Wednesday, July 29, 2009

East meets West under the big top

A couple of weeks into our mad race around the lower part of the North Island we had planned a weekend getaway in Auckland, just the four of us- at the circus. This was the fourth time the French Canadian Cirque du Soleil had made it to Auckland and the third time we had made it to le blue and yellow Grande Chapiteau. Which is put up and taken down by a dedicated tent team who fly in and out almost undetected, like little tent fairies, whip up the massive hi tech big top, then move quietly on to the next port of call to do it all over again. Le Grande Chapiteau, which looks deceptively simple on the outside, stands 60 feet high and holds 2 500 wide eyed, wriggly, chatty patrons - waiting.

The mood is festive, even though the skies have opened up and the rain set in outside. The hum of chatter gives way to splotches of laughter. Pockets of mayhem begin to attract wandering eyes. The clowns!

I was not really much of a fan of clowns until Cirque. Our first Cirque experience was the ethereal Alegria with its beautiful, lonely clown Slava, chasing trains in the snow. At this point clowning took on a whole new meaning for me. They became the stuff of dreams, skillfully combining comedy with poignancy and doing it with so much heart. Slava now has his own touring act called, appropriately, 'Slava's Snowshow'. We took the boys to it when it first came to New Zealand and were captivated all over again. It just happened to be in town again at the same time we were and although we didn't go, my sister and her young family did- and were duely enchanted. It remains one of the best shows I have seen, and we have seen many, many different stage productions over the years. If you get the chance it should not be missed by kids of all ages. Here is a taste I found on the ubiquitous YouTube:

The clowns of Dralion were more earthy than Slava, more slapstick, but still very clever and just as entertaining. Their interludes, subtly used to introduce the following act, included a 'character role', a person from the audience singled out before the show started and eventually coerced on stage- to read the safety instructions. He stumbled and laughed and kept an anxious eye on the bothersome clowns- who were usually up to no good. His reactions were priceless, his nervous giggle infectious, his incorporation into the act almost seemless and the ultimate realisation that he was in fact 'a clown' - unanticipated- for this audience member anyway.

All of Cirque du Soliels circuses are unique but Dralion is extra special because of its utilisation of Chinese acrobatic traditions and the incomparable cheeky Dralion- a combination dragon-lion dressed very much like the floppy eared, fringed Chinese Lions we are now so used to being amused by. Cirque du Soleil's strength, underneath all its spectacular costumes, unique music and fantastical grandeur, is the performers. A polished and exitable lot, Cirque's acrobats can often be seen during their acts with the concentrated and then jubilant expressions only attained when a new stunt is tried and, using the mixture of performance enhanced adrenaline and the power of the collectively held breaths of the audience, suceeded. Dralion was no different with even the more solemn and earnest Chinese performers pushing the boundaries of their stunts to even more seemingly inhuman levels, their faces tripped from intent to delight as they turn to accept the audiences delight. The trust they have in not only each other but also in the audience at this point invokes a sense of family and involvement that makes them a pure joy to watch. They need us as much as we are in that moment needing them.

From the first Cirque we saw the unique acts have always drawn the most excitment and enthusiasm, particularly those involving the trampoline, and Dralion was no exception. The 6 jumpers leapt from huge heights onto trampolines, bounced back up and scaled the walls like Spidermen - and women- on speed in combinations that got increasingly crazier leaving you alternately gasping at the audacity and fervently wishing it would be your turn next.

I can't wait for the next one that comes within cooee of our nomadic lifestyle. Until then heres a taste of the incredible gravity defying hoop act from Dralion 2008/9- again from YouTube:

Monday, July 27, 2009

We are back

(Our first glimpse of New Zealand in 2 1/2 years shows just why the Maori called her Aotearoa, The Land of the Long White Cloud)

Yesterday M and I slipped back into Cambodia after a very quick four weeks away. J had only managed three weeks, keeping some holidays in his pocket for our backpacking, train hopping trip down the Italian 'boot' at Christmas time with B, our 'growed up' kid, who has yet to make it to the Penh. It was a much anticipated and very busy trip with a great deal of travelling around trying to fit visits in with friends we hadnt seen in the two and a half years since we'd been back, while spending as much time with B as possible as we hadnt seen him for nearly a year.

He was in fine form. Taller, if thats at all possible, mature, articulate and comfortably independent refusing most offers of cash and new clothes- 'I just have to learn how to budget better...'- but he did allow his parents to feed him as often as they could. He showed off his flat, his scooter, his favourite lunchtime haunts and his office and we even managed to coerce him into spending a few nights with us at our hotel while we were in Wellington.

We ate dinners together, went to the movies, caught a local jazz/reggae band, that sounded a lot like Simply Red but looked more like basement grunge, at Te Papa's marae and had weekend holidays in Masterton, Auckland and Palmerston North.

Of course being the middle of winter in New Zealand it was cold but with the exception of our two weekends in Auckland, when the dreary rain and fog seeped through our merino and tickled our skin into goosebumps, we woke to dry days and a fair bit of bright antipodean sunshine.

(A giant Nikau Palm by Ian Athfield in Civic Square Wellington)

While B was at work we managed visits to some favourite capital places. The first place was Te Papa Tongarewa- The Place of the Treasures of this Land- or simply Our Place, which it almost was for quite a few years.

(Sizing up the colossal squid )

M was about 4 when it opened and we made our first trip to one of the coolest places our capital city has to offer. There were plenty of naysayers at the start- a huge FREE contemporary museum housing many of our nations treasures, our taonga...

( In front of the museum's copy of Tiriti O Waitangi, New Zealand's founding social document, our bicultural agreement, both celebrated and protested annually on the same date, Waitangi Day, New Zealand's version of a national day. Signed on the 6th of February 1840, at Waitangi by representatives of the British Crown and about 40 Maori rangatira, the treaty was controversal from the start. The Maori version has some fundamental differences regarding the possession, ownership and sovereignty of the land and it's taonga. More than the document itself it has been the decades of discussion, debate, marches and land occupations and the outcomes of the Waitangi Tribunal- exclusively charged with the right to determine it's meaning, intention and spirit- that have helped shape the relationships between our nations people, the Maori and the Pakeha and thus shape us as Kiwis.)

(The 1974 Holden Stationwagon transformed by artist Jeff Thomson using the rusty discarded corrogated iron from the roof of Napier's Criterion Hotel which Thomson drove as his only car for 3 years around both New Zealand and Australia. It's aerial bent into the shape of Australia the Holden's country of birth.)

( Te Papa's traditional meeting house, Te Hau ki Turanga, one of the oldest and most significant meeting houses in existence, sits in the Mana Whenua part of Te Papa)

(The carvings depicting the legend of how Maui slowed the Sun on the roof of the more contemporary meeting house on Te Hono ki Hawaiki, Te Papa's urban marae. )

(A giant unique piece of Pounamu, New Zealand's greenstone, gifted to the museum by the Kai Tahu, in the marae. It sits in a fountain of running water, like the streams and rivers where it is found naturally, with large grains of sand which you are encouraged to use to help rub the oxide off the taonga. The pounamu symbolises the solid, permanent foundations of Te Papa’s Marae, Rongomaraeroa. The wairua or spirit of the pounamu protects traditional Maori values in all the ceremonies that take place on the Marae. Sadly one of the ceremonies that took place while we were in New Zealand was the Tangi of the museums Chief Excutive, Seddon Bennington.)

(Ko hine te iwaiwa, ko hine korako, ko rona whakamau tai- The two controllers of the tides, hence her full name Rona-Whakamau-Tai by Robyn Kahukiwa)

Built on reclaimed land the sea licking its foundations and one of the worlds most active fault lines at the doorstep (literally) but it still stands 11 years on, it's still free and it still holds much to keep our now older and more worldly wise family immersed and entertained.

Here is M (on the left) standing in Cook Strait, named after the first European to sail through it, the bit between the North and the South Islands of New Zealand. The watery bit that connects the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific Ocean. The Maori call it Raukawa Moana, Moana meaning sea and Raukawa, a native tree. It is considered one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world yet nearly everyday Ferries push their way through the swells and strong currents taking passengers and vehicles from one island to the other.

The upside down kiwi shaped bit on the bottom left of the photo is Golden Bay , place of warm sunkissed, sandy holiday memories. On one holiday we went all the way out onto Farewell Spit (the long thin beak like bit) in The Gypsy, a huge lumbering MJR Model Bedford with a Dutchman who was as entertaining as the scenery was absorbing.

Move further towards M's feet and you get to the Marlborough Sounds; bays, beaches, crystal clear blue waters, heaven high ridges, wine, mussels and no cell phone reception. We have tramped (hiked, rambled, scrambled, plodded, ambled, walked- often carrying supplies in backpacks of varying size and weight) most of the Queen Charlotte track and run a few legs too. We have scaled ridges and taken in views like this:


This holiday, though, we mostly stayed in the bit between M and J's feet. The bit at the bottom of the North Island. The bit with a reputation for wild, windy weather, a besuited population of bureaucrats and an abundance of good coffee.