On Tour With Totem – Brussels, Belgium

The end is near.

Maybe it’s goodbye forever, maybe it’s a temporary break while I complete a degree. Only time will tell if I’ll ever return to the circus stage, and my emotions have been swinging back and forth about it for a while now.

I arrived in Brussels after a long journey, starting in Vegas and moving through Los Angeles and Moscow before reaching my destination. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to Europe. The architecture, the culture, the food, everything is a stark contrast with both Japan and Russia.

Teetering on the cobblestone streets, you quickly realize that the scenes you see in movies of gorgeous Parisian heroines bolting gracefully down alleyways in stilettos, could only be possible through the smoke and mirrors of Hollywood. Quaint buildings line the roads, each architecturally unique and just as beautiful as they are on postcards. The shuttle to work winds left and right, around each corner a new cathedral or grand palace garden.

Brussels has enough reality to keep your head out of the clouds. Watch where you walk or you might step in dog shit. You walk down a street and the stench is so strong you start to wonder what died. It’s dirty. And oh, the three military men walking towards you? They’re all holding machine guns. Pretty soon you change your backpack to one that’s harder to pickpocket, double check every person in the vicinity, and bring your bike up to your apartment instead of leaving it outside. This isn’t Japan anymore.

I arrived in Brussels a day before work started, so a good friend (who also used to be a stage manager on the show) picked me up to show me around Antwerp.

Antwerp is just north of Brussels, and you can get there by train in under 40 minutes. It’s beautiful, bike-able, and has magnificent views – thanks Val!

And of course, we got mussels. They come freshly steamed in buckets bigger than your head. An array of preparations according to your desire, accompanied by a bowl of frites to satisfy every craving.


Back to that bikini…

Now that Totem is in Europe, it returns to big top. ‘Big top’ is different from the ‘fuji dome’ (used in Japan – earthquake proof!) or ‘arena’ (like at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Russia). Instead of the typical blue/yellow tents that Cirque travels with in America, we’re using a big white one. Beautiful, although it could use a good cleaning.  

Areas on site remain the same for the most part, with a bit of rearranging and finagling to accommodate the smaller space. The kitchen team is back (thank god), and there’s a whole new site crew and front of house, a lot of new faces and not quite enough time to learn them all.

The first week back at work was filled with trainings, rehearsals, and integrations. There’s a couple of previews before the premiere on the 7th, all full performances.

On the first dark day, a few of us popped over to Amsterdam.

It’s a bit surreal to close your eyes on a train and wake up in a different country, a feeling i’d like to get used to. It’s the veil of freedom, that at any hour you can decide to leave, go somewhere unknown, be someone else.

The city layout is beautiful. Canals spread out like rings on a pond, the focus at central station. Small shops adorn every bend and turn, cafes and coffee shops bursting with customers, happiness twinkling in their eyes.

However, 7 hours in a new city isn’t enough for me. I’ll be back someday.

I’m trying not to count down the days, unsuccessfully. On one side people ask, “when is your last day?” or, “when do you leave?” to which I want to reply, ‘too soon.’ On the other side the excitement and anticipation of a class of students ready to attend Stanford. They eagerly post, “only __ more days!” and, “I can’t wait to get back on campus!” Events that aren’t happening soon enough.

It’s an uncomfortable in-between, two drastically different lives pulling at you from each end, emotionally, physically, mentally. I know that time will not stop and leave me in this limbo, I’ll eventually reach the other side and continue on with my life. But it seems never-ending, each day stretching longer, and longer, to let me feel every moment of it.

I wonder why it is so difficult to stay present in an action when you know change is just around the bend. Each day is the same, go to work, put on makeup, warm up, and do the show. It was the same in Japan, in Russia, and here in Belgium. Why do I now have to actively remind myself to focus, to perform well, to step on stage with intention? I don’t want to do it anymore, while simultaneously never want my last performance to come.  

Tonight is the big European premiere.

A few days left.

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