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May 2, 2011

I hate moving. I hate packing and I hate unpacking. I hate looking around the house and seeing how much crap gravitates towards me in such a little time. Knowing that my time in Israel had a very real and very solid deadline helped me not to accumulate so much stuff.

As such, here I am sitting in a rapidly emptying apartment, waiting to move out tomorrow. Thankfully, I have some great friends that are going to drag all of our stuff to Haifa, where we’ll be crashing until we leave on Thursday.

As much as I may hate moving, I’m always leaving. I suppose it doesn’t bother me to move as long as I’m prepared. It certainly didn’t bother me to be on the move when I was living in the van. I was prepared. It was expected and although I’ve been expecting this move since before I arrived in August, I certainly haven’t been preparing for it. Still, I’m ready. At least emotionally I’m ready, which is relatively novel for me. Usually I find myself still attached to places and things, even on the cusp of leaving. I’m pretty sure this shouldn’t reflect poorly on Israel or my experience here.

It’s been an incredible experience and I certainly don’t regret coming at all. I just feel… ready. It’s hard to explain and maybe harder for me to understand. I know that I would have plenty to learn if I was to stay, yet I still feel like my time has come to some sort of fruition. That the time I spent here was a good amount of time to be here. Or anywhere. Or maybe I just miss burritos. I think it helps that I’m hitting the ground running immediately once I get back Stateside. It’s hard to even want to stay when I have equally exciting things going on back home.

I know I’ll miss the wonderful people I’ve met and had the chance to work with and become friends with. I think, for so many reasons, it’s an incredibly difficult place to pursue circus. Their perseverance, dedication and passion to the circus arts is inspiring and I’ll never forget all that they taught me.


Spring Acro Workshops

May 2, 2011

I learned circus the hard way, without instructors, schools or classes.  It was a process of watching a lot of youtube, experimenting and finding out what works and what doesn’t.  Here in Israel, I finally had the opportunity to train under some really great instructors and for the first time, I had experiences that truly showed how an experienced eye can completely renovate your technique with sometimes some really simple instruction.  With that in mind, last month I set out about organizing some workshops back in Arizona.  Although I still consider myself very much a student, I know that Arizona tends to be lacking in organized circus instruction, so I felt that I could come back to the state and help some people who may be facing the sort of autodictactic frustrations that I remember so well.

The day after I get back home, I’ll be headed to Tucson to teach two sessions with Tucson Circus Arts.  I’ve never really been connected to the Tucson scene, so I’m excited to meet some people and see what they’ve been working on.  After that, I’m headed to Flagstaff where I’ll be teaching a session at Summit Gymnastics Academy, which is where I taught aerial silks last Spring.  I’ve been in contact with an acro yoga group in Flagstaff and I’m really excited to show them a little bit more of a circus approach to acro and hopefully open up some interesting poses for them to think about and work on.  I’m also really hoping some old friends from Circus Bacchus stop by.

Although teaching has been an important and consistent part of my growth and training, it’s almost always been in an informal environment.  It’s tough to meet new people in the circus and not learn, as well as teach, new things.  It will be my first time organizing and instruction a formal acro workshop, but I’m not only confident, but I’m excited to share what I’ve learned here in Israel.

So I’ve been running through a ton of exercises and poses that I could cover, trying to figure out what to include.  I’ve also been talking a lot to Gilad, my flyer, about his experiences and insight on the ‘other side’ of the acro duo.  Sometimes its hard for me to think about what the flyer should do because I’m always the base.  Still, I’m pretty proud of myself because in the last couple of weeks I have gotten more comfortable on top of a two-high, so at least there is that.

If you’re interested in attending either of these sessions, you’ll find some more details on facebook: here is the event for Tucson and here for Flagstaff.  I am also looking for some contacts to organize a session in Phoenix, so stay tuned for pending details there.  I also made a couple of promo videos to get people excited about the events.  Check them out.

an update: israeli juggling convention

April 30, 2011

From Nablus,  we met up with Gilad in Tel Aviv and then headed to crash at his folks house in Afula, as his parents has escaped the madness of Pesach with a vacation to Europe.  I think our allergies, the cigarette smoke of Nablus and the omnipresent dust of Israel caught up with us and both Sarah and I ended up feeling quite sick.  I think I got the worst of it and spent most of our time in Afula in bed.  Even when we departed for the convention I was feeling rather bad, and it didn’t begin to clear up until halfway through the convention.

Regardless, I tried to make the best of my health and managed to not only see a lot of impressive juggling, but got my own juggling reinvigorated with some great workshops.  In particular, Matt Hall‘s workshop on 4 and 5-ball multiplexes really opened up a lot of patterns and things for me to work on.  I also got to take a workshop with one of my favorite jugglers, Stephan Sing, who you may remember from a previous post.  It provided an interesting insight into his work process and how he goes about incorporating so many unique and innovative movements into his juggling.  Indeed, during the last show of the convention I got to see Christina and Stephan’s act live and it was incredible.  Truly a breathtaking piece of art.

The convention also features a lot of acrobalance and Gilad and I got to host a workshop on Acrobalance for Jugglers.  It was a small group, and with so many other great workshops I can’t blame anyone for not coming to ours, but it was fun to pass on a bit of what we’ve worked through throughout the year.  Beyond that, there were shows and food and juggling and more juggling.  It was a great way to escape the confines of the apartment and the circus and get excited again about juggling and circus.  I met a lot of great people and despite being sick for half of the convention, had a great time.

an update: nablus

April 30, 2011

I’m leaving.  Anything else I can say is probably pretty extraneous at this point, but here’s my attempt at a brief and belated update on the last couple of weeks.

Right after posting the last update and video, Sarah and I headed to Nablus where we volunteered and visited Assirk Assaghir, the Nablus Circus School.  I had met Mahmoud and his wife Lisa at a meeting in Kfar Yehoshua in early April and talking with them renewed my interest in visiting Palestine and their school.  So Sarah and I packed up early for the convention and on Thursday crossed the border from Jerusalem to the West Bank.  After another bus ride from Ramallah, we were welcomed in Nablus by Mahmoud and quickly given a tour of the school, which is where we were staying.  We wasted no time getting settled in and instead worked with their students.  I taught their boys some juggling and Sarah worked with the girls on some hula hooping.  Although gender separation isn’t strictly enforced at the school, because the of the physical nature of the exercises, they do keep the girls and boys separate for the acrobatics classes.  After the first session, I had the opportunity to work more closely with the boys on some partner acrobatics and some tumbling.  Two very flexible brothers were really excited to work and it was a lot of fun to show them some new things to work on.

We got to work with their kids again on Saturday and Sarah and I both worked with the girls on some trapeze and some acrobalance.  Their girls have so much energy and were such a delight to work with.  Then, while I worked with the boys again, Sarah braved a pair of stilts and was soon pacing back and forth against the wall on her own.  I think she may have found a new hobby to take up once we get back home.

Mahmoud and Lisa were incredibly welcoming and made us feel right at home.  For the first time since she arrived, Sarah found a place that she didn’t want to leave!  But alas, we crossed back to Jerusalem on Sunday and headed to Afula to rest up for the juggling convention.

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Video: April

April 15, 2011

I apologize for not having more videos up from the Spring.  I got immediately sidetracked at the beginning of the year by preparing my audition video for NECCA and I guess I never really picked up the camera again through March.   I blame the chaos of Purim.  Regardless, here’s a video showing a bit more progress.  I’ve spent a lot of time this Spring working on my handstand and I think the results are pretty clear.  I’m holding (a probably pretty boring) 30ish second handstand in the video and I’m pretty proud of that.

There’s some older video in there that will look familar from the audition, but I included it anyways because I essentially missed my progress reports for January through March.  I also feel pretty good about my juggling.  The Israel Juggling Convetion is next week and I wanted to be in pretty good juggling shape so that I would be ready to spend four days learning as much as I could from the workshops and other jugglers.  It’s not as advanced as I’d like, but I feel ready to train hard at the convetion.

Also, the opening scene was especially fun to shoot.  Mad props to Gilad for doing that trick with a camera in his hand.


April 6, 2011

Walking home from a trip to the falafel stand, Sarah and I got into a discussion of function vs dysfunction.  It started with an admittance that what is functional in one relationship or group, may indeed be dysfunctional in another.  What then, causes the differences in functionality?  It would be easy to say that it depends on the ‘type’ of people involved in the group, but to fall back on an emotional scapegoat is both oversimplifies group dynamics and overlooks the blaring fact that some groups may have similar participants, but greatly different styles of management and levels of functionality.

Some groups function really well as a loose collective, lacking a well defined hierarchy and structure.  Others, however, will quickly fall into chaos without clear leadership, rules and regulations.  We can all admit that it takes a ‘special kind of person’ to work in certain environments, though we should note that we usually refer to the ‘special’ ones as the ones working in non-traditional groups such as cooperatives or collectives.  To say, however, that I certain personality would be unable to function in any given social or bureaucratic infrastructure would sell short an individual’s ability to adapt and change and function in a variety of circumstances.

So what makes a function or dysfunctional?  How do we choose a model that will allow a group to function?  I like this idea of functionality instead of productivity because the endeavors I desire to be involved in are more complicated than productivity.  I would never dream of measuring a circus solely on its net profit.  Instead, functionality allows me to incorporate other factors into the overall health of the group.  How is everyone getting along?  Does everyone feel able to artistically represent themselves?  Are we impacting our audience?  All of these are good questions that go beyond net productivity, yet are vital to a well functioning group.

Yet sometimes groups start out functioning and over time, become dysfunctional.  I’ve experienced it before and I am interested in what causes this shift and how it can be prevented.  Maybe preventing it isn’t the right approach, but rather I am interested in how to maintain functionality.  Sometimes I think this means that a shift must occur in the organization, mission or implication of the group.  As endeavors grow, their leadership and organization oftentimes needs to shift and change in order to adapt to the growing needs of the collective.

The discussion continued into the how and why of specific examples.  For example, why do some groups function without anyone getting paid why is this a very dysfunctional model for others?  I think this lead us to a very important note: the functionality of a group depends on, and perhaps is directly derived from, the function of its members.  Thus, regardless of monetary involvement, there must be an incentive to be actively involved.  People need to feel appreciated, empowered and motivated.  These driving forces do not waver depending upon the model of the group.  We can do this with money, it is true and I would never go as far as to say this is an inappropriate way to show appreciation and to empower and motivate your group.  But there are other ways as well.  Surely there are even groups that thrive because people pay them in order to be involved.  So what drives the functionality of such almost contradictory groups?

People need to want to be involved.  Sometimes, this is just a base need or desire for an income.  “I don’t want to go to work, but I need to pay the bills.”  I think this an efficient model, but perhaps not the best for an artistic endeavor.  Instead, I’d like to continue to explore and observe the various levels of function and dysfunction in other groups in the hope that one day I’ll be able to foster an environment that is not just productive, but is emotionally and artistically rewarding.

Acro Workshop

April 4, 2011

There was an advanced acrobalance workshop at the circus this last weekend with an instructor from France.  Workshops are tough because they aren’t full classes, so you have to balance how much and what you show and teach.  I had talked to him earlier in the week and asked him what he was going to be teaching and he said it depended a lot on the students and what level we were and what we wanted to learn.  Everyone has a different perspective on how to do circus, but I honestly wasn’t expecting his style to be so drastically different than what I am used to.

Olivier, the instructor, comes from an extensive circus and acrobalance background, but he started off the lesson by stating that he was going to teach a style of acro heavily influenced by his study of tai chi.  He said that bodybuilding, strength training, is a good way to get results and to accomplish tricks, but there are other ways too.  We started warming up by focuses our bodies to be ‘not like water and not like a solid’.  That is, to be able to balance, you must not be flaccid, but you must also not be completely rigid.  To be in the middle, or as we decided to refer to it, to be ‘like a bag of hummus’ allows you to move, adapt and change to the shifting balance.

We spent almost all of Friday in a two high tower (the flyer standing on the bases shoulders), which is trick I’ve been doing for years.  I’ve never thought about it or worked on it like this though.  I’m used to and more comfortable thinking about tricks in terms of ‘flex’, ‘lock’, ‘hold’ or ‘straighten’.  Using strength comes easily to me, too easily.  Instead, Olivier works with a vocabulary of ‘absorb’, ‘open’ and ‘sink’.  Instead of resisting to balance, he talked about channeling the motion and energy into the ground.  He also emphasized the non-verbal communication between the base and the flyer.  “Through the base, the flyer feels the ground; through the flyer, the base feels the sky.”  If the flyer is balancing themselves, then they are not sending information to the base and thus, the base cannot balance them.  Likewise, if the base is not in constant communication with the flyer, there is no way for the pose to balance.  It’s a fundamental principal, but this way of thinking about it is so much different than how I normally work.

His style of instructing was also really unique.  When correcting your posture, Olivier didn’t look at you, he touched out.  I don’t mean that he moved you into the correct position.  No, he actually would place a hand on your shoulder or chest and then look away. From just this touch, he could tell that you needed to open your chest, or adjust your hips or relax shoulders or legs.  He spoke about having enough awareness that eventually, from basing or flying you could feel where your partner was out of alignment.  It was really incredible to watch him work and a reminder that not everything is about how it looks.  Instead of giving specific things to correct, like straighten your arms, he would tell you to put your intention upwards.  I was skeptical at first, but I quickly realized that when I took my focus off of a checklist of things to do in a pose and put it on an intention to reach the correct position, my body naturally achieved the desired ultimate result.  It was a much more holistic approaching to thinking about the tricks.

As we moved on to other tricks, the focus was the same: don’t make the body rigid and try to use muscles to balance.  Instead, we worked on relaxing into the balance and staying loose, like hummus.  I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed by the level of most of the participants.  What was advertised was a small group session for people to come with their partners.  Instead, there were a lot of lower-level people who not only made the group a little too large, but also kept the attention on the fundamentals.  Which I guess isn’t a bad thing.  At one point on Saturday, someone asked him show more tricks and I really liked his response.  He said that he could demonstrate a bunch of tricks, but you could just easily go on youtube and see the same things.  Instead, he wanted to focus on the how and why of the technique itself, rather than specific forms.  I especially appreciate this approach in a workshop setting, where it’s impossible to touch on everything in such a short amount of time.  It’s better for us to grasp concepts and be able to apply them to our own practice.

Nevertheless, we did convince him to work with us on the three high.  His technique for mounting it was different than what we were practicing with Lazlo, so it was challenging at first, but ultimately good to learn another way of going up.  On Friday we worked through the preliminary exercises and at the end of Saturday’s session we attempted the full mount.  It was our top flyers first time mounting a three high, but she did quite well and we got up a couple of times and nailed it once.  It’s a really challenging pose, but it’s equally rewarding when it goes well.  And to give you an idea of Olivier’s style, he told me to ‘base the earth, not the flyers’ when I was holding this trick.

Essentially, the trick is the same no matter how you accomplish it and surely there are many ways and styles that will give you results.  I think this attitude of ‘muscling through’ a trick will always be a part of my style, but to see and experience another way is really exciting.  I took a lot away from the workshop and I want to continue to try and think about the training and tricks in ways that are ‘unorthodox’ for me.

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