Alegria

Any bodyworker who ran away to join a circus would surely gravitate toward Cirque de Soleil.  An outgrowth of the Paris street theater of the inter-war period, Cirque retains a radicalism not of politics (all the shows I’ve seen steer clear of social positions), but still present a definite challenge to the status quo as regards physicality, and that of course is the life blood of a bodyworker’s politics.  At least this bodyworker’s politics.

Of course, the economics are not those of social change – thousands of us ticket-payers flexed into our chairs at BU’s Agganis Arena, while the Asian and Russian (or so I expect) acrobats thrilled us and put us to shame in their ability to bend, coordinate, balance in extreme positions with a relaxed mien and élan to spare.  On that level, it is simply a great show, thrilling to young and old alike.

But underneath, we can read between the lines a little.  Multiculturalism is packed into the show.  The songs – all live music in every Cirque show – seem to be in Esperanto (even if they have a certain Celine Dion recognizability). The syntax mimics a language, but only an occasional word is recognizable.  The clowns also, when they speak beyond noises, have the same quasi-language understandable by all.  The masks are commedia del arte, the costumes from French baroque, the set and props straight off the latest high-tech shelf.  We were seated behind the tech board, and it was huge and required four people to run the lights and sound.

Aside from the worldwide values, there is a strong political message of being enough.  Billions of dollars are spent on advertising, and most of the message is: You are not good enough as you are.  You need this cigarette, that deodorant, or this or that pill to be really good enough.  Use this product, the ad seems to say, and you will get a total makeover, have friends, and be the toast of the town. But the Cirque performers ignore all that and say, “Watch this!”

Never mind the balance and the coordination, try on the core strength required to stand on your head alone and still juggle three balls at the same time (remember, the juggling is taking place upside down).  The snaky girl who worked with the metal-ring hula hoops at one point had one ring circling around the knee of the leg she was standing on while she transferred another from her wrist to the other ankle, which was over her head.  But the knee one on the standing leg is still going on and on in place.

It’s so ordinary, it almost could be happening on a school playground.  The message is: “You could do this too.”  Of course I can’t, any more than I could stand two minutes on a professional football field, but this seems somehow more reachable, just practice, practice, practice. A human, rather than a superfuman scale.  I absolutely delight at the astounding feats of footballers, but the skills seem Olympian, out of reach for any but those who are born with it, and born into it.  But I could be (in my dreams, or could have been, since I have passed the big 6-0) a trick bike rider, or able to jump from beam to beam with aplomb.

The political message of the body underlies the debate we are having on health care (way underlies, given the level of the dialogue we are having in the media).  Beyond how we pay for health care (who took the single payer off the table/ – I have lived under a number of systems, and the only ones that socially work are single-payer, socialized, government regulated ones), there is a much larger debate waiting to happen.  How do we educate, inculcate, and reinforce health, rather than waiting until it becomes a disease we can ‘cure’?

We know how to do this: encourage exercise (and make that exercise more complete), good nutrition, and self-expression, while discouraging overconsumption of food, liquor, and drugs.  So simple.  So hard.  So hard for the current system especially where, no matter how well-intentioned the medical practitioner, the system encourages heroic procedures for well-advanced diseases.  There is no money, no incentive at all, for preventive medicine or health education.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our attitude to sexual health.  I was raised in the era when masturbation was thought to make you go blind, and went by the euphemism ‘self-abuse’.  But nothing is more indicative of health or more conducive to getting the hormones, nervous system, and circulation to work right than healthy sexual release.  Reich recognized this, while Freud skirted around it.  I know my clients are getting healthier when their sexual selves are getting a regular workout.  Even sexual excess or fetishism is less damaging to the body than food or drug excesses.  But sexual health remains far from the discussion table.  We’ll know we are getting healthier as a society when health education, including real sex education, is up for discussion.

Which brings me to another act of Cirque, and a comparison of the Alegria we saw last night and the Zumanity I saw a couple of years ago.  I’ve never thought that hanging onto a couple of ropes and being swept up off the stage and around the theater air by a cable required much skill, compared to what I have been describing.  The guy last night got much applause for his spins, but we were applauding his strong shoulders and his adaptable inner ear.

At Zumanity, it was a woman who wrapped the red curtains around her wrists and went sailing off above us.  But in this show, a tribute to human sexuality, even if Las Vegas style, she built the intensity of her song and her swoops and soars until it broke into a distinct (and, I’m sorry, very satisfying) orgasm.  This is a deeply political message for our age: the right of every woman to control, explore, and take command of and pleasure in the full range of her sexuality, from orgasm to abstinence, from birth to yes, even abortion.

One can construct a theory of modern culture that it is a patriarchal system designed to contain and control the primal, creative, right brain, intuitive, messy, dream-filled and illogical power of the feminine. (Actually, I don’t recommend it any one-dimensional analysis of culture – be it race, the Masons, extra-terrestrials, or the Tri-Lateral Commission – it will miss a lot and be poorer for it.)  Cirque de Soleil, for all its commercial success and slick presentation, points the way to a new relationship with the body.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: