Friday, July 24, 2015

Keeping the magic

A few weeks ago, I was in Las Vegas and I saw a show I'd been wanting to see for a very long time: Ka, from Cirque du Soleil.

From the moment I set foot in the theater, I felt a sense of wonder. Just the ambiance from the set and those hanging lights was enough, and when the show started and that giant platform rose into the air, I was in another universe. It was an amazing show, well-paced, well put together, impressive in every way. One of the best Cirque shows I've seen (of eight, I believe - Saltimbanco is still my favorite).

After much emotion, jumping, falling, twirling, and love and fights and everything, the story ended, and we were on our feet clapping, and the artists were bowing and waving at us... all except one. There was one who was taking off her wig and earpiece, oblivious to the crowd.

In that instant, the dream was broken. It was just work. Just another gig. Just another night among many, many nights. And while I understand how it's easy to get blasé when you've done about 600 performances, twice a night, for weeks on end, I'm disapointed that she couldn't wait another 30 seconds until the lights went off before declaring the performance over.

It would have made a world of difference for me.

There is a very important lesson here for anyone who does performance arts...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A message from the universe

Last Friday at the end of the work day, feeling a little melancholic...

Thinking of how some ordinary people have simply extraordinary lives...

Thinking of Chris Hatfield and his version of Major Tom in the Space Station while sorting things in my cubicle, left over from the past 7 years, moving to a very different space now...

Then I leave and take the metro and there's a musician singing....
Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much (she knows!)
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear....
Talk about the universe sending me a message!

But, really, it were me, I would have picked the following verse..
This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
Because maybe, this time, my answer really needs to be this:
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today


Wow, it's been a crazy two-year stretch.

First there was Kasa Mix, where I got to see the world, experience Kodo, meet and be touched by the apprentices and so many other people. Then there was Arashi, with whom I've been learning and growng. There was the forced separation from my two best friends when they became apprentices and I didn't. There was coming back to Montreal and feeling abolutely lost in my life. Hint: it gets better.

There were shows with Komachi, some of which went well and some less well. Hint: you learn.

There was trips to Toronto to see Nagata Shachu (falling in love with taiko all over again). A few taiko shows with Inazuma, East Coast Taiko Conference, practices with Ignatius.

For a few months last year I had Monday evenings off. Oh and sometimes Sunday evenings too.

Then there was the second trip to Japan. To close the chapter, to revisit the places that touched me and meet the people who transformed me, again. I had no expectations so it probably ended up being the best trip of my life. It was a taiko trip. It wasn't about taiko any more than Kasa Mix was.

Then there was Wa, working backstage and planning for the Arashi concert in the Fall. There was a trip to New York at the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center for a weekend intensive with Kenny Endo, who, unexpectedly, is the one instructor I've met in my taiko experience so far I'd follow and study with extensively, by choice.

Then there was Taiko Baka, which for me was a very frustrating experience, and which I'm probably still digesting, months later. And then another East Coast Taiko Conference, where my highlight was learning Ei Ja Nai Ka; putting together the second Wa, then doing the show at Botanical Gardens, and then meeting all the people and performing at Percussions Festival, more shows with Komachi, more shows with Inazuma... Chieko Kojima intensive at LATI, World Taiko Gathering in LA, Matsuri...

And now what? I have projects, plans, ideas... possibilities... dreams. Which one should I follow? (Hint: these things are only clear when you've already walked the path and look behind you...)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Where do I stand?

Travelling to other parts of the world to taiko events and classes really opens up one's perspective.

At home, I'm only a student. Motivated and dedicated, maybe. But still just a student, the lowest level, under apprentice, under member. Not really a taiko player; more like a grade school kid ;-)

I go to Japan, and suddenly I'm a wold traveller who has total legitimacy in being interested in what the legendary teachers we meet there have to teach. I'm suddenly a taiko player. No matter where I am in my development, I am, in their eyes, a taiko player.

In our group, only the performing members have access to real drums. They pay for them, they take care of them, they own them; it's only right that they're the ones using them. The students play on practice drums that have real skins on a PVC body. When I went to ECTC, I remember that some people were extremely surprised by the fact that we don't have access to real instruments on a regular basis.

Most of the people we meet at events like ECTC are members of a group. We're the exception in that we're not members, "just students". Yet, I often find myself among the top tier of players who attend these workshops - every time, I feel surprised, first, because I'm not that good, and also because this is so different from what I experience at home.

Some of those people who are members of groups are far less advanced than even our student group is; yet most of them perform on stage, and often even get paid for their performances. Sometimes, it makes us feel lucky that we have such great teachers to make us grow. It also makes us feel like we could be trusted a bit more to perform and hold our own on stage (yes, our teachers have very high standards - I happen to think it's a good thing).

This reflection isn't meant as a critique of the way things work in my group. I keep telling people how important it is to travel, to see other perspectives, because it refocuses your understanding of your group and taiko as a whole, and it shapes your development. I don't know if being "just a students" makes people work less hard because they feel like they'll always be "just a student"; or if it motivates people to work harder because it makes them conscious of the fact that they still have a ton of things to learn.

Me? Well.... the only thing I'm certain of, is that I'm a taiko player ;-)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Technique vs heart

Our taiko instructors said something that struck me, this weekend.

A few of the students had stayed after our annual Shinnenkai celebration, and we were encouraged to hit odaiko. Most of us have never had much practice in the style, some of us have close to no technical knowledge of it either.

At some point, our instructor said something that I can summarize as: "Technique is not important, you need to hit from the heart, to give everything."

I didn't answer. I let him teach what he was trying to teach at that moment. But my gut reaction was to think: "I disagree."

To me, technique is an enabler, for two very important reasons.

First, it allows you to push without hurting yourself. Hitting hard without proper technique is the surest and safest way to end up with an injury. And anyone who's played taiko for any length of time knows how frustrating injuries are and how long they take to heal. Take care of your body. Learn and apply the technique. (I'm not there yet.)

Second, proper technique allows you to expand less energy for the same result, and get better sound at the same time. Proper technique ensures you hit the right way, with the proper force, with the right angle, at the right spot on the drum. And then, when your technique is good enough, you get that snap and speed that allows you to get the sound you want - and to sustain it for a longer time. (Guess what? I'm not there yet!)

So, technique vs heart? I think you need both. Technique without heart is cold and mechanical. Heart without technique is dangerous and messy.

They go hand in hand, and they make each other shine.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I'm OK

I came across this post today: 7 Things Happy People Say Every Day. Now, I rarely spend much time reading those kinds of posts; they usually simply re-hash the same oversimplified pop wisdom. But, once in a while, something strikes a chord.
6.  “I’m OK.”
How you respond to life’s little tragedies is what shapes your character.  Crap happens sometimes, you’ve got to deal with it and move on.  Don’t hide from it.  If your dreams are out in the world somewhere and you’re inside hiding, the only new things that will gather in your mind are anxiety and bitterness.  Eventually that anxiety and bitterness will eat away at you and leave nothing behind but an unhappy shell of your former self.
So when the crap hits the fan, as it sometimes will, stop and say it out loud:  “I’m OK.”
And I would add even more. Sometimes, you end up in a bad spot. You're feeling depressed, like you live doesn't have any meaning anymore. And you can look at yourself, and know you're feeling this way, and say "It's okay, it happens. Today I'm feeling bad, and I need to let myself experience this; but tomorrow, after I have lived through this moment, it will be behind me and I will be stronger for having recognized it and lived through it."

Life throws unexpected punches at you. And sometimes you just have to let go and embrace them.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Taiko and confidence

I’ve come across this very interesting article on Nerd Fitness: 5 Ways to Immediately Appear More Confident, about how to instantly appear (and be!) more confident. Basically? Stop slouching, slow down, smile, look people in the eye and get out of your head.

Funny how everything in my life seems to be intertwined these days. Taiko has so much to teach us about ourselves.

Stop slouching? That’s a given; we work on posture all the time. Straigten your back, open up your shoulders, relax, make space... all things we struggle with at first, than a little less after a while.

Slow down? This can be taken as meaning slowing down in space as well. "Stretch out", "use space"... all things we painfully learn to do. How to do the maximum you can do for every movement you can make. That also means stopping for a fraction of a second before you hit; that instant of waiting adds tremendous power to your playing. And, don't move when you're not supposed to, either during a piece or at the end, while you wait for the drum sound to finish ringing. That's all about taiking your time.

Smile? Well, that’s an easy one. If you want to engage your audience, you have to look happy about what you’re doing. There are serious pieces; then smiling too much kills the effect. But your face still has to be open and alive. And yes, some happy pieces look awesome when the performers are smiling.

Look people in the eye? That’s harder. I’m shy. Looking people in the eye is always scary. But we work on it; we work on communication too, and that’s in the same line of thought. Sharing a drum during Matsuri, you have to look at the other person who's playing, interact with them, exchange glances and meanings. In other words, establish a contact, communicate.

Get out of your head? Just get out there and kill that drum! Act confident and you’ll feel confident. The hard one… make mistakes with confidence. Nothing holds you back like hesitating. But getting out of your head is easier with taiko, because your body is already engaged in movement. The trick is getting in the right mindset to look powerful. (Yeah, I'm still working on that!)

But taiko, at least here in Montreal, is also a community of people, a family, that welcomes you into their midst, makes you feel safe but also pushes you to grow, to overcome your limits, to be more than you were.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Of Primal and Taiko

So, I'm a taiko player now. Those who've seen taiko players on stage - and those who have taken a workshop before, will know how physically demanding it is. Those who know me will know how unfit I was before I started playing. I've never done any sports. I'm not powerful. I don't have good stamina. But I love taiko, so I had to adapt.

My first two years were formative years, a slow upward hill where I was still a beginner in every sense of the word. Learning how to move; learning how to hit; learning the pieces. It was just a hobby, and I wanted it to remain that way.

But in September 2012 I went to Japan. Took workshops, spent 4 days living and drumming with the Kodo apprentices. Met all those amazing, amazing, incredible people. And when I came back, suddenly the "just a hobby" thing wasn't enough anymore. And I was very sad, and very lost, and yes, somewhat angry too. I had a knot in my stomach all the time, and only drumming or dancing would make it go away. So I drummed. And I danced.

One thing had been nagging at me for a while, was that I needed to make some changes if I wanted to get better. I'd been reading Mark's Daily Apple about the Primal Blueprint (here's a primer)... I have some friends who are Crossfitters and Paleo... I've seen the effects they claim are due to that way of eating and living. And I had a nagging feeling this would work for me. But I've also always believed that food shouldn't be a religion; that you should eat what's set in front of you; and especially that the greatest wisdom is to eat a little bit of everything. Some of my Paleo friends were all about meat, meat, meat, and that always seemed wrong to me. I've since found out that there are many, many ways of going about it; many different philosophies of the same current, and many ways of adapting it to what works for *you*.

In Japan we ate differently, nearly Primal, for three weeks, and it did wonders on my body. Of course, we ate a small quantity of rice every day, and some tofu, and some wheat noodles and tempura batter on occasion too, but most meals centered around tons of super fresh fish, fresh vegetables, soup and tea, and almost never any dessert. So I lost weight. I didn't crash anymore. I felt great!

When I came back, I decided it was time for a switch. We barely ate any bread already, except at breakfast, and we rarely ate processed foods. We were actually already halfway there. But I started eliminating pasta, rice, couscous, potatoes, etc. from our evening meals, which means also that I eliminated them from our lunches, because we always cook more at night to have a lunch for the next day. I started by replacing them with sweet potatoes and squash, but now we don't really need even those anymore as a substitute. And I lost weight. So I started buying cheese again; avocadoes; whipping cream; Greek yogurt; nuts; bacon... I weighed a bit over 115 before the trip; probably around 110 when I came back. Last time I weighed myself, with clothes and shoes on, I was at 107. Believe me, I eat. I'm never hungry. I think it will stabilize now that the little bit of flab is nearly gone.

Next step was breakfast. For a few weeks, I struggled with this. And then, one evening, I made a big omelet, cut it in 4, and ate the 3 leftover parts on the next 3 mornings. Then I made eggs again; and then leftover pulled pork and avocados (a favourite combination of mine); sausage and salad; ground beef and cabbage soup (this is REALLY good in the morning); and when I don't have anything ready, Greek yogurt + almond butter + berries or bananas or apples + coconut flakes. The trick was stopping to think of breakfast as breakfast. It's just another meal! Just eat food!

And wow what a difference this has made!

I used to have hypglycemia symptoms when I didn't eat fast enough after a meal. Headache, sweating, wobbly legs, disorientation, irritability... now sometimes I eat lunch at 3 and there's no trace of a crash. I still can't skip a meal and feel good, but I expect it will come soon enough.

People have started telling me muscles are showing now in my arms and shoulders. I think this is partly due to the weight I've lost, because it makes them more visible. But this way of eating is supposed to help you bulk up, and I think it's working. And I'm sure the fact that I have more stamina means I can work longer and harder, which in turn means I build up more muscle.

I mentioned stamina... I was nearly always the first one to get tired, visibly, and I used to envy those who could go on and on and on... now, of course, my muscles hurt at some point, they get tired, it's unavoidable. But I still have energy. *I* don't get tired nearly as much. I used to be so tired after a 2 hour taiko lesson that I could barely carry the chairs back in the hall, let alone wash the floors. Now I just grab a rag and go at it without thinking. It was a big surprise the first time I found myself doing that, but now I know it wasn't an anomaly, because it has repeated itself enough times that I know it's a definite change.

When I came back from taiko before, I hurried home to eat before I felt too woozy, took a shower, then slept for an hour. Now I just take a shower, then sometimes I eat right away and sometimes later, and I don't need to take a nap anymore. Of course, I get tired and go to bed earlier on taiko evenings than on regular ones - I'm not a machine ;-)

I've been taking notes about the changes I noticed after I started changing my diet:
1- My sense of smell has gone crazy (one evening I picked up a piece of broccoli, and went whao, I never knew broccoli smelled this strange! it's like I could smell three different layers of smell added on top of each other). The downside to this... perfumes really get to me now, even more than before.
2- I can function well on very little sleep.
3- I don't get hungry much anymore, and I don't crash.
4- I want coffee all the time (this has resolved itself - I think it was just a transitional thing)
5- I like to eat bananas (this has resolved itself partly; I don't crave them anymore, but I still like them more than I liked them before, probably because the sugar they contain doesn't affect me as much as it did before)
6- I think my toenail is healing (I've had something weird about one toenail for years - doctor thinks I probably just hit it at some point, and I've always had doubts)
7- I don't get tired. My muscles get tired and they hurt, but I still have energy to go on, which is wonderful.
8- I'm not nearly as sore the day after a workout than I used to be.

I would really love to check out a Crossfit gym, but I can't see a way to fit it into my schedule, which looks like this:

Monday (free)
Tuesday (free)
Wednesday - taiko practice until 9:30pm
Thursday - Japanese class until 8pm
Friday - Taiko practice (observation) until 8:30pm
Saturday - Taiko practice (observation) until 1pm; often Japanese dance class in the afternoon
Sunday - Taiko class until 12:00

If I want to be able to sleep, at some point... I don't see how it can fit in. Maybe one day I'll figure something out!

There is a taiko event next weekend, we're going to Boston! Food is provided, but it's:
- pastries and bagels in the morning (well, I can eat the cream cheese at least)
- sandwiches for lunch (ditch the bread and it may mean a very small lunch indeed)
- fried noodles, fried rice and sushi for dinner (starches, starches and starches)
So I will be travelling with a cooler; decent breakfasts at least, and protein and fat for the rest of the day. Too bad I can't bring avocados to the U.S... I'll have to try and find some along the way before I get there, or go without!

If you're curious... I can give you links, I can recommend books... It might not be the right solution for you, but it has made an amazing difference for me.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween 2011, photos of the result!

So, after a good night of rest, I'm uploading what you've all been asking for: pictures of the finished dress!

Here's the corset and bustle. When I took the picture, I'd been wearing it (and sitting on it) all day and it had collapsed quite a bit. It was much poofier in the back when I left in the morning! I know you're going to ask the question: how to you sit in a regular chair with this thing? Well,  you just sit and it kind of collapses behind you, you don't even feel it! I'm sure not all Victorian bustles were this way, but the one made with Truly Victorian pattern is and it's such a blessing to be able to sit in a regular chair - after all I wore it to work...

Here's the inside of the bustle. The bones are held by ropes inside so you can adjust the poofiness of the skirt at will, and store it flat, two big advantages in the modern world. I also suspect that the fact I can sit in this thing so comfortably is also due to the inside strings allowing the bones to move independently.

Next layer is the skirt. It's heavily pleated (and longer) in the back, which allowed me to hide my small mistakes (I placed the pattern the wrong way on the fabric and had to make a center seam in the back to fix it). My bustle collapsed slightly during the day so the skirt dragged on the ground in the back.

Next the overskirt goes on. There's not much to say about this layer. It looks much more complex than it actually is and it's easy enough to build.

And finally, the bodice. I think I actually made it a little too big, especially at the top, when I enlarged it (it was originally a little to small), so there wasn't enough tension on the hooks and they tended to pop off. But, as I said before, too big is infinitely better than too small. I put 25 pairs of hooks and eyes on the front of the bodice. This the only part I hated doing. I brought them to work so I could do 3 or 4 every lunch hour, because it's so long and boring to sew.

I styled my hair using tips from Rapunzel's Resource. This girl is amazing. I've had long hair my whole life and doing anything more than a ponytail seemed impossible, but she makes everything look so very simple! I still went for a simple bun instead of something more elaborate because I was really short on time in the morning.

I've had the necklace for a very long time. It's not the right style for the period, but I thought it looked really good with the dress. The bracelet, gloves and earrings I bought at Ardène, as I did the black flower in my hair. I had to fix the earrings to convert them to clips because my ears aren't pierced. The mask is a cheap cardboard mask I bought at Value Village (but they had almost the same ones at the dollar store this year).

I think it worked well. It's the first time total strangers (women, all of them) talk to me in the metro and near the office to tell me now nice they think my costume is. This one was particularly liked by little girls when I was opening the door to give candy (by then I'd removed my mask though, I was afraid it would get deformed by body heat - I'll need to line it with something better than cardboard if I want to wear it for a longer time).

And, finally, here's the decorations we managed to get together after I ran out of time for the giant tree. Sometimes it pays to have a lighting technician as a boyfriend :-)

So, we cut out a small tree out of cardboard (actually, Richard did). And he wants me to insist: doing it this way WAS HIS IDEA! :-)

I like taking pictures of him working :-)

Here's the setup (with an old, real, theater spotlight, and a small Ikea one; the big one being 10 times stronger than the other one, that's the one we put the pale purple colour on).

And here's what it looked like from outside. Not exactly what I was going for, but pretty nonetheless, I think :-)