Talent: We Haz It

The following was started August 17th, but completed today . . .

So . . . I did this thing. Just helping some friends, really. Back in June. I didn't write about it. But it invaded my every thought for a while there, so it was weird to not write about it. I sort of wrote around it a bit (see


) and contented myself with the knowledge that someday I would be allowed to write about it. The trouble was, I wouldn't know when exactly, until it happened. In fact, as I begin this post, I don't know when it "happened," or in fact


happened to allow me to publish about it, but I hope and hope and hope that what happened was something along the lines of my friends blowing away the competition and their lives changing for the better, forever and ever.

Anyway: such are the promises of TV.

America's Got Talent

is not my favorite show. In fact, that's putting it rather mildly. I put it mildly, however, because the show has provided Friends Zoe and Dave -- of

Paradizo Dance

fame -- with a tremendous platform for their unique work. Dave and Zoe have combined Dave's background in competitive salsa with Zoe's in modern dance and circus skills to create stunning, fairly stunt-oriented choreography, the likes of which no one has ever really seen before. I met Zoe through Kate


while working together in


, was there for one of her first collaborations with Dave, in

Cirque Boom


Madness & Joy!

, and thereafter shared an apartment with Zoe in 2006. They're great people; you may remember my write-up of their incredible wedding last October (see


). For all that, I never saw us working together. Their emphasis is so on dance, and mine on theatre, that the commonalities seemed few and unlikely to bring us together.

So thank you,

America's Got Talent

, for scaring Dave and Zoe enough to ask for feedback from this crazy clown. To be specific, I worked with Paradizo Dance for a total of six hours, over three days. We would have worked more, but I had to be off to Italy, and those two . . . well. Those of you who think


keep busy have no idea. Really. They're pretty amazing offstage as well as on. So what on earth would compel them to ask me for help? I mean, Zoe can lift Dave off the ground, and Dave can practically balance Zoe on his fingers! ("Come on!", I often find myself involuntarily shouting in disbelief when I watch one of their acts.) Well, turning in several unique acts over the course of a summer television season requires one to stretch one's versatility a bit, and one such stretch that they wanted to perform was into the area of stage comedy.

I'm going to assume at this point that I'm not posting this until the season has ended, for them, or in its entirety (for me, the latter will coincide with the former, regardless). As I'm writing, I have no way of knowing how their comic act went, or if they even had a chance to perform it -- though all signs I have now indicate that they will. In fact, I don't know a thing about the act itself. It will be as much a surprise to me as to the rest of the viewing audience. When I left their process, we had established a lot, but choreographed very little, and one of my imperatives to them was to throw out anything we "established" when it ceased to work for them. I know they were working with other people on this particular piece, and I hope they consulted someone else as they were actually building it. Most of my time, you see, was spent workshopping with them on how we collaborate to create a narrative, physical comedy.

It's one of my favorite subjects, it's what

Zuppa del Giorno

is all about, and somehow I'd never had the opportunity to explore it the way I did with Zoe and Dave. Here were two people with tons of performance experience, tons of physical ability, and even a little theatre background, but very little experience with physical comedy. I had a really excellent time working to explain ideas that make comedy work for me, as well as working to refine a functional dynamic in which they could collaborate to create something unlike anything else they've ever made. We were thinking on our feet, and discussing big ideas, and man -- I'd love to do it again.

* * *

Well: Hell. America,

what is wrong with you?

I'm kidding, of course. It was an awful disappointment to witness my friends voted off the show last night, but I'm not bitter about it. (Okay, I'm only mildly bitter about it. [Okay, I burned all my Hasselhoff CDs.]) There's a lot I could write about the contributing factors to the elimination, but it's all a little pointless, and I have to remind myself that

Paradizo Dance

got a pretty wonderful second prize in all this -- the kind of exposure that changes their professional position for the better.

America's Got Talent

was never going to change the fact that they're incredibly entertaining and talented performers, win or "lose," and I just hope they are walking away from it with chins held high. They did a magnificent job, and the whole thing was more a fortunate accident than it was their ultimate goal, anyway.

Not that a cool million and headlining in Vegas would have been unwelcome, of course. But anyway.

There's a small but persistent part of me that feels really, really terrible and anxious that I may have steered them wrong. Logically, I know that the work was out of my influence for two months before they performed it and we only worked on ideas and a few beats of choreography. I certainly can't claim any credit for their work! I also know that what they ended up performing was beautifully done, and that the judgment of the audience was as much a matter of taste as of anything objective. Still, I have this little bit within; it is kissing cousins with my general sense of responsibility, and makes me want to take it all on myself. I would like to say to America: "America, blame me for all the parts you didn't like. Let's give these crazy kids another chance!" And so, America, if I have your ear, there you have it.

It's not my place of course to go into any detail here about what I did and didn't see from our time working together in the piece. That's a private discussion that Zoe and Dave and I will have sometime soon (I hope!). Regardless of the outcome, I loved working with them, especially on this kind of thing. I hope we get to do it again someday, whatever the context. Even if we don't, I have no doubt that Dave and Zoe will continue to succeed more and more in what they do best: Creating breath-taking choreography and performing it with love, together.

Oh yeah, and Piers Morgan: What. Ever. Dude. Zoe lifting Dave is flash -- the two of them holding up one another is the heart of their act.

The Greatest Show in Long Island City

Last night I helped set up, then attended, one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. It was the wedding of Friends Zoe Klein and Dave Paris, of Paradizo Dance fame, and it was quite an affair, both ambitious and intimate. Dave and Zoe put together a circus-themed wedding at a really cool venue in the LIC: The Foundry. Check out some pictures of the venue, then imagine that, with aerial rigging hung and a different circus-themed booth in every nook. As I said -- ambitious -- but with all the spectacle and performances, it was still a ceremony with its head on straight. One really felt that the best and most important thing happening last night was the union of two people with a special relationship. It was, in many ways, a far more successful and satisfying piece of theatre than I've seen in years.

The whole shindig didn't start until 5:30, but I sprouted up around 1:00 in promise to help Zoe pull it all together. I found there Friend Tiffany Kraus, of Kirkos association, which was a very welcome reunion indeed. I also found Friend Cody suspended from the rafters on white fabric -- she was scheduled to perform that evening, after the ceremony -- and it began to occur to me just how much of my former circus life might revisit me that evening. This is not necessarily all good, as I did more circus at a time when I was somewhat younger (read: a whole lot stupider). Nevertheless, I was excited by the prospect. I miss my days of regular ceiling-hanging and handstand-failing. Tiffany and I threw ourselves into candle placement, sunflower trimming and chuppah building, and the time flew by.

One of the splendid things that Zoe and Dave requested of their guests was that everyone dress in exuberant colors, along a specific circus theme of their choosing. Suggestions included ring master, trapeze artist, elephant, side-show denizen, etc. As things got under way, a completely various assortment of characters rolled into the place, some simply a little on the colorful side, others costumed to the nines and, of course, many genuine circus sorts didn't even have to try. Dave and Zoe themselves dressed in performance clothing for the ceremony, rather than a tux and gown. You might imagine this made the whole thing a boisterous occasion, and it was, but also very friendly, very communicative. Friends Kate Magram and Bronwyn Sims (Actor ~ Aerialist ~ Acrobat) were in attendance, too, bringing the total Kirkos number to five. It was, in brief, unexpectedly meaningful in a very personal way.

The most impressive part of Paradizo Dance's work for me is the way in which it blends Dave and Zoe's backgrounds and enthusiasms to create really flavorful performance that just about deserves its own category. Dave has been a competitive salsa dancer for years, and Zoe a more modern dancer and acrobat, and together they do inspired partner routines that are big on lyricism, lifts and lusty lunges (consonance is my big contribution). If you haven't seen any of their video, do. Even if the picture quality is poor, you'll be impressed within ten seconds. In fact, the movement and stunts are so impressive that it takes one a while to appreciate that everything is working on a higher level than that, that the grace of their movements is connected to specific emotion, choreographed with pleasing synchronicity to musical accompaniment. In other words, they've learned from each other's craft and used all of it to bring out a clear, urgent and rewarding communication with the audience. It's just lovely. That aesthetic is one they share with their friends, as was proven by the performers there last night -- dancers, aerialist and juggler. Paradizo Dance ended the evening's performances with a duet of their own. Needless to say, it brought the house down.

What was more impressive than the lifts, tricks and decor, even more than the example of a successful and happy life lived somewhere on the edges, was the way in which Zoe and Dave are so at ease, so at home with that life. It was a beautiful thing to witness, a public acknowledgement and demonstration of that agreement, that accord. Weddings are funny, in that no matter what your aesthetic or priority, they're invariably idealizations of your life. You work pretty damn hard to make them a concentrated dose of the goodness you wish for yourselves, and that others hopefully will wish for you. So, like theatre, they're not real. Oh God, how we'd hate them if they were.

As unreal as they may be, still, they are very, very important.

James Thierrée

Don't get your fingers in a cramp from




the name. He is Charlie Chaplin's grandson. He deserves to be regarded in his own right. He has been performing in circus since he was four years old. I have finally seen him perform with his company, in their show

Au Revoir Parapluie


Goodbye Umbrella

). The company performed at


's Harvey Theatre. The last time I was in this theatre was a few years ago, close to when it had just opened. I was stilting in the lobby with

Cirque Boom

as a sort of warm-up to their contribution to

The Lysistrata Project

, which was a national initiative begun to protest the war in Iraq. As I took my seat for

Au Revoir Parapluie

, along with Friends





Dave & Zoe

, I considered how long it had been since I worked with them all, how long it had been since I performed in a circus show.

Then I watched the show, which made my lungs laugh, my heart burst and my spleen evaporate. Plus it tickled.

Oh guys, guys guys: I can't spend the whole entry raving, but I could. There was so much about the show that I found personally appealing that I actually didn't notice the lack of concrete narrative, which usually irritates me when I attend circus/theatre. It reminded me of good classical music, the way it transports me so that my free association and emotions provide me with my own story. Circus performed with seeming ease, pathos and humor allows one to relax in that just-right way, a way that makes an audience receivers more than interpreters. The older one gets, the more their critical faculty takes over their personality, because they have more and more comparisons available. Great art, in any medium, allows us to happily (gratefully) release that faculty.

So this isn't a critique of the show. I was too inspired by it to be objective, and anyway it's sold out this time around (as opposed to closed, which is what most shows are by the time I get around to my opinion of them). No, all I'm saying, party peoples, is that capital-a Art still exists, and the French probably have more of it than we do. (Stupid French [it's a


, Sara].) Plus (see, you knew that wasn't


I was saying), I am very inspired to make my own pale, incomparable imitation-of-style piece based on the show.

There was just so much to it that I want to be doing in my own work, yet am not. I've always been a fan of direct-address that breaks the fourth wall in one way or another (though I remain ambivalent about the Brechtian convention of "breaking character" to speak with the audeince, when in fact you're still speaking lines someone else wrote).

Au Revoir Parapluie

did this with action and clown, but no actor-spoken dialogue. It was completely sincere, yet transported the audience with music and surreal imagery. The performers were all capable of circus feats, yet also strong clowns and actors, sensitive and expressive and subtle. There was nothing pretentious to the show, even when I was amazed by it. Joy without guilt, catharsis without lingering sorrow.

When I was a young man, fresh out of my first professional theatre experience, I was driving around the southern states with my girlfriend of the time (

Friend Rachel

this was, for those of you keeping score at home) and whilst we mused on our performance futures I fantasized about a company of actors trained in dance, and vice versa, who would create brilliantly sincere and physical debut shows. I was going to call it Sugarsweet Willpower, which proves, as though nothing else ever did, that there's a good reason a lot of our youthful ambitions never come to fruition. This was prior to my even contemplating the worlds of circus or commedia dell'arte, and obviously I wasn't well-versed in theatre companies already at work on similar goals. No, I felt this idea was unique and timely, as well as of course feeling fully qualified to found just such an institution.

Ah, me.

It may be a bit gauche at this point, starting my own theatre group. It's kind of what all my comrades do. "Oh, Jeff started a company now? Yeah. Neat. So . . . how 'bout them Mets?" It's not something I'm interested in doing, at least not from a practical standpoint. I've seen too much of the "Artistic Director" process to be fooled by the name, and anyway, where would I find a Producing Director I could work with? (Who are these people? What makes them sign up for all the sucky parts? It ain't the pay, I'll tell you that much.) No, no company-birthing for this persnickity mother. What I might do, given the right circumstances, is make a show.

I say "might," because of




, from which not much has yet arisen. I'm chomping at the bit to express myself, but not tearing up the track, and I feel as though the gate has been open a long time now. I hope this show was the poke in the rump I apparently need. I'm keeping it alive in my mind, replaying moments and recording my own ideas. It's interesting to me that I have so many outlets for creative expression, yet feel somehow that there's something personal, important and specific I have yet to express in my work. I want


shows to hang from the ceiling. I want


to craft another comedy. I want

UnCommon Cause

to improvise in performance (more). The most direct answer to all of these wants is to just do it myself.

Just as soon as the holy daze is over . . .

Strange Times bring Strange Tidings

Where have I been? Where have I been? I've been busy, okay? Do I have to report every little thing I do to you, huh? Huh? Do I? Do I? No. NO! I DON'T!

I'm sorry. Hey: I'm sorry. Really. I lost my temper and, um, I . . . I said some things I shouldn't have said there. I may have, you know, given you the impression that I felt smothered, and I don't. I do not. No, no, I'm just . . . stressed. I'm a little stressed right now, and I took it out on you and that wasn't fair and I'm sorry. Okay? Can I make you some pancakes? How about waffles?

And just where have I been? Oh, here and there. The glorious thing about my end-o-week is the astonishingly little time it has me strapped into a desk. The un-bloggerly thing about it, is the astonishingly little time it has me strapped into a desk. It's a trade-off. But it's Saturday morning, I'm doing laundry and watching old Paramount(TM) Superman(R) cartoons (first episode: "Japoteurs"!) and finally my much-neglected 'blog gets a tune-up.

When last we left our erstwhile hero, he was opining about the glacial pace of The Torture Project's development. He has since resuscitated after various activities in the intervening day-and-a-half to the extent that he is barely aware of writing about himself in the third person. >Ahem.< I did receive some unexpected support in my feeling of impatience over the TP, which helps me feel less psychotically insecure, so thank you, O eponymous anonymous contributor. In addition, we had circus night at the loft on a Thursday this week. We did not receive the promised jugglers, but we did have both Zoe(umlaut) and Dave of Paradizo Dance with us--a rare treat. I got to fly a thigh stand on Dave, which was like climbing a tree with roots to China, and based Zoe(u) in a high angel, which was a first for me. Friday brought another day teaching at Validus Preparatory Academy, but another "first." This time it was the first time both Alex and I were supervising the boys as they filmed themselves playing basketball, and it was fascinating. The guys were more responsive and invested in the project, and Alex learned a little bit about all the kind of work I had to do in her absence last semester. After that it was off to a photo shoot for A Lie of the Mind at Manhattan Theatre Source. I bought one of those circa-70s cowboy shirts (with the pearly snaps) for the occasion--a fantasy buy for me for some time now (whoa, slow down there, Tex) and the shoot was spent in pretty continual laughter over the antics of Todd d'Amour and Laura Schwenninger.

Tomorrow returns me to The Torture Project, but after such a varied series of hours I feel more equipped to be there. It's strange how that works. There is the usual inertia factor when it comes to personal energy, how one just generally feels capable of more when he or she is already active; there is also, however, a kind of recharge to acting that comes from just living a little more life. I wonder sometimes if it works the same in all things creative, or in all things in general. You have to be out there, having a life, to bring something back into whatever you're working on. Do other things one is working on count toward that? I venture a yea. It's worked for me this weekend.