So we, the new cast members who joined in May, just performed what I am pretty sure was our two hundredth show with no ceremony. The rhythm of weekly performances has much more evenly settled in and we are a whole lot fitter. Weekends still form the focus toward which we drive. Saturday is known as ‘hump day’. No, not for the reasons you’re thinking. But by the second show Saturday we are over the hump of the week and heading downhill toward Monday, which is our Friday. Training is continuing apace with some added dimensions to the stilt section of the track. I am much more at home on them and just beginning to get to the stage when I can actually create a performance and character during the number. Plenty of coaches and trainers spoke of plateaus one reaches in training with no shift and then sudden spurts of confidence and resultant success and freedom in the execution of the tricks. Just more relaxed I guess. Trusting one’s body. Very soon after the stilt act was included. Well no perhaps a couple of weeks, I went to Coach Dan, the acrobatics coach who has supervised my stilt work, and asked for more stilt training, feeling that the twice a night performance was not enough to develop the act and skills or even to grow a feeling of doing the act convincingly or to the required standard of technique so as to make the technical elements disappear.

Dan agreed to include me whenever Haku, the other acrobat also training stilts, was called. Thanks to his attention, we have a developed a more adventurous and interesting piece of action. In fact when I asked him for more training, he thought I was responding to the information that Dominic, having seen the video recordings of the show, had commented that he wanted my character to do more on the stilts. But I knew that before Dominic saw it. We have a staging and validation of this new action next week. As the ring master I am much more in a position of striding about giving orders across the space and directing acts rather than staggering about and just staying upright while gesturing stiffly. The new performance elements give me useful targets for the twice a night three minute adventure during Mr Kite. I am now able to execute a full 360 degree turn and actually removing my eyes from the floor as the lift comes to its final position and because I am lip-synching the text of the song I have to keep my focus up where the audience can see it. This and controlling the four huge helium balloons painted with the Beatles mop-head hairstyle and tied to my coat tails and lifting them up behind me. Any sharp turns and I am confronted with their floating forms obscuring my eye line on the floor and points of balance reference. But repetition has reduced this anxiety and I can now get in good long strides that have a quite aggressive attitude and are closer to the ring master’s physical presence and emotional rhythm than I have managed to muster up to now. Balance is better. I am starting to find some flexibility in the torso and upper body around the centre of gravity. So progress speeded up by extending specific performance targets. Before I have mastered the one target, I am confronted with the next. Starting to learn more about the nature of training as well. By focusing on the new target the artist immediately takes the pressure off and starts to experience almost by surprise the effectiveness he actually has in the old technique targets. Before I was so focused on them and trying too hard. Suddenly these things which were seemingly so difficult are simpler because I have new difficult things to focus on. This creates the illusion of the plateau. Spending a lot of time trying to master bending the knees and squatting for as long as possible. Breaking from the nervous stiff legged knee locked stagger and rock and roll of the insecure stilt walker. And the funny thing is that one is not aware of it at the time. It’s only in retrospect that one is able to say ‘oh yes that’s what I was going through. At the time I was so emotionally involved in the moment of it that I couldn’t see how it was working. But now I see. I was blind but now see. Amazing Hindsight, how sweet the view.’

Korean Ropes during Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band reprise have gone onto the back burner temporarily. This is because coaching staff have been more focused on dealing with the consequences of several acrobats being out with injury. No rush.

Daniel and I planned a weekend in Zion National Park in Utah this week. This depending on whether I could get travel arrangements completed by then. Flights home, return visa interview bookings in Cape Town, flights home for Janet in March. If not then we were going to spend some time in the wind tunnel or do something out of the ordinary. In fact what I did was spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone of Monday night with the technicians who control my internet access. Only to discover that the router is defective. So Tuesday a bit of a washout forced me to bed with a book the second half of the Cormac McCarthy and sleep and drowsiness and visits to the kitchen and the toilet and the bathroom and more reading and sleep

Reading the earlier episodes of the blog it is striking that so much was happening then to report on; each day some new adventure or something new to report. Now all I have is the routine. I was thinking about the music the other day, speaking of routine. Whenever we traverse the swamp of the casino to get to the LOVE theatre as we approach the entrance the Beatles music becomes apparent playing constantly, no make that CONSTANTLY around the box office and little boutique selling expensive Beatles memorabilia to stupid patrons. And for a while the music was interesting in that it evoked memories of my own life. This quickly faded with repetition. But then hearing the different songs would evoke different acts in the show. But then came a painful but thankfully short time when the music provoked nausea at the repetition. Now it kind of just flows through us… well me anyway. It has become an emotionally neutral element of the work routine. If we hear it on the radio the station gets changed mind you.

We had a three day weekend and I drove to San Luis Obispo to see some friends whom we haven’t seen for some twenty odd years. Great drive through the desert and down to the Californian coastline. Beautiful area and great to see Pete and Estelle. She’s a pharmacist at the local men’s colony… (penitentiary), and he runs an art gallery and coffee shop that also operates as one of the best performance venues in the town. The city reminded me a lot of Grahamstown but bigger and way better equipped with restaurants and pubs. Huge student population from Cal Poly. Pete takes me ocean kayaking the next day. A slow rhythmic paddle though sea otter infested kelp, cormorant covered rocks and the odd regal pelican gliding by. Apart from the highway next to the coast the silence just a little out to sea is meditative, as is the gentle rock of a kindly swell. It’s invigorating. A treat to get out of Vegas and into the ocean and catch up with old friends.

I am reading Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Suttree’ and his descriptive prose is awe inspiring. His vocabulary positively intimidating and rhythms so sweet. It’s slow going cos every sentence sounds good enough to say again a few times out loud and so pretty much every page I don’t remember where we are, who is what and why they are doing what they do, because of the sheer beauty of the sound of the language. I’d better get over this and find out what the damn book is about. Also reading George Carlin bless him and writing some songs. Daniel maybe can use them. He has hooked up with some musicians here and they have had one jam session together to see of anything gels.

Been thinking about the obsession that revivalist Christianity has with the apocalypse and more and more the sense that it is impending. Still have to see Bill Maher’s Religilous movie, but there is a sense that many of the right wing Christians welcome the apocalypse since they of course will be undergoing rapture and first class accommodation to heaven on white horses. Now I have had a sense of this catastrophic change the world is due for some time and most of my creative work over the past decade or so has been set in a post apocalyptic landscape. The news that we humans were changing the planet’s structures is not new. But now this enthusiasm with which religious people are embracing the doctrine and zeitgeist of Armageddon makes me uneasy. There seems no willingness to admit that the changes coming are due to human action and that it is all part of God’s glorious plan. The war in the middle east against the infidels, the time of climactic catastrophe and earthquakes; everything seems to fall exactly into place and verifies the doomsday predictions of the religious texts. So there is no impulse to change behaviour in order to perhaps have less of an impact so fewer humans die miserable violent deaths and the possiblility of life on the planet existing beyond 2012 might become a reality. Ah well things to think about as the weather in Vegas gets colder. Actually wore a jersey for the first time in Vegas yesterday.

Every year as a service to its employees, Cirque provides a mandatory session with an expert on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace.

So a few days ago we were subjected to a compulsory ‘workshop’ on the subject. This would not have been a subjection if the item on the timetable was genuinely a workshop. What we were provided with was a lecture by a poor motivational speaker with very weak audience interaction skills and a juvenile, yet patronising attitude in delivery. This was the purest expression of mediocrity I have experienced in the USA. No surprise at her success as a television personality.

The session ended with “Does anyone have any questions or comments?” and this is what I wanted to say but typically only found the words a few hours later. ‘Yes, I have a question; I want to know where do you get the balls year after year to deliver the same deeply flawed presentation of limited ideas about sexual harassment in the workplace to these Cirque employees. Flawed because I found your attitude to us condescending to the point of racism. Your use of language suggested your presumption that because you were addressing a group comprised of a significant number of foreign non-English speakers, we were also a group of pre-pubescent idiots. The repeated use of childlike, patronising exaggeration and pointed stress for linguistic clarity to the point of hyperbole, accompanied by overt gestures and facial mugging indicated an attitude to the audience which conflicted fundamentally with the subject matter of mutual respect. This is apart from the actual content of the speech, such as it was.’

I have had students who have shown better communication skills. The speaker displayed strident over-projection, poor delivery, weak rhythmic control of well worn punch-lines, and an inability to respond creatively and spontaneously to audience response and input. The primary source of examples to illustrate points came from personal incidents and events concerning herself and her career, the details of which we were continually subjected to. The central mechanism of interaction comprised a long series of banal and obvious rhetorical questions, to which we were expected to obediently chant the responses like a nursery school class. “Would that be a good thing to do? To touch Billy on his behind just because I felt like it…?” And a few of the company would murmur embarrassedly ‘No, it would not!’

The session was labeled a workshop yet the two hours was taken up by the speaker striding up and down an aisle in the auditorium, and with poor judgment of the venue and the sound amplification system, bellowing into our ears her ideas about sexual harassment and her experience, as well as anecdotes about her self, her family and her youth. Not one of us, not one person in the audience, I believe, truly engaged with the issue of sexual harassment as it manifested itself in this particular Cirque workplace. The highlight of the afternoon came in the form of a question by, I think it was one of the Brazilian skaters, who asked with exquisite innocence, “What do you do about someone who is just very loud?”

I understand that when a company employs many artists and technicians from other countries and other cultures, it is important, if not vital to give them clear information about the laws concerning this issue, and what is considered acceptable in this culture and what is not. But apart from the sub-standard quality and poor professional technical skill in delivery, the concept of this encounter between management and employees was fundamentally flawed. This concept was distilled by the speaker to a chillingly simplistic catch phrase; KYMS. ‘Keep Your Mouth Shut’. “Think what you like, but Keep Your Mouth Shut”?!! This is the central message we are brought together to have delivered to us as a ‘workshop’ on the subject of sexual harassment in the workplace?!! What ever happened to ‘Listen.’ Surely the company could have benefited more from a true workshop which would provide structured encounters aimed at least as much at empowering the possible victims, as well as providing safe spaces for the participants to discuss sexual harassment as it featured in the present working environment. ‘These are some of the features of sexual harassment. Perhaps you have encountered or witnessed it. What has been your experience? How does that compare with other people in the group? These are your options if you do encounter or witness it. This is the support system we offer to help you.’

I would like to suggest that the speaker researches the methods of Augusto Boal and the Theatre of the Oppressed, and that Cirque widens its search for people to deliver this workshop. There are companies in South Africa who specialize in dealing authentically with these issues for participants from widely dispersed social, cultural and economic groupings in such a way as to genuinely and meaningfully engage with the problems so that all participants have the chance to gain some insights which might help them in developing a new way of being with others. All the speaker did was lay down the rules, and state repeatedly; “This is the law in the US, and this is what you may not do.”

It raises the question as to why in fact Cirque includes this item on the Human Resources calendar. Is Cirque truly interested in engaging with the issue of sexual harassment and its context within the company, or is it merely interested in ‘ticking the box’ of preventative strategy with the least possible disruption of productivity. I contend that a company as progressive and open as Cirque could do a whole lot better but I am not sure that the corporate mindset wishes to. A real workshop on the issue might raise genuine concerns and disrupt the wonderfully profitable efficacy of the companies of dedicated artists and technicians.

Otherwise life here at LOVE continues apace. Company dynamic is great, the show is looking better than ever, training escalates and we are much more fully into the long-term rhythm of performance, rehearsal and training. We are also making extraordinary friendships. The day to day work is as demanding and fulfilling as one makes it and the experience is, bar my homesickness and missing my family, an absolute gas. My apologies for being so repeatedly and doggedly pompous.

Next day. Skype home and then back to bed for a while to catch up some sleep and take it easy. We make contact with Nate and meet him for a ride through Red Rock scenic route on bicycles. He is the cycling guru and teaches us as well as providing life saving advice as to which bike and what it needs. The ride through the landscape I have described before is grueling for the first five miles. Mostly up hill. I end up walking and pushing the bike a fair amount. Daniel and Nate (on gearless bikes nogal) just seem to cruise up. Lance Armstrong would have looked at me with disdain. I’m kind of glad Janet wasn’t there to see it. After a while on each hill, which seemed endless, there came a time when my legs were hurting so much I thought ‘I am not enjoying this any more, so buggar it I’m gonna walk.’ Nate politely and generously goes slowly which must have been agony but there he was. Then having got to the highest point we flew down the second half free wheeling at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. Daniel with is hands off the bars and acting like he was in the wind tunnel, me clutching the handlebars for all I’m worth but flying anyway. Really exhilarating speed. What a thing the bicycle is as an invention. Thirteen miles of well tarred road and scenic beauty took up the afternoon. All hail to Nate the cycling guru and thanks to him for leading the expedition. We head and then leave home determined to get in another flight and so collecting Nikia, of the wardrobe department with whom Daniel has struck up a friendship, we head on off and find the place closed because of inactivity. ‘Closed on account of inactivity’. What the…?! we are here to provide some activity so don’t close. But anyway Nikia directs us to an excellent Thai restaurant and we have a very good meal there. Fried noodles and tofu with chilli garlic and basil and couple of Thai beers and off home.

Then today after Skype home, wake Dan and we get ready and leave twelvish so we can fly then get to work for a warm up and training before the week’s performance regime starts. The flights are great. Me a slightly tense for some reason. Second flight relaxed and each time we get better. Ability to hover in stillness then turn and lift and drop and forward flips improving. We are becoming hooked again. Daniel is flying really well. Great body position relaxed and finding excellent control. Then we have a meal and get to work for the start of the week. Thursdays seem okay not too difficult. perhaps we still have the energy of the weekend. I find Friday’s the second day of the week harder. But two pretty good shows.

Had second session of Korean rope training. Two ropes hang from the grid above the stage. The technique requires one to wrap the rope around ones legs ankles and feet in such a way that one leg takes the weight while the other reaches up for the next step. The arms merely control. The ropes are controlled by a partner who holds the ends and alternately provides tension and release on each rope by pulling on them so that by engaging the tension on each leg, one is able to climb swiftly up the rope as though it were a ladder. The advanced form of descent involves swinging upside down and then controlling one’s upside down descent with one’s legs… diving earthwards hands free. With the angle of the feet one applies or releases tension on the ropes and footwear to make the descent as nose-friendly as possible.

Second time started to get the rhythm and timing and action and physical alignment and coordination of which hand and which leg. Real fun.

So then; next weekend. Cirque has organized a weekend away to Laguna beach California for the company. Kind of bonding experience. Cheap rates at a very nice hotel Surf and Sands on Laguna beach. My first visit to California besides the brief interlude during our drive to Death Valley. First time in the Pacific Ocean. We leave on the bus at 12.30 on the Monday night after the show. Already the bottle of Chivas Regal has been dented by Eugene and particularly by Valerie the Ukrainian and Uzbeki members of the dressing room. However there is still enough to serve these two South Africans. The bus is pretty raucous but Daniel lends me his mp3 player which has Rage Against The Machine’s first album which I haven’t heard for a long time. I plug in and am transported. Head banging my way through the Nevada desert through California and all the way to the coast. Apparently the bus becomes all the more raucous but I miss it all and wake up at the hotel.

I find a bed and collapse and sleep for an hour or so in the early morning and then wake up to find the beach waiting. I go and spend the day there with growing numbers of the company; swimming, drinking, playing some decidedly average volley ball, getting sun burnt, doing a couple of assisted flick flacks in the sand and lounging about. The day in other words is well spent. Also some few hours floating and swimming in the Pacific Ocean,. Is it much more saline than the Indian or Atlantic? Because my body is a lot more bouyant here. Either way a really swell time is had. In the evening there is a cocktail party, but by this time I have had too much sun, too little food and too much drink and so soon after eating from the average menu I flee to bed and collapse, while the rest of the company moves on to the reggae bar and parties til the early hours.

I am thus advantaged in the slightly later early hours of the morning and take a walk on the beach. Laguna reminds me of Knysna with it’s wealth and larney houses built on the surrounding hills. The beachfront is totally built up but the beach itself pretty nice. The morning is misted over with fog which burns off only around midday and then the sun is pleasantly culinary. We spend the second day also on the beach and next to the hotel pool and then at 4.00 pm get on the bus for the ride home. This is filled with party games some of them drinking, but I am plugged into my own mp3 and the ride passes very pleasantly. We arrive back in Vegas come 9.30 or so that night and then have the evening and morning to recover before tonight’s shows.

Have a great conversation with Sylvia the Brazilian actress and theatre maker who plays Eleanor Rigby. I discover she has been running a theatre group in Rio for thirty years. A group working an area adjacent to one worked by Augusto Boal. I tell her of Janet and Ubom and today she gives me a book in Portuguese about the group. Hombu. Inspiring.

I am starting to encounter some of the effects of the physical rigour and routine physiological demands on the popular theatre performer performing many times a day, many days a week. Slowly healing tendonitis of the elbow from over-use in training. And tenderness in the shoulders which have always been subject to inflammation of the tendon sheaths. Slightly aching patellas. That might be the stilt work, Elizabeth the acrobat and my landlady warned me before she left. Requires a good deal of time and attention to maintain a sustainable physical regime for consistent frequent performance. But I am every day working to look after everything for the long term.

Thinking of the company and its workings leaves me feeling conflicted. Whenever I am drawn to feel critical of decisions seemingly based on wrong motives because of what I perceive as a corporatisation of the company; ‘Too big too quick. Losing its heart.’ I turn the other ear and hear myself saying that the focus of Cirque seems to be absolutely toward the artists. To provide more and more opportunity for more and more popular theatre performers to have the dignity of well paid employment and benefits etc. The work is apolitical and concerned with the popular theatre energy of spectacle and entertainment and distraction and amazement. This fits the entertainment industry in the US in spades. So by dancing to this piper and indulging the moneyed classes and keeping the content issue free, the machine creates an unprecedented number of employment opportunities as well as providing stimulating environments for artists to develop themselves and their talents. Without major funding this is impossible. So Cirque milks the big cash cow in Vegas and invests in more opportunities elsewhere. The East is also another big cash cow. To the point that investment corporations are betting on Cirque for good returns. No company has ever done so much for performers in the popular theatre genre. No one brand has supplied so may jobs, created so many opportunities for so many artists, and shrewdly made itself available to a world-wide audience which has embraced it with an enthusiasm which speaks to the authenticity and integrity of the work. As well as brilliant marketing and branding. It’s difficult not to see the brand as a major driving force. Here in Vegas. All this activity provides relative measures of demanding and rewarding creative opportunities to artists for them to create work and develop their skills for which they receive a relatively worthwhile monetary reward which is appropriate to the time of creation or level of skill. Unequaled. Isn’t it?

So what a weekend. With some planning and a determination to make sure that it didn’t just slip by in sleep and sloth. So lying in bed its 9.30 and the alarm goes off; time to skype home and see Janet. This is a good regular time when she is pretty sure to be home of an evening. Then by ten thirty or so she has to go to bed and, often, so do I; just because I can. But this Tuesday… no way. We are going to fill this weekend with activity and stretch it out. Wake Daniel;

‘Come on my boy we are getting out of town.’

‘Where dad?’

‘O don’t know, what about Lake Mead? See the watery sights around this desert town. A lake, you know, whatever, watersports and all.’

‘Okay.’

So we get in the car and drive out of town; south. It takes forever to get out of Vegas to the South through Henderson. But eventually we get to the edge of the valley and find ourselves near the lake. Well it’s actually a dam. This seems a point of contention here as the body of water is called a lake. Even if man-made, and the wall itself is the dam. The Hoover Dam. We drive down to the water’s edge. Somehow I always expect next to water for there to be some kind of vegetation. But not here baby. Just dusty desert and rock right down to the water line and the water line is at about 46%. And not a plant in sight. Weird. Dry and sandy and hot and then suddenly wet. We carry on looking for a suitable place to stop and maybe have a meal but its just endless dry shores of sand and rock then water. And then we are at the dam wall. Where we were on the trip to Death Valley… no, on the trip to Grand Canyon. With Luke and Casha. Good memories. We stop in fact at the same spot and gaze at the blue green water far below us for a while. Dan pretty hung over and me just a little. And what do you know? It starts to rain. Well it starts to what we used to call ‘spit’. The clouds are threatening and there is the odd flash of lightening and rumble of thunder and then some random drops along with the precious smell of rain on hot tar and dust. We stand in the car park and soak as much in as will fall on us. Eyes closed, we turn our faces skyward and occasionally blink at the tiny cold wet impact.

As we do this, a short discussion ensues about Daniel’s compliance. Any suggestion one makes and he says ‘Yes okay, lets do that.’

‘Oh no, I’ve changed my mind.’ I say ‘What about this?’

‘Good idea’ says Daniel.

‘No no the first idea was better.’ I say.

‘Yes you’re right.’ says Daniel.

‘C’mon boy. Object. Have an opinion.’

‘I’m hung over dad, give me a break. I came to the lake didn’t I? I got out of bed didn’t I? Now just shut up and make the decisions.’ (actually he doesn’t say the bit after ‘give me a break’)

‘Well I can’t do that your whole life my boy.’

‘No dad. Just today okay? And stop speaking so loudly, okay?’

‘Okay’, I say compliantly.

We hit the road again and head back for town. We get some sushi at our favourite sushi place near our old hotel at Paradise and Flamingo. You’ll notice how casually and nonchalantly I use the geographical markers; the points of reference known to two people who are getting to know Las Vegas, and can pretty much find most places in town if you give them a grid reference. Anyway, we both know the way to the indoor skydiving wind tunnel. Daniel’s navigation, though sometimes inconsistent, is generally supported by a very good instinct. But even this sometimes lets us down and it’s up to me to say… ‘no we’ve done more than 0.1 miles and the road you say we should see is nowhere in sight.’ and then I follow my equally inconsistent instinct. But we find our way to the indoor skydiving wind tunnel. We both sign up as frequent flyers for cheaper flights and have a couple of sessions. It is great. No I mean it is really great. We are starting to learn a measure of control. The instructors have turned the wind speed up to full so we are jumping onto 110-120 km per hour wind and learning to control our bodies in flight. It’s much more turbulent than skydiving but the physics are the same and its amazing how quickly one’s body learns to adjust without one telling it to. So we both experiment with forward flips and altitude control. We have a ball. Daniel gets an idea of why I became so hooked on skydiving while I could afford it at home. The closest I have come to the sensation of dream flight. Really great fun. We then head home only to head straight out again to watch the new Koen brothers movie. It’s okay. Not as good as Fargo and Lubowski. Mcdormand working too hard. Clooney very good. Pitt also too much. Tilda Swinton excellent. And brilliantly judged cameos. Altogether worth seeing but not as wildly exciting as I had hoped. Beautiful titles and credits.

Then home to bed.

Every day now I carry out a kind of psychological strategy for the afternoon and evening. Ritual of warm up, training, make up, wardrobe and technical preparation, focus and perform. Then eat, rest, technical prep and perform again.. The first show for nothing. Just as a gift to the universe. Without demands without baggage. This one I owe you. This one I do for love. The next I earn and expect my money. The captivating rhythm of ritual. It is the repeated performance of a ritual with witnesses. Every night full out. Twice a night. Full out. But with different motivating engines providing the identical performance. Stupid actor’s psychological games.

So there we are at Red Rock, Luke, Casha, Daniel and me and we are pretty tired but with a day to spend in the only redeeming feature of Las Vegas which is getting out of Vegas and we take the drive and pay the five dollars entry into th conservation area around these amazing geological features. Jutting out of the grey green and brown landscape are several mountains made from the reddest rock you could think of. Bright in the desert sun and with a whole range of shades and nuances, the rocks, eroded into fantastical shapes make for an unearthly environment. We walk in the least populated spot which is hard to find because we have come on a weekend or at least a holiday. Was it labour day or something? And the place is crowded. And we walk through this other worldly dry and red and fractally carved and erosion sculpted place. Wind erosion makes deep scoops out of the cliff face. We settle for a while then Luke gets impatient and climbs / scrambles up the slopes of this hill on the other side of this dried up river bed we are sitting close to. And seeing him far up the other side and watching him go I gain confidence and then energy and follow. The slope is at 45 degrees ish and so not hard to scramble. And Daniel and Casha get smaller and smaller sitting on the banks next to the weird erosion shapes in the red rock. Then Luke and I descend after some very deft mime communication with Daniel about the best route. As we arrive there is a group of three or four people who have decided to throw rocks at the rock face across the river bed. Now these river beds are bendy twisty and there is quite a lot of vegetation around which severely limits one’s view of one’s surrounds and how many people might be walking through that very river bad as you are throwing rocks into. The place is over run by sight see-ers and these include a number of small children. So they could be anywhere at any time. But no these four arseholes crammed into one big state of arseholity keep throwing big rocks; competing to see if one of them can hit a erosion indent on the opposing cliff some fifteen, twenty feet away. We express our opposition and outrage. Luke seems the closest to actually going over there and asking them to think more clearly or at least about other people. But before we can do this they desist and retire. I was aware of feeling all superior; at least my children can see the stupidity of rock throwing in a public place. If I didn’t have children then the world would have already been taken over by the rock throwers.

Luke and Casha’s stay has been a godsend. What a thing to have such sons. Luke; such a mischievious and spirited man with a love of life that refuses to give in to the possibility of death and is continuously concerned with the future of the planet which is expressed in the love he gives in his immediate surroundings, and an on-going search for vegan shoes. (even though he has found some perfectly good vegan flip-flops) His strength and steadfast resolution and commitment to the truth and to being a person who gives love but will not tolerate unkindness or stupid bigotry is balanced by an energetic sense of humour. And Casha, his partner; a woman of such quiet compassion and grace, intelligence, wit and generosity. To see them together and have them spend time with us renews my view of life and a measure of hope is restored.

So Luke and Casha and Daniel and I take a day trip to Death Valley. The lowest altitude in the whole of the US and with the highest recorded temperature in the western hemisphere. Or was that the other way around? Either way it’s a two hour drive of Luke’s high-spirited teasing, Casha’s quiet witty responses, and Daniel’s good natured d-jaying and easy companionship. The temperature gets higher and higher and the altitude gets lower and lower which Luke reports dutifully from his GPS. This beloved toy of his gives us often invaluable, occasionally dubious info on where to turn, how much further etc and how far below sea level we are. We stop off next to a rock face overlooking a vast flat-bellied valley of salt and dried up lake-bed of millions of years ago. The landscape through the blistering sun is devastatingly beautiful. ‘Stark’ doesn’t come anywhere near. Its Dante on acid. The colours of the rock are unbelievable in their brightness. Layers and strata of reds, browns, pinks, greens, blacks, greys, purples, and every other colour you would not imagine a rock to be. The view often reminds me of a Pierneef painting. Each colour designated its own layer. It is captivatingly beautiful. The sun is remorseless in its attack on the skin and eyes. Sun block is repeatedly applied. Shirts are removed; ‘Hey, might as well get a tan’ and then ‘Ow!’ hurriedly replaced. ‘Fucken hell it’s really hot’. We go further into the valley towards Bad Water Spring. The lowest, hottest point. A carefully groomed asphalt road leads us past the impossibly coloured mountains towards the bed of the valley and there is a wooden walkway out over part of the pan. We walk out beyond this and play some subdued Frisbee on the vast flat salt-white wavery landscape. Gradually over the fifteen or thirty minutes it takes to walk out and back we all turn what Lynton Kwesi Johnson would call a ‘firey red’. ‘Are we burning?’ I start to worry. No it’s just so hot that our skin has brought all the blood to skin level to help us cool off. We stagger back to the car and drink a lot of water and retreat. We take a different route home through Red Rock. The country side is laughably beautiful.

We are into the first week of September so that makes it about nine months to go. First two shows yesterday felt good relaxed and focused. Input from Don gives one targets to keep aiming at and provide more links in the subtextual chain for one to swing from though the show. Acting links which make character sense and is easily or at least simply translated into movement. I am thoroughly enjoying working with Don. I spoke at the tapis rouge and said, ‘If I could change one thing about working at Cirque it would be this. I would do my best to ensure, knowing the difficulties this entails, that every single member of the company, acrobats and dancers as well as characters should have a regular opportunity to see the whole show since it is so inspiring. It reminds me of the privilege I have of sharing the stage with this extraordinary group of artists. It is a truly beautiful show so thank you.’ most people looked at me as though I had said something incomprehensible and the meeting moved on. ‘Pretentious old fart what’s he on about?’ (quiet fart from the Fool)

Find it very difficult to care at all about the ins and pouts and ups and downs of American politics. It’s all so like a soap opera. The stakes all seem so fake. The characters so manufactured and manicured and presented and judged on their appearance and style. It has the uncomfortable feeling of being a snake-oil hoax. It feels to me, (and I have to confess to being a closet conspiracy theorist) that corporations control not just the strings but the brass section, percussion, woodwind and probably catering too so that politicians just mimic the conductor’s dance, and follow the carefully scripted score. Perhaps it seems more obvious here being the arena of the champion of capitalism. Profit rules and big business will not subject itself to mere political policies. Intelligent enough to camouflage itself behind talk of policy and energy and defense and security and goodwill and social conscience etc, the corporate mind is not so stupid as to lift the veil covering its scarred features. It will hide in the milkshake maelstrom of media and hype, so that we are able to fool ourselves into thinking that we have some measure of control over our future. Ah well. I’ll bet you just can’t wait for next week’s exciting instalment of pretentious pseudo-political claptrap.

Luke and Casha have been here. They arrived during our first show and left huge rucksacks with us while we did second show and they had a typically crappy vegas type meal. Then home with us. They ensconced in the lounge sleeper and working to get internet access for all.

So finally up on stilts and in the show. A few days ago after a day’s rehearsal I performed the stilt section of Mr Kite. Still a bit tense in the upper body and tentative character presence but at least up and running. Also went to the Grand Canyon last weekend. About a five hour drive with stops for food etc. camped at a camping site. Luke and Daniel nearly became involved in an altercation with locals who scoff xenophobically at a man from the Czech republic. We make a fire, cook on Luke’s stove; a brilliant meal. Typically for camping it takes a long time and tastes like heaven when you finally get to it. Baked potatoes from the fire, mielies and mushroom garlic tomatoe sauce type stuff. I had brought my head torch luckily. Then we spent many giggly hours trying to stop ourselves waking the tented neighbours as we finished the beer and carried out experiments in long exposure photographs with Casha’s new camera and the torches. Much hilarity. Finally squeezed ourselves into the two man tent. Daniel and I totally ill equipped but by putting on all our clothes we managed to stay warm and without too many gone-to-sleep limbs. Woke with the light and departing neighbours. Planned the day, but came to a stop when we had to decide whether or not to spend the Wednesday night in the camp ground and then drive back Thursday morning with two shows that night. Much humming and haaing and toing and froing. Dan and I a bit concerned about the fatigue factor and poor sleep. Eventually I suggest a coin which we flip and it tells us we have to pack and leave which we do in twenty minutes then hit the Grand Canyon itself.

Truly beautiful and very grand and fascinating fractal structure which reminds one of the same kind of erosion on a micro level in ditches and dongas in Africa. The layers of rock exposed call the lie in the young earth creationists’ view that god made all this in 40 days during the flood. A number of vultures and then huge condors treat us with a number of close fly bys which we snap away at. They are so close we can read the numbers on their wing tags. Majestic graceful and incredibly ugly faces. We have some food at a kiosk and then head off home. I drive half the way and fade. Daniel drives the rest into the night and the entry into Vegas. Past the Hoover Dam which looks at night like a Mars landscape of construction. The scene is over looked by a very very high bridge nearing completion over the gorge. Bright lights and sci fi feel. We get back and spend some more time with delay shutter speed light experiments and hilarity. Casha’s drawing skills and surety of line make for some exquisite designs. The next day is Daniels birthday. Presents and breakfast and celebration. More hilarity and then two shows. Back into the week. Luke and Casha have some down time.

For want of some inspiration here is some more Sgt Pepper track. We left him in the parade celebrating the return to lie through reinvented music. At the end of this the stage shifts psychadelically into Within You and Without You as the bed releases a huge piece of white cloth which all the characters and dancers and acrobats extend out over the audience. Hallucinatory lighting on the huge sheet evoke a kind of acid trip feel for George Harrison’s song. The effect is stunning but it is hard work for the artists to lug the awkward thing around. This then magically disappears into the floor. The four young Nowhere boys are lifted on the bed along with the demonic swinger from kite nightmare and sent into the heavens and then into the bowels. Pepper disappears. A strange railway type fireman appears with a culbatto ladder which is a beautifully balanced ladder about ten to fifteen feet long and counter balanced on a huge set of cart wheels. The stage is smoke filled and he enters riding the ladder with trippy slow motion grace. The song is Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and she suddenly flies across the open space above the stage, dressed in mirrored singlet and flaming red hair, Lucy (alias Evelyne) flies. At the end of the song she disappears in a spinning whirr into the roof and the lights fade. Underwater images fill the theatre and Pepper appears moving in slow motion under water and Octopuses Garden rings out. We are still in drug induced fantasy as Pepper is seduced by and pursues a beautiful jelly fish woman who strongly resembles the vision of the woman in red he saw flying though the sky after the air raid and also when carrying the load during yesterday. Minutes later he returns during the build up to Here Comes the Sun without his military coat and now sporting a long beard and a lamp. He has been on a pilgrimage to the east and now finds enlightenment through eastern spirituality rather than chemicals and he watches as four Gopis climb ropes and perform above and before their beloved Krisna. Pepper exits. We next find him in his own dream entering and following a train of familiar figures; three of the Nowhere men, the kids, Lucy, the Queen, Mr Piggy, Father Mackenzie, the Fool and a young woman reading a letter. He follows them down a smokey passage and at the end of it through the smoke thinks he sees he figure of Eleanor Rigby his love that he left many years ago to go fulfil his duty. The pain of this loss and regret haunt him though the piece. Two giant letter puppets dance above her. Pepper carries a cello and dances with the cello and the young Eleanor. On the other side of the stage the old Eleanor is dancing with the young version of Pepper. At the end Pepper is left with all he as; his military life into which he retreats. A hollow and fiercely self-controlled man who sadly walks to the centre and calls on the characters and elements which will tell the story of the death of the dream. The death of the dream of the Beatles which is envisioned through the re-enactment of the death of Julia, the women in red, who has haunted the sky above the stage. Julia is John Lennon’s mother who was killed in a hit and run accident. The tragedy is played out to A Day in the Life. The stage then erupts with Hey Jude which encourages us to ‘take a sad song and make it better’. The whole cast is on stage there is a joyous reprise of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and finale during which Sgt Pepper will soon climb the Korean ropes which overlook as well as oversee the proceedings. Curtain call to All You Need is Love and Pepper gives out two roses to selected members of the audience. And that is that.

So first week after the dark has come and gone and true to our words we planned and executed a trip away this weekend to Mt Charleston. Stayed in the lodge for one night. It was a kind of log cabin hacienda… cabins piled one on top the other. Inside well fitted out if a bit worn down. The lodge is a few thousand feet higher elevation than Las Vegas and so the temperature drops by about 20 degrees and is very pleasant. Also pine forests cover the mountains til rocky peaks stretch above the tree line. Craggy and rough and exquisitely beautiful. Second day we went for a short hike, well an hour or so up to Mary Jane’s (!) falls. Then on with cooler box, beer, chardonnay, hummus and cheese to a magnificent cave where the local rock climbers assemble to do what they do. It was filled with ‘oh wow’ moments for the beauty of the place as well as the skill of the climbers and impossibility of the routes they accomplish. An enormous cave with a fifty foot overhang becomes a theatre with a breathtaking backdrop. Nate and Daniel climb under the leadership of Craig who plays the Queen in LOVE. A weekend well spent surrounded by things so much bigger than us which are not buildings or plastic and brightly lit sign boards promising ecstasy and a perfect life. I kept thinking of Phillippa’s book Taller than Buildings.

The drive home with windows open allows one to really feel the temperature change; twenty degrees as you descend into the valley.

Refreshed and ready to get back into another week of performances. Luke and Casha are here in two days. The schedule tells me that I wont’ be going into stilts performances this week. Looks like perhaps next week. No rush but getting much more confident again. This is without the rising lift in the dark and with disorienting lighting. But we will see. I have a session with Don later in the week to look at the While my Guitar Gently Weeps number. Things to look forward to.

So it seems that the first two of the week the Thursday night’s shows are the hardest. The whole week to go and strange because the body is full of energy from rest and warmed up and ready to go, but psychologically it feels grindy. The morale of the company would be interesting to measure or perhaps record. Or just hear. How? Only from dressing room gossip does one hear what people are feeling about the company. And often actors, performers, artists, when they are together in the dressing room will express their anger, frustration, outrage which has no outlet no context in which to find expression. Few people want to stand up in a company meeting and verbalise a contentious thought.

Anyway that’s what I am thinking about as I follow the routine of the day;

Wake up at 8.30 with the phone alarm. Wash. Physical stretch and meditation. 9.00 call Janet; her evening. Supper with her dad, or often from bed with make up removal and night time skin treatment. Unpack the day. Hers; nine hours ahead of mine. Her supper and wine coincides with my cereal/granola and juice. Discuss the events. Sometimes these daily encounters become those in which you don’t always have to talk. Just to be with the person and see them and listen to what’s going on in the house where they are. This til 10.00/10.30. Read or write blog/net research. Rest/sleep. 30 minutes. Shave, dental health. Nutrition. Planning, Chores; washing/financial management/accounts/cleaning/servicing transport. Then prep food for evening. 2.00 pm ish; Depart, travel to Mirage.

Warm up and training; either with Jeff in strength or in treatment of the tendonitis I am suffering from in my left elbow, probably from over training. Then some time on handstands. The three times a week stilt training with Coach Dan. Confidence growing but training happening less often than I would like and also the real test comes when I am on the lift in the dark. We’ll see next week when I think they are planning to start some more integration attempts. Striding up and down and also got them to change the bolt setting on the footplate so that my booted foot can slide further on to the footplate and centre the pressure on the foot when taking weight. Able to vary and act with the top half of the body in controlled dynamic movements and gestures. Working toward lifting eye focus. So that I can engage with Joel on the ladder above my head and the knife throwers below and behind me. Practice and repetition. Training takes place in the same venue as the trampoline and acro wall are set up. I use the acrobats practice as incentive in training. ‘Three more circuits of the space and then you can stop and hold onto the high shelf and watch the acrobats practice on the acro wall’. Sweet. Then practice the waltz a few times and dismount. Return to dressing room.

Make up for 1 hour 10 minutes. Performance. Finish performance. Remove in-ear. Keep mike attached because three tapes to hold it in position on my head. Collect food. Fruit. Bananas, orange and tonight some white peaches. Crisp and sweet. Not much juice but good work for teeth and gums and jaw. Tasty, fresh. Good mix with mango supplied by the ever catering Chad. I dump the shopping bag of fruit down next to the two bean bags which have become my home for the forty fifty minutes between performances. Sometimes the kitchen has a bag of rice snacks and nuts available. Get an espresso cup paper cup full of this and eat this with my banana or tonight peaches. More often orange/s. sometimes some green tea. Then with half an hour to go before the half, I arrange the bean bags to make a hammock shape supporting both legs and back and neck I attempt to have a power nap. Give myself the cautionary reminder to wake up at the half hour call if I sleep that long. Sometimes the members of the company who also come to the rest area amongst the offices become loudly mostly agreeably noisy on a particular subject. Food, recipes, places to eat. Global warming. Food. Youtube. Oblivion. Then the half hour call. Then to the kitchen drag myself off the suddenly Velcro surface of the bean bags, I drag these fifty four year old bones and tendons and ligaments and neurons toward the kitchen and fire the old jets up with a strong espresso and hot chocolate combo/caffeine shot. And then stroll down back to the dressing room perform the ritual of checking mike taped in place. In-ear pack strap to chest, (recently changed to the front middle of the chest rather than mid back where it gets on the way of the belt and free movement in performance). Switch on the pack. Threading of the wire and ear piece through the vest and in ear cut off piece of tape. Arrange both wires at the back of the neck with enough play for free movement of the head with no tension on the wires to either side of the head. Then scarf wrapped and fed into vest. Tuck in, pants up fly and braces. Pepper jacket. Thick blue military jacket with some webbing and decoration. Check the lining of the hat and whether the wardrobe has remembered to check the sponge fitting which always falls out of the Velcro inner holding rim. All smooth. By this time it’s about the fifteen minutes. Stride down the neon lit passage toward the back stage.

Through the double doors into the darkened back stage area. Complete sound-scape change. Blue light and muffled noise of the house music. Collect prop; military staff. practice the opening march. Find centre for balance in weight transference. Include dynamic of arm movement weighted by staff. Explore quality of walk, choreographic structure and rhythm. Weight transference. Maintenance of physical integrity alignment and military bearing. Listen for stage management call for opening on in-ear. Stand by after chit chat with cast members lots of ‘Good shows!’ and ‘Have a good one’ etc. do the show. Curtain call. Head backstage remove hat and glued on moustache and eyebrows then boots off and socks and everything sweaty in the wash. Remove makeup cleanse and moisturize. Pay particular attention to gentle eye treatment with ten shows in five nights a week. Make a plan with Daniel re the evenings proceedings. Drive home through twenty minutes of highway then off-ramps and lane change and next off-ramp but one then home and go straight to computer. Check e-mails and then quick contact with Janet in the office or perhaps catch Mike. Then read in bed and sleep. Seldom before 2.00 and rarely after 3.00 am. And then six or seven hours sleep.

Days in Jackson Hole are spent sitting with Michael at the table rewriting and editing the text of Truth in Translation and trying to find more solid character arcs and revisit moment which we know we are getting away with because of the ensemble and that in fact the writing doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. We make a fair amount of progress and end up with a not half bad new draft. This in between watching deer come down to the pond, humming birds check us out through the window, forest runs and training, visits to the hot tub, the steam room, short evenings with Irish whiskey and long thoroughly slept nights. All this interspersed with flagrantly flourished hospitality and generosity.

The trip away is recorded as a kind of wordless video record of the road; camera switched on every ten minutes or so with a shot of the road and scenery to whatever music was playing on the radio. Quite boring actually until you run fast forward but then the sound not as interesting.

Went to a rodeo in Jackson Hole. A real little blast of very specific culture; good ol’ boys and breathtaking horsemanship. Plus the nature of it is strangely kind of non combative. Well at the same time it is a practical celebration of humanity in conflict with nature. Demonstrating man’s need to dominate, control and show dominion over natural forces. Survival skills too I suppose; despite the aggressive and highly destructive power of nature, the show celebrates humanity’s ability to survive and overcome. On the other hand there is a strange complicite in the show between human and animal. Easier to see when the women are working with horses rather than the men who are fighting to stay on the bull or bronco. But even then each performer is always working with an animal, even if in controlled opposition/contest of strength, technique and will. This working together with nature in a controlled competitive encounter makes for very engaging performance to spectate. Man rides a bull. Bulls trained to buck. Woman rides horse round barrels very fast. Very sexy. Man rides bucking bronco. Men chase and lasso a running steer. In pairs, alone, catching them, then, by hand, lifting them and putting them on their backs/sides so that their legs can by tied together with a knot from which the steer be held for at least 6 seconds. These events drawn from the everyday lives and habits of working men is fascinating and authentic and somehow so wholesome that you could almost forgive the announcer’s self consciously sexist ‘wife’ jokes.

Male competitors in the sport show mostly great courage, resistance to pain, determination and sheer force of will as well as finely honed and developed technique. Women show breathtaking technique and style and attitude.

I decide to have a conversation with Babs about it. She expressed some reservations about going. Apart from the sexist jokes and general good ol’ boy chauvinism, there is a voice which asks whether or not the calves actually enjoy being roped, thrown to the ground and have their legs hog tied, all for the sake of a good show and entertainment. Its one thing if the act is functional as would happen at some stage of a ‘round up’ or whatever. But as a piece of entertainment/sport? When released the calves stagger up and head straight for the exit gate. A route they know well to the ‘chill’ pen. They have these funny little head protection pads around their head and horns like scrum caps which make them look a little wussy as they sheepishly trot out of the arena. Before being chased again. Then back in the truck and the long trip back to the farm.

The crowd is very well behaved and respectful. No drunk people. Announcer has to invite the crowd to be more vocal to encourage the cowboys and the bulls and broncos who respond to loud crowd. Heightens stakes. Really enjoyed it. What else? Saw a concert by Keb Mo’; a blues guitarist and songwriter and his band. Oh sweet mother of blues music thank you for Kevin Moore and his band. The band is cooking but the venue is a bit ‘proper’; the auditorium of the Centre for the Arts. Almost totally white audience, but then as Keb says in the show… ‘You have a very clean town.’ I could have done with a more convivial venue and some space to dance. But outstanding concert.

The drive back to Vegas I do in one stretch. Well in one day. It takes about 12 hours but the roads are very good and traffic not too bad. I give myself a day before getting back into work and arrange to fetch Daniel from the airport. Much better off the interstate highways. Captivating landscapes. Shoot it with video camera. Don’t know how interesting it will ever be. But there it is.

It’s later and we are back from the airport. Daniel unpacking and listening to his new music from Luke and me in here scrabbling away at the keyboard. We start work again tomorrow. Both savouring the last few hours of holiday. Then we go to Nate and Keisha’s later for a snack and share pics and say welcome back. Am feeling kind of neutral about going back to work. I know it has to come and just resign myself to the routine we must very quickly reassume. But this time has renewed my desire to plan weekends well in advance and always be doing something on them. I loved driving and there are so many places which are within striking distance over the two day weekends we have. Also want to see more shows. We need to plan an itinerary for Luke and Casha. Shows and trips. They are here for two weekends. So some planning required.

Back to work. We learned tonight that Guy La Liberte has sold 20% of Cirque du Soleil to a couple of investment firms in Dubai. The same consortium which owns 10% of MGM Mirage which owns the Hotel in which LOVE plays. (here follows a short and somewhat pompous diatribe, thankfully deleted, on the dangers of corporate ownership, quickly followed by a loud fart from The Fool.)

Second night after the dark. Two good shows. Well better anyway. And also some cardio work on my own on the elliptical and then a session with Jeff who uses the time to treat the tendonitis in my left elbow with ultrasound and massage, rather than continue with the strength and conditioning work we have been doing. Also spent time on the hand stand. Getting better, more control and becoming at home upside down. Then stilt training with Coach Dan. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m looking forward to my next plateau. Stepped into the dreaded pants, strapped up, spent some time with Tim from wardrobe marking my Sgt Pepper boots where they need to be worked on to remove some of the sole so that the boot can sit squarely on the footplate. That way I won’t feel as if all my weight keeps going onto my toes… maybe. But either way, with the boots in the same way as always, I launch out onto the floor of the west wing and stride around as if I’ve been doing this for centuries. Relaxed rhythm, plenty of time on each leg, easy stride, plenty of foot lift, confident placement, stops and still stands longer than ever before. Mostly I think about mental attitude which was majorly affected by The Dark. And rest and time to recover. And re focus. Much better. Some time on the stage tomorrow from 2.15. We’ll see how that goes.

Tonight was my first century. 100 shows second show and only remembered tonight when I got home., only 370 or so to go.