Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lose Yourself at LUZIA

Over the years, it's been my good fortune to experience an equal measure of international Olympic treks and Cirque du Soleil live shows: Ten each.

The current "big top tour" just arrived locally, and audiences are in for a treat under the grand chapiteau in Atlanta as "LUZIA" performances continue through at least mid-November at Atlantic Station in Midtown.

I'm not into proclaiming favorites, but "LUZIA" easily cracked my personal Cirque Top Five also inclusive of  the mostly-aquatic "O" and mostly naked "Zumanity" in Las Vegas as well as the steam punk-themed "KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities" and bugged-out "OVO" tours of recent years. 

Disclosure: Cirque du Soleil was a PR client'o'mine and the agency teams on which I worked for "Corteo," "KOOZA," "Dralion" and the Immortal Tour celebrating the legacy of Michael Jackson was my fifth client as an independent publicist in 2012.

"LUZIA" takes audiences south of the border to explore an array of personalities, flora and fauna of Mexico's diverse landscapes. As with some of Cirque's other tours, the "guide" or pseudo-narrator is a good-natured and oft astounded clown, this time arriving by parachute to explore and collect experiences.

¡Y qué grandes experiencias comparte el payaso!

Along the trail there are contortionists, acrobats, jugglers (of bowling pins and, in a sports-themed segment true to the region, soccer balls), giant swing and hoop riders and all sorts of other spectacular performers.

For this heterosexual male writer, the troupe of female pole dancers captivated me most; some women who attended had to put their eyes back in their sockets, too, when a Tarzan-like and washboard-stomached male performer dangled and twisted on his rope trapeze through the show's in-venue waterfall.

Did I mention "LUZIA" features water? This show is like one extended scene (yes, that scene) in "Flashdance" with hundreds of gallons of hair-soaked H2O sprayed into the stands by all sorts of hard-bodies.

Que sentimiento.

The soundtrack of "LUZIA" impressed me as well -- Spanish guitar, horns, percussion and haunting lyrics really set the scenes. Always performed by live musicians, one Second Act segment featured a group of percussionists going to town on some of the largest xylophones ever to meet my ears and eyes.

This video showcases some of the great brass and vocal work also on stage.

And as in "OVO" the costumes and puppetry of "LUZIA" are as astonishing as the jungle and desert scenery. The menagerie includes all sorts of insects and creatures del mar, as well as over-sized butterflies, tigers and stallions. Just wait for the trio of cacti.

In a word, "LUZIA" = Excellente.

Photos by Matt Beard for Cirque du Soleil

Monday, September 25, 2017

Wintry Mix At Team USA Media Summit

It's fun to be back in Utah for the first time in four years. 

As in 2013, the U.S. Olympic Committee organized its Team USA Media Summit -- now underway through Wednesday in Park City -- to introduce reporters to more than 100 Olympians and Olympic hopefuls looking ahead to the 2018 Winter Games at PyeongChang

Flying into SLC International Airport brought back five-ringed anticipation for a some fun days of networking and gathering story ideas. Driving into the mountains brought a rush of memories from my first visit here in 1997 and, of course, 10 days here during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. 

It's always fun to pull off Interstate 80 and spot the ski jumps, then pull into downtown Park City, the village that in some ways remains as decked out for the Games as it was 15 years ago.

The biggest surprise so far: SNOW in September! 

A few miles up the slopes from Salt Lake City, a blizzard welcomed my rental Toyota, and most of the evergreens in and around the city have a great coating of fresh powder. 

Only two weeks ago I was taking sun at Sandy Hook's beaches in New Jersey, juxtaposed with a snow and fog gondola ride up one of the Rocky Mountain's greatest ski resorts.

Day one's press conferences and athlete or official interview opportunities included (as of early Monday afternoon) the U.S.O.C.'s top brass and announcements, a briefing by the PyeongChang committee's media operations team, a star-filled stage featuring top U.S. female ski and snowboard champions, and roundtables with athletes from biathlon, bobsled, speedskating and Para nordic disciplines. 

Enjoyed getting reacquainted briefly with Elana Meyers Taylor, a fellow Georgian and Olympic silver and bronze medalist who got married since her trip to Sochi. She also provided the welcoming remarks at a Sunday evening mountainside party to kick off the Media Summit. 

Also enjoyed a follow up conversation with Mikaela Shiffrin, first interviewed at the last Winter Olympic Media Summit before she went on to win gold in Sochi. We talked briefly about how her P.R. savvy and ability to speak "on message" evolved in recent years. 

I'll post more specifics from these and other athlete interviews in the days and weeks ahead on the road to PyeongChang. For now, it's time for some USA Hockey and USA Luge Q&A.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Lost & Found In Summer 2017

Like Hillary Rodham Clinton in her new and excellent autobiography, as autumn 2017 begins, I'm still sorting out "What Happened" in recent months.

With the Team USA Media Summit starting Monday in Park City, Utah, and a last-minute flight booked from Atlanta to Salt Lake City confirmed Saturday night, it's time to get back in the saddle and write up the Olympic Rings again. 

But first, some Other Things.

Any friend who would listen during recent months knows that last October, after a New York film screening at which Michael Moore spoke to the audience, I met a smaaaart, funny, politically-motivated, curious, kind and beautiful woman while crossing a rainy 56th Street in Manhattan. This younger polyhistor knocked my socks off!

Long story short, we kept in touch through the wires, shared a couple of winter-spring reunion visits (including one upon my return from Paris in May), and eventually traveled together to Chicago, Washington, Long Island and Connecticut while also visiting each other's home bases in Brooklyn, Atlanta and northern New Jersey. 

I could have and should have written many more experiences of summer 2017 -- some Olympic, most not -- had my attention and energy remained on task. 

It didn't. And out of respect for another's privacy and my own, folks won't be reading why (at least not on this blog ... let's just say a potential doozie of a screenplay and book are on the table -- suggestions for a literary agent are welcome as only one comes to mind).

I went little crazy, and got lost. With the help of family and my closest of friends, things are getting back on track. Here's a guy with issues. The array of summer experiences, for better or worse (well, mostly for the better) shed some new light on how to fix them. 

The imagined but unwritten posts June to now include more about Paris, reviews of Glenn Close in "Sunset Boulevard" on Broadway and "Hamilton" at last experienced in The Windy City, a U2 concert at Soldier Field, museum visits to The Met, MoMA, Chicago Art Institute, Cincinnati Museum of Art and the High, sunburn in East Hampton and a D.C. hotel rooftop on the Fourth of July, an all-time Top Five meal at Café Spiaggia, and experiencing world-class tennis and the solar eclipse in Ohio.

A nice surprise in June was the invitation to attend Intel's Olympic sponsorship announcement at Rockefeller Center. 

Discovering a love of exercise, improved diet, weight loss (14 lbs. and counting since July 6) and the joy of cycling also made the summer list. Just no posts.

And the recent five-ringed wins by Paris and Los Angeles for the 2024 and 2028 Olympiads, respectively, were welcome news on which I dwelt but did not scribe except for this post mentioning the IOC's initial announcement finally made official last week.

But I do want to write about one shared experience since its inclusion of filmmaker Moore sort of bookends the summer October 2016 and spring/summer 2017 experiences. It was definitely not "the end" but "the beginning of the end" in my mind with regards to my Garden State-born buddy. 

Opening night of previews for Moore's stage performance of "The Terms of My Surrender" on Broadway took place on Friday, July 28, a lovely pre-serotinal evening that proved to be, at once, extremely frustrating and the launch of a concatenation that still perplexes me two months later. 

I bought a pair of tickets to "Terms" after reading an early report on its inspiration and creative process. It sounded like a fun way to experience Moore again, only this time -- as a gift to my friend -- accompanied by the fellow fan who walked into my life on the October evening that included Moore last year (you see, in our first conversation my friend and I talked about Moore, Hillary, the Obamas, activism and other left-leaning topics in some detail, and it delighted me to find a kindred spirit in politics and our brands of collecting experiences). 

In spite of her strengths, my friend's on-time track record proved to be lousy. I was lucky if she showed up less than two hours late to any one outing we shared.

So on the approach to July 28, we discussed the importance of an early arrival, theater attire and the like. And it was reassuring to read texts with her promises there'd be "no chance" and "no way [she'd] be late for Moore" and the like. 

Optimism reigned. Not only for her pending arrival on the big night, but also for Moore's writing and performance. The New York Times published a piece on preview eve with some encouraging words that suggested a good time might be had by all in attendance. 

Fuck. It wasn't. And, goddamn it, my friend showed up 75 minutes late -- with a bundle of lame and never-confirmed excuses (launching many hunches). I had even built-in an extra pre-curtain hour for a cushion of time, only to be ... foiled again! UGH!

Save a late night meal down the street from the theater, and Moore signing autographs after the show, things were mostly a bust. I spent most of the stage presentation simply fuming in my seat.

Moore posted a video with a bit of his own take after the first night (blogger and guest cameo at the 1:50 mark).

For Michael's part, the show provided a few early moments of promise. When his opening albeit awkward stand-up set shifted to a scene of the filmmaker "unpacking" an array of Trump-inspired airport security troubles, the biggest laughs and audible gasps came when a banned Middle Eastern immigrant popped up out of this suitcase as the visual punchline.

It also was interesting, but not particularly big on laughs, to learn some of Moore's early career achievements in activism. And a positive takeaway -- that any individual may inspire change for the better -- was a message received. There just wasn't much later in the show that proved memorable nor worth writing about further. The evening's celebrity cameo, whom Moore interviewed about current events, was a dud.

The Times' critical review nailed it on other aspects of the show. For a die-hard Moore fan, this could be your bag, baby. For anyone looking to drop $100 or more for a night out on Broadway, take time to find "Book of Mormon" as an alternative (this particular Tony winning show is top of mind writing from a hotel room near "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" in "Oo-tahh").

It took the rest of that late July weekend and the dog days of summer for other relationship particulars to unfurl. Incomplete or simply false information, and plenty of little things, made for some unraveling, revelations and lessons learned. I acknowledge and accept responsibility for my part. Not sure that's going on at the other end of the line.

Blah, blah, blah. Done.

The optimist in me believes the friend mentioned in this post is out there working as hard on her self-improvement projects as this guy is.

The realist in me believes it more likely there's just been "more of the same" running around and procrastination as in June through August. She's better than that and knows it. Get busy working and living is my wish -- I'm not the first to suggest this. And in spite of all that rolled out on our penultimate and last visits, envisioning I'd willingly still offer an ear and support, amics para siempre-style, after a much needed breather. Missing the good parts.

The romantic in me hopes time heals all wounds and something just like this may be possible again, if not with this nuked friendship then with someone with a similar potential for joie de vivre.

The writer and PR pro in me says extensive uphill road work is ahead with a smoother ride and blue skies further down the road.

Lord Huron's lyrics to "The Night We Met" kind of summarizes things.

More to follow from the summit.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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