Brisbane. Tuesday, 10.20pm
Oh, come on… On stilts? You have to be joking.
Two large men in Indian-type attire (epaulets and turbans) are standing on a metal construction two metres from the ground. They’re ready to jump.
I’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance before. I have, however, seen a lot of other live shows: music, poetry, comedy, circus, burlesque, pole dancing… I’m a performer myself and have always been attracted to the stage. (Some say it’s an ego thing; I say it’s exactly the opposite: not an inflated sense of self but rather a deep insecurity that drives me to seek the approval of others.)
I have seen a lot of live shows, but this is something else. This show exemplifies everything I love about live performance. The connection between performer and audience is not digital. It’s face-to-face book. No phone, internet or reception required. Just presence (and popcorn).
Actually, this show epitomises everything I love about humanity. (Yes. I do love humanity. Not all of it, sure, but a lot. Okay, some…) There is skill and celebration, empathy and comedy – but most of all, there is that unique thing that makes us human: the awareness of our mortality. (This drives the celebration, the comedy and the empathy.)
From when house lights dimmed and only the blue light of a hundred phones pricked the darkness of the big top like unblinking stars, there was an electricity in the air. The performers and the audience both sucked it in. There was communion, a shared experience. A buzz. This is what happens when humans get together.
Okay, not always. Sometimes when humans get together, you get war, climate change or religion. But here is not a posse of politicians or priests; here are humans.
The two big blokes, standing shoulder to shoulder atop the tower, exchange glances. They’re about to jump onto the teeterboard below them. For those of you not in the circus know, a teeterboard is that seesaw thing that acrobats use to get height. Someone – or in this case, two someones – jumps from the metal tower onto one end of the teeterboard which sends the someone standing on the other end (the flyer) flying high. I did this once with my sister in a playground at Gympie. She went really high. (Three-year-olds don’t weigh much.)
I peek guiltily at my sister sitting beside me. She’s wearing the same eyebrow-raised, mouth-opened look of expectancy she wore just before I jumped from the slippery slide onto the seesaw way back then. I wonder if she remembers.
I should apologise to my sister for jumping onto the seesaw. I mean, it wasn’t an accident. I meant to do it. She was just sitting there, distracted by children screeching on the swings, when she should have been looking at me. Hell, I was about to slide down the slippery slide on my stomach. Forwards. But she wasn’t even looking at me.
So I jumped.
The men jump.
The thing is (the two men hit the teeterboard) the flyer is wearing stilts. Yes, stilts. And they’re long stilts. He is catapulted roofwards, his stilts tracing somersaults against the big top’s canvas.
I’m not generally given to involuntary sounds – apart from a sigh on election day, a groan at orgasm and a smacking of lips at sunset’s first sip – but a gasp escapes me as the spinning stiltster reaches his apex and starts his descent to ground, where only a mattress awaits him.
My sister is shrieking – a similar sound to that which she made as she flew into the jacaranda tree all those years ago – as the stilted flyer nails a perfect landing on the mattress. Stilts first, legs unbroken, standing. Not even a stumble.
People. They’re great.