Friday, June 6, 2014

The Awkwardest Show on Earth

The rest of the school year has gone by more quickly than this week.  Seriously.  I don't know if it's because finals have robbed me of my favorite students or what, but this week couldn't go by any slower.  And at its end?  A graduation that left me utterly cold.  It was a very well-done affair, and went off without a hitch, but I didn't feel connected to it at all.  I taught half the graduates over the last two years, but whether at the actual ceremony or at the dinner, none of them actually had anything to say to me.  A different group of graduates - affectionately known by some of their teachers as "the Shrews" - was warmer than that.  But this was probably my fault - I wasn't on the graduation committee, and it's possible that they felt that all of the hard work I did for the art program this year wasn't for them.  Whatever the case may be, it's over, and in less than two weeks I'll be flying off to Lake Khuvsgul, from whence I will trek out into the Mongolian hinterlands in search of the Tsataan - an ethnic group of reindeer herders living in the taiga on the Russian border.  So roll on, summer.
I've been to the circus in UB six times now, and every show's been different.  But whether it's the presence of animals, the caliber of performers, or the narrative quality of the show (Fire Legend is still my favorite!), there are acts in common.  Contortionism.  Acrobatics.  Clowns.  The usual.  Well, the Little Stars' Miracle circus we saw last week was truly unique.  It was a Russian circus (a fact that Engrish mourned when she figured it out at the show, because she is supposed to be boycotting all things Russian) and all the performers are midgets.  Or, as Blondie likes to call them, "small friends."  And let me tell you, our driver, Enkhaa, got a big laugh out of imagining us two Amazons at a midget circus.
GAME OF THRONES SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  In the fifth book, Tyrion gets captured and sold into slavery as a dwarf performer.  If the jousting midgets at his wedding made you uncomfortable, you can probably only imagine how humiliating his life as a performer must have been.  I cringed while I was reading it.  I probably should have realized than an actual dwarf performer circus would be no less awkward, but it took being in the crowd to realize it.  According to InfoMongolia, this is the world's only famous dwarf circus, and they were last here twenty years ago.  According to Engrish, Blondie, and I, these are the same performers.  They were not we've come to expect at the circus.
There were a lot of animal acts in this circus.  I was looking forward to the cat act, because I once saw a really good one on Youtube.  However, most of the stunts the cats did were things cats do naturally, such as weave between your legs while you are walking and climb up and down over things.  The thing that cats do NOT do naturally - jump through flaming hoops - the first cat wouldn't do.  He had a "F#(@ THIS $4!7!!!" look on his face.  The second one went ahead, but by then, the flames were almost out.
The clowns were probably the best act.  I giggled hysterically when one of them brandished a live rat at the audience, stuck it back inside his jacket, and then pulled out a fake one that he threw at the audience.  The most hysterical part though was when they stole Blondie's purse.  They'd done a disappearing act where one clown waved the blue curtain while the other one made balloons "disappear" into his pants.  He then came around the audience to give the balloons away...and stopped in front of Blondie (okay, he actually gave me the eye, but apparently he decided that my backpack was too much trouble).  He gave her his - as Blondie dubbed it, "clown crotch balloon," then snatched her purse and ran back into the ring, where he repeated the trick with her purse.  She may have been a little traumatized, mostly because she knew she couldn't throw her fake leather Target purse into the wash.
And then there was the act that traumatized me - midget belly dancers.  It was a little bit creepy - there was a bit of an ick factor because one of the male performers was wearing a turban and sitting there watching them before putting one of them in a box and sticking swords into her.  It also wasn't very good.  Belly dance no matter what your size is, and perform no matter what your talent may be, but if you're gonna take your show on the road, improve it.  I realize they're circus performers, not professional dancers, but it kind of bothered me that they put on cheap costumes and just shimmied.  Give me something that will dazzle me.

Just like last year's circus for children's day, this year's finale ended with bears.  Blondie and Engrish were a little concerned about our front row seats, envisioning the bears coming past and deciding that some plump, juicy white meat sounded nicer than the snacks that their trainers were handing out, but this didn't happen.  Instead we got to see bears riding bikes.  Bears playing basketball.  Bears proving they are smarter than your kids (yeah - they are).  And...yeah.  This happened.  Bears who get excited about their jobs.  'Nuff said.

I won't say that this was the most surreal night of my life, because I've seen some crazy shit, man, but it's up there.  I think the absolute normalcy that it was presented with is what made it so bizarre.  If they'd played up the weirdness, it wouldn't have been so awkward.  Maybe I'm a terrible person for wanting them to take what they are and run with it, but hell, I want everyone to take what they are and run with it, make it work for them, so I suppose that's not too discriminatory.  At any rate, it was an experience, and one that got a big reaction out of my students when I mentioned it the next day.

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