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.