Cirque du Agincourt
03 Jan 2010 · by Brennan Storr · Be the first to comment!
Recently my wife Nicky informed me that she finds frustrating the Canadian habit of avoiding direct answers. I’d never given it much thought, nor had I ever considered England, her home, to be a place full of assertive, Type-A personalities shooting from the hip. As a nation aren’t they collectively known for being ineffective and evasive? I don’t recall any scenes in “Notting Hill” where Hugh Grant stops stammering, bangs his fist down on a table and says “Dammit Julia, I am sick of being charmingly befuddled. Get your kit off and bend over that sofa.” Certainly in times past the British could be counted on to speak their mind; in his 1835 “Minute on Education”, Thomas Macauley expounded “[a] single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”. This was about the time that the empire had decided to “help” the Punjab by taking it over. But in modern Britain? Aside from Gordon Ramsay, who can be written off as an anomaly, and Simon Cowell, who is most certainly Satan, there was no evidence of this directness. Then I recalled His Hughness’ 1995 arrest for the solicitation of a Los Angeles prostitute and I realized it had been there all the time! Instead of making himself miserable by submerging his manly desires, getting a divorce or forcing his lovely wife Elizabeth Hurley to engage in lewd and no doubt un-Christian sexual acts, he found himself a hooker. Rather than waffle about what to do, or worse, sulk, Hugh took the initiative and made sure that the sun wasn’t the last thing to go down on the British Empire. That’s shooting from the hip – rule Britannia.
With that in mind I’m going to start today with a bit of British honesty: I don’t much like the French. Specifically, I do not much like the Quebecois. It’s important to make the distinction between the true French people and the charlatans that live in Quebec because I don’t wish to offend the good people of France. During my brief time in their lovely country they were no ruder to me than the wait staff in a vegan restaurant and several of them were very nearly helpful. In contrast, almost every interaction I’ve had with a French-Canadian has made me want to punch something. Their insistence on being seen as exclusively French and taking themselves so seriously makes them sound like a pubescent cub scout hollering “Ten-hut!” and waxing on about the soldier’s burden. They’re just trying too hard.
The culture they aspire to has given the world existentialism and Carla Bruni, yet the best they’ve managed is poutine and Celine Dion so it’s hard to figure out why the Quebecois are so smug. They’re basically the National Guard of francophone people, less French than Algeria. They have given us Cirque du Soleil though, and even “My Heart Will Go On” can’t diminish something like that.
My first encounter with Cirque du Soleil was when Nicky & I happened to be in San Francisco at the same time as their traveling production “Kooza”. I was thunderstruck by the lavish sets and physicality of the performers. They seemed to represent the pinnacle of fitness, muscular, yet slim - strong, yet graceful. I was particularly moved by the exuberance of those onstage. Of course they proudly displayed their bodies, if I looked like that I would too – I’d take out 15-foot-high billboards featuring me wearing only a unitard and a smile – but it never felt like the preening of the empty-headed narcissists you see in a gym. Instead they seemed compelled to perform, to go higher and further, like they’d been put on Earth solely for the thrill of defying gravity. Since that time I’ve seen two more shows, “Zumanity” and “Love” and my devotion has only grown. If these men and women represent the ideal God had in mind for the human form it’s hard not to forgive His naïve enthusiasm in creating so many of us.
To see the wonders that wait at the limit of the human body is a revelation; like discovering that Mount Olympus and its Pantheon orbit a distant star. This awakening to worlds unexplored swells my heart. First with sorrow, because the supplicant’s trembling hand can no more cross the gulf between balcony and stage than it can that between Earth and Cygnus. But very quickly that sorrow is eclipsed by another, stronger feeling: the spreading joy of a soul that has found new seas to sail.
In September Cirque du Soleil’s “Allegria” will be making its way to Victoria for a five-day, eight-performance run. I have no doubt that it will allow us, if only for a while, to untether our spirits and lead them into Empyrian realms we won’t soon forget. You won’t be disappointed. And if you are? Blame the French.