tedious I must admit, and the restaurants of San Francisco could not compare to George’s Chicken Piccata Pasta or Max’s Hungarian Paprikesh (sp?).
Having been introduced to Ned Kelly legend I of course had to visit the Melbourne Gaol, where he (and countless others, well 175) were hanged. Following a school group around, I became fascinated with the Australians fascination with hanging. In very clear voice these 10-12 year olds were taught the finer details of the ways of the past. The guide seemed a bit stumped when one of them asked in a true 10-year old fashion how this “past” differed from what was done to a certain leader of a Middle East country not too long ago. Standing on the level from which these “events” took place I got a knot in my stomach. This knot intensified when I noticed that there was one girl who did not have her gaze transfixed upon the gallows. Her traditional Muslim headdress served to me as a most poignant reminder that Outback outlaw or Dictator, we are all humans.
My spirits were lifted from this dark, cold place as I went to see the Australian Ballet perform Massine’s Les Presages from 1933 that evening. This is the ballet that Tatiana Leskova, whom I met the week prior, had staged. Though costumes and sets were definitely a bit dated, the choreography was far from it! Set to Tchaikovsky’s 5th, it was the first symphonic ballet, paving the way for countless choreographers to come, some better than others. The one to follow Massine this evening, Krystof Pastor, who had done a ballet to Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique (which Massine choreographed in ’36) belong to the “others” group. Where Massine’s ballet had structure, intricate steps, interesting groupings and musicality, the newer work seemed to be nothing more than series of steps with little or no relation to the music. Most irksome to my eye was the lack of connection to the key theme with the lead ballerina. I found myself enjoying the sets more than the dance; the exact opposite of my reaction to Massine’s work. It made me think what is more important to preserve in choreography: the full piece or the nucleus, the steps and how dated would this new work look visually in 70 years.
The dancers were glorious, very uniform the way only seen when the school supplies the company, yet still individuals with beautiful technique.

As I learned the next morning the day ended on a sad note, coming full circle from death to life to death, with the passing of Pavarotti. However, there is beauty to be found everywhere and this day happened to be our first and only show in Melbourne at Her Majesty’s Theatre. This is the stage where Pavarotti made his debut in ’63 and it is hard for me to describe the feeling I had dancing there that night. But I do believe that his larger than life joy of his art surrounded me that night.