Where Is My Mind?

A couple of Saturdays back, our aerial silks teacher held her second student showcase. Wife Megan being in a maternal way, she was unable to perform, but she choreographed, and I was lucky enough to be subject to her whims (and thus, you have her to blame for my provocative costuming). Along with my scene partner Jeanne Barenholtz I enacted a Fight Club-inspired routine to the Pixies' angsty classic Where Is My Mind?. All photos compliments Seamus Maclennan.
A miasma of silky warm-up.

We were aiming for right-angled awkward, but this just looks flat-out weird.

Just don't ask about the fabric burns. For, like, at least another week more.

Don't worry - there's actually at least three layers of undies there.

This is all Jeanne.

This, less so.

I wasn't eating chocolate. That was a jellied smear of stage blood, until my sweat took over.

Our silks were not rigged that close, hence our bulging guns (OK: Jeanne's bulging guns).

German Wheel

Last night I attended my

first class in German wheel

, with Chris Delgado, who is a very good teacher. He's also, as it turns out, a clown whose sentiments aren't too dissimilar from my own:

If that seemed slightly reminiscent of

this (2/10/11)

to you, well, we agree. If it didn't, you're paying attention to the wrong stuffs and you're wrong, and I hate you.

I've been interested in German wheel (OR wheel gymnastics OR Rhönrad; not to be confused with the

Cyr wheel

) for some time now, and fortuitous it was that classes began being offered at Streb Lab, where

Wife Megan

and I attend aerial silks classes. My interest stems from pure physical curiosity to aesthetic sensibilities. I love contraptions, and circus skills that make use of them - hence my affection for stilt-walking - love climbing, and the German wheel turns climbing into perambulating, and makes surprises out of seemingly predictable movement. In that sense, it's pure physical comedy: Using an apparent and predictable mechanic to create moments of elation. Plus the thing just conjures up useful imagery - from

the Vitruvian Man


Prometheus bound

to Lloyd's clock or the steam engine of Melodrama or anything round of which you can think.

The experience of trying it out was at once affirming and surprising, which leads me to think I'll be back for a class or two. It's a bit frustrating to imagine making a commitment to the skill, simply because it's inconceivable to imagine storing the equipment it requires. (My stilts alone are far less obtrusive, and still a blight on efficient apartment living.) Still, that's a reasoning in favor of giving it a few more gos. Who knows when I'll have another opportunity?

Every circus skill, I've found thus far, features some incredible physical torment that you might not have guessed from watching it. In silks it's friction burns, in my opinion. Stilt-walking, it begins as quadriceps torture, then settles into chafing and occasional calf/ankle stiffness. For German wheel, though it's intensely physical in many unexpected ways, the hidden torment is in the feet. We were asked to wear :"thin" shoes, like classic Converse, and the reason for this is that you need to be able to fit them snugly under straps and then


your toes around the edge of the foot platforms.

Now, maybe I'm different than you (perish the thought), but the first time one of these rigs takes you upside-down I'm willing to bet your instinct will not be to


your feet. Rather, I imagine, you'll be kind-of sort-of interested in


your basal digits. There're straps, right? That's what they're there for, right? Nope. All wrong. The straps are there for tension, tension created by pushing hard against them as you essentially fight to shove your toes off the edge of wood and around the other side.

So: My feet hurt. Also, my butt, but I expect that lessens the better one gets at this skill set.

It's very very cool. I mean: Very cool. I expected it to have a lot in common with stilt-walking in terms of momentum-based tricks and using one's center-of-gravity. What I didn't anticipate is how fully it feels as though the wheel breaks free that balance awareness as though going from two-dimensional to three. Ironically, I think German wheel accomplishes this in part by its rigidity, which gives us limitations that help us develop a very precise vocabulary of movement. A jungle-gym on which to play, if you will (if you won't, see note above regarding wrong stuffs and hate).

That is definitely not to say one can just jump on the thing and have at it. The German wheel courts danger as much as any circus feat. See, for example, Chris' video at 3:12. He does a little look-through that - if followed through - could easily result on a broken neck or cracked skull via being run over by a metal bar plus your own body weight. I took to a trick last night that I observed, but hadn't yet been taught, and about midway through had this thought: "Ah. I see. At minimum five reasons I should've sought advice on this one." Plus I could never get the notion of crushing my fingers out of my brain completely . . . but then again not an ice rink goes by without me wondering if they'll be severed there, so that might be a personal fixation.

The entire device has to do with weight distribution - specifically one's pelvis - and leverage. Many of the moves I learned last night had something in common with momentum-based partner acrobatics, in that straightening and bending limbs and torso were used to create that precious leverage and overcome inertia. The entire experience is surreal in all the most circus-y, delighting ways. You roll and flip and are lifted and set down again, all while moving yourself around a defined center, a sweet-spot of a solar system of yourself. Great, great fun.

Injurious Harm

Wife Megan and I have been preparing for a couple of aerial silks performances this weekend at

The Gowanus Ballroom

 (henceforward, "TGB"). TGB is a very cool space - a former factory that now serves double-duty as a metal shop and an art gallery, and it would seem they're eager to have as much aerial performance in it as they can get as well. I've been looking forward to this opportunity in particular, as it would be my first professional aerial gig, and I really love the space itself.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I've hurt myself a little too badly to carry on.

I'm fine. I mean,


. I feel a little silly, in fact, since our teacher very recently had a serious injury that's keeping her off the silks. (Hers had almost nothing to do with the inherent dangers we tend to think of for climbing arts - while she was standing on the ground, a rigging hook fell from the ceiling onto her hand, which is miraculously unbroken but very swollen.) By comparison, my ailments are exceedingly minor. I have a strained right shoulder, and a tweaked left. Were I in Cirque du Soleil (henceforth, "CdS") or some such company, these would indubitably be suck-it-up injuries.

Well, I'm not in CdS. ("What?" I know: right?) Giving it twelve hours after the second tweaking, in which time I napped, took some pain medication and got a decent rub-down, I made the decision I have the luxury to make. In my experience, the reason these sorts of things happen in threes is not because of some cosmic predestiny or communique, nor because it's funny (though, Dudes: it totally is). No, they come in threes because some moron decides he doesn't have to listen to the world around him. I'll not be that moron.

Today, anyway.

That's not to say I feel good about the decision. Why write about it if I feel smashing? No; even past the call, I'm struggling with it. I don't question it in any rational sense. Hauling myself up and catching myself down a thirty-foot ribbon is not what the doctor ordered for a couple of twinged shoulders, and a bad or even hesitant performance doesn't add to my fellow conspirators' performances in any way. Our fearless leader even made sure we knew going in that the commitment was negotiable for this kind of concern.

What is difficult about this is the lost work that went into rehearsal. What is difficult about this is that this is the second time in a row that a silks performance of mine was compromised by health concerns (see


). What's difficult is taking the long view, and returning to the dual considerations that:  1) I might need to give silks a rest for awhile, find something else in the physical arts to study; and  2) I am older than I once was, and that's all I'll ever be, because that's how life works.

Stupid life.

I try not to think about things this way, that I'm getting too old for anything. It makes far more sense to me to think that as I age, I need to keep improving my approach to physical arts so I can work smarter and be prepared and more attuned to my body. Of course, part of the beauty of physical expression is that it can be so pure and independent from analysis. This sets us up for a classic showdown: Body versus Mind. Will Mind's rationale wither under the indomitable impulse-control-problem of Body, or will Body be left baffled, staring into an empty corner at its own mortal shadow whilst Mind proves irrefutably that it is the very construct of reality?! Sunday, SUNDAY, Sunday! Two enter the octagon, only one may leave! Except that, oh, well, they kind of need one another after all so let's all sing kumbaya, ma' lord, oh lord, kumbaya...

Anyway. It's not a complete write-off. When I was last in Scranton I finally retrieved my first pair of stilts, which had taken up residence there for almost two years now. My plan is to perform a sort of metalworker character, a tall guy from a different time dropped into the art space and trying to find his way to Gowanus, unable to recognize that he's already there. It's a theatrically satisfying idea, regardless of how physically simple the act ultimately is.

It's funny. I've been practicing my stilt-walking after work on the odd afternoon since I got the pair back, just taking a walk around the block to reacquaint myself with the sensation. It's difficult to avoid the cliché about bike riding, but there are things I forgot about stilt-walking. Primarily, how taken with it people are. Just carrying the stilts around invites folks to ask questions, and actually walking on them (the stilts; less-so the people) inspires an incredible repetition of jokes and questions. ("How's the weather up there?" has become to me a challenge to make my response as original as possible in contrast.) I engage in this repetition too. My line is, "It's easy. I could teach you in an hour." And it's true. It took me five years to learn to ride a bicycle, and fifty minutes to walk on my own on stilts.

People very rarely take me up on the offer, however. I think I've taught only two folks in nine years. Most people have talked themselves out of it before they've even considered the possibility, which I think is a shame. Sure - you could fall, you could get hurt. Worse, you might even have to give up. The catch is that the best opportunities available are within that risk. It's those painless injuries of never trying that really tear me up.

Student Silks Show

On May 15, our silks teacher Cody Schreger had her first student showcase: Coming Attractions. It was a great experience all around - a first time performing for many of her students, and a show of which we all felt a sincere ownership. I was, unfortunately, getting over the flu at the time. I couldn't do my whole piece (a loving tribute to Die Hard) but Cody still let me do a little of what we had planned. Below are some of my favorite photos from my portion of the show. All photography by James Glader.
The rest of the class is women, you see. I just wanted to fit in!

I could've done it in the dress.

Adorable argument.

Definitively the shot that shows my post-flu state best.

A couple of real silks performers come out to let me know
I should quit while I'm only so much of a disappointment.

"Well anyway, can you help me down?"
"We don't do that."