Saturday, June 9, 2012

Feats of daring, in circus and story

Look before you leap

Posted by Jon Santiago on Sat, Jun 9, 2012 at 2:56 PM

At first glance, the circus show Traces and Martin Dockery's The Holy Land Experience didn't appear to have much in common other than the fact that I enjoyed each of them immensely. Turns out there's more to it.

Both Traces and Holy Land run on high-octane exuberance, a heedless, no-holds-barred rush to seize and embrace the next shiny object of desire. For Traces, that shiny object hunt plays out as the troupe compete among themselves to see who can jump higher, twist further, dare more. For Dockery, in Holy Land, the shiny object is probably a woman. His competitive spirit is more self-daring, trying to maintain with his new girlfriend a full disclosure policy that allows for the likelihood he may not be strictly faithful to her. Dicey. Dangerous. It's a high-wire act of sorts.

Now, the main difference between Traces and Dockery is how they deal with one simple directive. Look before you leap.

I imagine that a professional acrobat, one who plans on a long career, must have this "Look!" idea deeply woven, rehearsed, right into their neuromuscular structure. Look before you leap is really good advice for somebody about to fling themselves through the air with nothing but very hard, very real consequences for miscalculation.

Dockery's stock in trade — finding interesting material and shaping it into a compelling narrative — needs precisely the opposite approach. A storyteller must be prepared to look after they've leaped. And those very hard, very real consequences of doing so? We call those adventures. In fact, the crappier things get for our hero, the more conflicted and imperiled they get, the more doubtful a happy ending seems, the more we eat it up.

That thrill is the same as the one we get watching acrobats dive through hoops, miscalculate slightly and knock the column of hoops apart. Storytellers do that, too. But when they dive through the hoops and miss, there's no helpful member of the troupe dashing in to put the pieces back together. That healing function, that set up for the next pass, is performed for the storyteller by telling the story as truthfully as it can be told.

Either way, physically or verbally, we love these feats of daring. We love the contact high shared with the lone figure perched so far above us, up there, on that high wire.

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