No Limits on Adventure – Celebri!

You may have heard about it in passing but just what is a Celebri?

From the Italian, Celebri! is a coming together of friends to celebrate Cirque du Soleil in various geographical settings. By supporting a small reunion multiple times a year, Celebri! desires to ensnare the jubilant, ecstatic, and euphoric feelings that well up inside each avid Cirque du Soleil fan and nurture that festivity into a joyous and wonderful occasion with friends and fellow fans alike.

And for just over a year now, Rich Alford and I have hosted five such Celebri’s around the world. Each event is different, complete with its own soul and tale to tell. Experience with us now the tales of the first five Celebri outings in New York City, New York; San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Seoul, South Korea.

# # #

Celebri! NYC: “Au Noveau Yorque ”

WHERE: New York City, New York (USA)
WHAT: Cirque du Soleil’s Wintuk & More!
WHEN: Nov.09.2007 – Nov.12.2007

Celebri’s genesis found its ignitive spark a few short weeks prior to its inaugural run in another Cirque-oriented gathering that both Rich and I are part of (and coordinated): CirqueCon 2007: Orlando!

CirqueCon, as you may or may not know, is an assembly of “Cirque Passionates” that found its light on Saturday, May 22, 2004 when 30-plus fans of Cirque du Soleil, from across North and Central America, descended upon the city of Vancouver to celebrate the return of Quidam, which had just delighted audiences in Japan for more than a year. The meeting was so successful that CirqueCon continued and visited Montreal in 2005, Las Vegas for 2006, Orlando in 2007 and Tokyo for 2008.

It was during CirqueCon 2007: Orlando that whispers of getting together again soon in a smaller, more intimate fashion began to find its voice. And thus Celebri was born. We chose New York City for its food, for its sights, for its people and most importantly, for Wintuk – Cirque du Soleil’s newest resident production (at the time). It was perfect.

So, on November 8, 2007, we descended upon the Big Apple and what an amazing time it was! Rich, Nicole (my girlfriend) and I boarded the 7-train at Lowry/41st-Street from Long Island City the following morning and made our way into Manhattan to begin a day of discovery and exploration.

Our day started down at the Circle Line docks for a little journey to the Statue of Liberty. If there’s one thing you have to see when visiting the Big Apple, it is lady Liberty. Many know that the Statue of Liberty was a gift to the United States by France in 1886 to commemorate the centennial of the United States’ Declaration of Independence from Great Britain and the friendship our two nations established during the American Revolution. She stands triumphantly out there in New York Harbor, lighting the way to the land of prosperity, and if you miss the opportunity to see her (whether in good weather or bad), you’ll be really disappointed. So, even though the weather was not the greatest (it wasn’t too cold and windy like last time I visited the island – man, I nearly froze my lips off! – but it wasn’t clear blue skies and sunny either), I just had to take Rich and Nicole over. And with monument passes in hand, we even got an inside peek! It is unfortunate though that you can no longer make the trek to the observation gallery at the crown.

After Ms. Liberty, it was no holds bars for the rest of Manhattan.

Continuing our adventure northward, we made a stop in the financial district – There’s Wall Street itself, which is both a street and a neighborhood, that’s the home to America’s financial industry. You’ll find the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the NASDAQ index, American Stock Exchange (AMEX), the Mercantile Exchange (MEX) and The Board of Trade for New York all within the area. Of course the most famous (or infamous) is the New York Stock Exchange building at the corner of Wall and Broad streets and the Federal Hall. Historians may know that it was on this very spot that George Washington, our first President, was inaugurated and just a few months later, where the Bill of Rights was passed. Even Wall Street’s name can be traced back to the original New Amsterdam settlement where the road served as its boundary and then later as the location of an actual fortified wall!

Fans of Disney/Touchstone’s “National Treasure” film starring Nicholas Cage may recognize the phrase “Heere at the Wall” and follow the clues to Trinity Church, which sits on the corner of Broadway and Wall Street. Like much of New York City, the church is steeped in rich history. It is a full service Episcopalian parish that began services on site in 1698; however, the church you see today is not the original – it’s actually the second reconstruction! The first burned down in the Great New York City Fire of 1776 and the second was demolished after the structure buckled under heavy snowfall in 1839. Today’s church was built in 1846 and has stood since (believe it or not, at one time this was the highest building in New York City!). If you stick around long enough you may even hear its bells chime. There are 23 of them in its tower, each weighing 2700 pounds. And, no, there’s not a secret passage to huge underground chambers containing large amounts of treasure… not that I can say, really.

Part of the Financial District legacy is, of course, Ground Zero – the site of the World Trade Center tower remains. It’s a story that virtually everyone knows so there’s no since in re-iterating it again; however, suffice it to say, it’s always a solemn reminder of that ghastly day and seeing it was important.

After a brief walk-by of the famous Brooklyn Bridge, we descended beneath the city to traverse the subway lines through to Rockefeller Center. It’s a massive complex of buildings located in Midtown Manhattan between 48th and 51st streets, and between 5th and 7th avenues. Founded in 1939 by John D. Rockefeller Jr., it is here you’ll find the home of NBC with many of its famous studios right on site. Atop this building is an observation deck (open to the public) called “Top of the Rock”, which offers commanding views of Midtown, Downtown and Central Park. Radio City Music Hall (home of the Rockettes) is nearby as is Carnegie Hall, the city’s prestigious concert venue. Although exciting in their own right, these pale in comparison to the main attraction at Rockefeller Center during the holidays – the Christmas tree and ice skating rink.

Here at 42nd Street and Park Avenue is the reverent and ever popular Grand Central Station, or should I be exactly correct and say Grand Central Terminal. One of the more recognizable landmarks in this vast City, Grand Central Terminal is a wonder of size (it occupies an area of 48 acres!). It is the largest train station in the world by platform count (you’ll find 44 platforms beneath the bustling streets consisting of 67 tracks), and has about 103 inhabiting businesses (the oldest of which is Oyster Bar, which opened there in 1913. Grand Central is a busy thoroughfare throughout the day, but if you’re ever through, take a moment to stop in. The ceiling offers a breathtaking view of the universe via Skyscape (as painted in 1912 by French artist Paul César Helleu), and the four-faced clock – each of the faces is Made of Opal! Step outside and look over the façade facing 42nd Street and you’ll find the world’s largest example of Tiffany stained glass.

And, like the Statue of Liberty, no trip to New York City is complete until you’ve stepped foot in Time’s Square amongst the flashing lights, busy streets and humanity that is The Big Apple. It’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the entire city and truly doesn’t need an introduction. As you can see, by the end of the afternoon I had Rich and Nicole dizzy from all the sights and subway rides.

We calmed things down later on in the evening when we and the rest of the Celebri group all assembled at the corner of 6th Avenue and 36th Street for a wonderful meal at Keen’s Steakhouse, a chophouse as famous for its muttons as it is for its collection of clay smoking pipes on display in every nook and cranny of its ceiling. Keen’s turned out to be a fantastic, classy establishment that teetered just on the edge of eclectic (just the way we like it!). And while they might be famous for their muttonchops, it was the Prime Filet Mignon that had my mouth watering. MmmmMmm!

Then we hit Wintuk at Madison Square Garden – our reason for coming to New York City in the first place. WINTUK is an enchanting winter tale about a boy and his quest for snow and adventure. The boy lives in a city where the arrival of winter has brought long shadows and intense cold – but no snow! He interacts with a cast of high energy urban street characters; but when the snow does not arrive, he embarks on a quest with three companions – a female shaman who’s lost in the city, a shy man destined to discover his courage and the shadow of a young girl – to find the snow and bring it back to where it belongs. Through Charivari, Slack Wire, Juggling, Rola-bola, Rag Doll, Inner Tubes, CyrWheel, Hoops, Acrobatic Swiss Balls, Aerial Straps, and Russian Bars, we sat astounded (or confused, you pick). Two and a half hours later, Wintuk came to a snow-filled close. By then it was late in the evening, but who said we had to call it a night? New York is the city that never sleeps, right? So we hit Times Square for an after-show dessert and coffee party!

Even though the stagehands union strike put the kybosh on our plans to see Disney’s “The Lion King” on Broadway, Cirque du Soleil’s Wintuk still tickled our hearts. Everyone seemed to have a grand time at Keen’s steakhouse (and we must all thank the Metzger’s for picking up the tab for us), at Wintuk and at Junior’s afterwards for cheesecake (yum, yum, yum!). I also like to extend my personal thanks to Heather and Jim for their kindness in inviting us out to dinner Sunday night and for taking the time out of their personal lives to be our nighttime tour guides (driving us from Uptown to Downtown and from the Bronx to Queens). It was great fun!

Celebri! SFO: “Koozå Palooza”

WHERE: San Francisco, California (USA)
WHAT: Cirque du Soleil’s Koozå & More!
WHEN: Nov.30.2007 – Dec.02.2007

“Turn here!”
“Right here!!”

It’s been a right, full day here in the “City by the Bay”, and it seems sad that it must come to an end so soon. Less than 20 days after holding our first event in New York City, Rich and I touched down on the west coast of the United States for “Koozå Palooza”, the moniker given to our gathering of friends in San Francisco for Cirque du Soleil’s newest touring production, Koozå. While it’s mostly been just the two of us, our friends Rafael & Angelica Serrano (and kids) from Tijuana, Mexico came out to join us for dinner. And we’ve had a blast since!

Of course, we’ve had our trials too.

Touring the city with a flummoxed GPS system tends to do that. And Rich is not too fond of my quick navigational changes, as the above conversation snippet attests to. But beyond that we’ve really had a great time here in San Fran – touring the sights, enjoying each other’s company, having good times with friends and taking in Cirque du Soleil. That’s what Celebri is all about!

Of course, Cirque du Soleil isn’t the only draw here – there are at least three things you must do when you come to San Francisco: 1) Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, 2) Take a ride on a Cable Car and 3) Visit Fisherman’s Wharf on the Embarcadero. And we did all three.

The Golden Gate Bridge is a monumental testament of know-how and ingenuity that has become the quintessential symbol of the city itself since it was completed in 1937. Naturally a traveler such as me would want to gaze upon its deep orange hues and marvel at the sheer beauty of its construction – as close up as possible. On my last visit to San Francisco (which happened to be my first), I came no closer to the famed bridge than the waterfront near Fisherman’s Wharf – there just wasn’t enough time! – So this time I wanted to be sure I got a close up look. And took Rich on a ride in the hills! Psst, here’s a little secret: while getting a glimpse of the bridge from its designated viewing platform on the San Francisco side provides great views of the bridge, drive over to Marin County side and take trip into the Marin Headlands. This region is part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area and while you may find the roads small and winding, the vistas commanded here are so spectacular, I am at a loss for words.

Another secret: drive up there at night!

The Cable Cars too offer a unique treat for visitors and it’s probably my most favorite feature of San Francisco. There’s just something about hanging out the side of the car as it speeds down Hyde Street, air rushing past your ears, with Alcatraz looming off in the distance, that’s thrilling beyond words. Ding! Ding! Did you know there are three lines in operation today? The Powell-Hyde line, the Powell-Mason line and the California Street line are the only ones left in public use. The most ridden, and perhaps the most famous of these lines, is the Powell-Hyde line, which runs from Powell/Market Street down to the waterfront near the San Francisco Maritime Museum. Here tourists (like us) can take this line through the heart of downtown to such sights as Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the world), Ghirardelli’s (world-famous Chocolatier), Hard Rock Café (which is a favorite of Rich’s) and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Fisherman’s Wharf is probably the quintessential tourist destination in San Francisco because anything you want can be found there: from seafood to sea-salts and everything else in between. Especially on Pier 39, where you can shop for puppets, sea salt soaps, Babushka dolls from Russia, socks, herbs, crystal, taffy and fudge. I highly recommend the fudge at Chocolate Heaven; it’s to die for. And the little chocolate cable cars are cute too! Oh, and don’t mind the seals — they like it there (even if the establishment’s owners don’t!)

We caught up with the Serrano’s here at the Wharf, sat down and had dinner at Hard Rock Café before heading off to Koozå. It was the first time we had met the shy Serrano children, but it was warming to see Rafael and Angelica again. They’re such classy people and good friends. Sharing a meal with them is like being with family. You just can’t go wrong with that!

Before long it was time to enter the grand chapiteau for Koozå. Koozå, whose name is inspired by the Sanskrit word “koza,” meaning “box,” “chest” or “treasure,” tells the story of a melancholy loner (The Innocent) in search of his place in the world taken on a journey through strength, fragility, laughter, turmoil and harmony. “Koozå is also about human connection and the world of duality, good and bad,” says the show’s writer and director David Shiner. “The tone is fun and funny, light and open. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s very much about ideas, too. As it evolves we are exploring concepts such as fear, identity, recognition and power.”

Consequently, it was our third time catching the show since its inception; Rich and I had traveled to Montréal the previous April to see the show take its first tentative steps. While in this French enclave of Canada, we had a few crapes, met a couple friends, and even chatted with the director of the show: David Shiner (we even gave him one of Rich’s signature buttons, which Mr. Shiner proudly wore!) While we’d likely not see anyone special at the show or have interactions of any kind with the cast and crew, we had a great time ever-the-less
and answered some of our most pressing questions about the show in the process — would it be as fun a few months later?

The answer? An overwhelming yes!

Celebri! SEA: “un funerale a Seattle!”

WHERE: Seattle, Washington (USA)
WHAT: Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo & Teatro Zinzanni
WHEN: May.02.2008 – May.04.2008

Any time Cirque du Soleil rolls into the Seattle area, Keith Johnson and Rich Alford, good friends and fellow CirqueCon conceptors who live in the area, get a group of friends and family together to see the show. Usually one or the other hosts a pre-show party at their house before-hand, inviting Cirque fans and friends over for drinks and tapas to kick-start a festive mood. For Dralion in 2002 and Alegría in 2004, Keith hosted the gathering at his place; for Varekai in 2006 the party shifted to Richie’s Le Petite Chapiteau. And when Corteo rolled into Seattle in May 2008, Rich once again hosted at his yellow-colored bachelor pad in Bothel, north of the site in Marymoor Park. There he had set up for us a wonderful menu of Tapis Rouge proportions! It was the promise of a wonderful adventure…

On Friday, I spent most of my time with Heather and Jim (CirqueCon alums from New York’s Long Island) GeoCaching around the city (my first experience) and seeing the sights this town had to offer. Our first search took us to Kubota, a Japanese gardens in a residential area of town. There we hunted (and found) a multi-cache by gathering the information requested from the gardens’ guide and using those answers to calculate the cache’s final location GPS coordinates. With the flowers in bloom, and a crisp, cool morning air, meandering around the gardens was definitely a treat. And I took some good pictures to boot! The second cache was a quickie along side the highway, which ended up being more trouble than it was worth (for me that is, Heather and Jim loved climbing in the underbrush on the hill-side and traipsing through the woods…). We found it, though, and made our way back to the car virtually unscathed. The third, another multi-cache, was hidden at Olympic Sculpture Park, and I must say that I preferred exploring the park in this way. It made the time there very interesting and fun. The sculptures are very abstract (for me) but viewing the pieces while also solving the puzzle was the best way to experience it.

There are many different metallic sculptures down at the park, but a small handful stood out. One, called “Wake”, is a 300-ton structure spanning 125-feet composed of curved steel set within a small rock/sand garden. Although at first you might think of a ship’s looming hull upon first glance, upon closer inspection you might find yourself in the middle of a mountain ridge or perhaps lost in a strange, new world. You’re encouraged to walk amongst the warped structure but don’t touch (although others most certainly have), as this artists wishes for us to participate in his undulating metallic creation. Another, called “Typewriter Erase, Scale X” s exactly as described: an overblown piece of equipment that may have come from our deepest, darkest nightmares (at least of those who may have had to use one of these in the past and remember it “fondly”, smaller version of course). But don’t let the horrors of past usage come to mind, instead, look upon this pop icon fondly: as a harbinger of whimsical folly “like a wild-haired kid on a runaway unicycle” according to the
Seattle Times. I like that much better! In “Love and Loss”, you might first be attracted here by spotting by a rotating ampersand (“&”) symbol and attempt to ascertain what connection it has to the tree, bench and stone tables laid out around it. But if you stake a step back and follow the strips of white paint with your eye, you’ll find the place where love and loss intersect. It’s a poignant piece to reflect on.

Heather, Jim and I even stopped by ground zero of the geo-caching movement – Groundspeak – for an intimate and private tour of the facility, a chance to get at their private stash, and meet one of the founders. Boy was I thrust into the Geocashing world, or what? But I loved it!

The evening was capped off by a wonderful performance of Teatro Zinzanni whereby most sat in attendance, including: Rich, Jim, Heather, Eric, Keith, Lucy, Barb, Shelly, and myself. “A Suitcase Named Desire” was the theme of the show, and here’s a little bit about it: Master illusionist Voronin returns to the tent, his travel-stained trunk bursting with new secrets and surprises. With the help of two mysterious cohorts – the perfectly Parisian contortionist Aurelia Cats and the sexy, snakelike juggler Viktor Kee, Voronin slowly enchants the entire tent. Join us as Madame ZinZanni (London’s West End singing sensation Melanie Stace) and her merry band of waiters, clowns and acrobats including audience favorites trapeze artists Duo Artemiev, rally to defend Teatro ZinZanni in the name of Love, Chaos and Dinner!

Wait, Viktor Kee?

The same Viktor Kee, master juggler, from Dralion?

Yes! And he came over to our table for a while and chatted!

Saturday was spent in and around the Emerald City with Heather and Jim. In the early morning we made our way down to Pike Place Market to catch the flying fish. While there wasn’t any fish-a-flying, I did get a chance to grab an espresso drink at the very first Starbucks store. It was busy, yes, but well worth the time and effort. I’m a fan, what can I say? Later on we took Bill Spidel’s famous Seattle Underground Tour, a trip into the subterranean passages that were once the main roadways and first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle. It was actually very interesting and informative. Who knew Seattle and Walt Disney World had so much in common — it’s built on the “Second Floor” too! Then it was down to the site of the 1962 World’s Fair – Seattle Center – and the Pacific-Northwest’s most prominent landmark: The Space Needle. While neither Heather, Jim or I went up to the observation deck this go-round (I’ve been up before), we did have a good time in the shop trying on funny sun-glasses and taking pictures of ourselves, and wandering about the grounds looking for other micro-caches. (Of course!)

By late afternoon, we were rolling into Rich’s driveway for a wake, er, I mean the Corteo Pre-show party. Master Chef Rich Alford dazzled our taste buds and enlightened our souls with his original, masterful tapas concoctions. Just what was on the menu? Behold! Garlic and Mustard Grilled Filet Mignon, Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Ginger Dipping Sauce, and Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breast with Dijon Dipping Sauce, Thai Chicken Bite with Spicy Peanut Sauce, Filet Mignon Bite on Crostini with Bleu Cheese Sauce, Cream Cheese Empanada with Puff Pastry, Garlic Shrimp Shots, Cream Cheese Brownies, and more!

And food wasn’t the only surprise on the menu — Quidam astonished everyone by making an unscripted, personal appearance! (Hint: It was me!) For Keith Johnson’s Cirque-themed wedding back in August 2002 I played costumed character Quidam, which was as great representation of Cirque’s version. And we like to get him out every now and then…

Many of the CirqueCon crowd were on-hand: Keith Johnson and LouAnna Valentine (from Seattle, Washington), Barb Houde and Shelly Blakeslee (from Missoula, Montana), Rolf and Karen Mogster (from Seattle, Washington), Eric Meadows (from Atlanta, Georgia), Heather and Jim (from Baldwin, New York), and a hand-full of others I had never met before! After feeding heartily, we made our way to the blue-and-yellow swirled Grand Chapiteau where many of the group would be taking in Corteo for the first time.

Excitement coursed through the group the moment our eyes fell upon Corteo’s canvas home. Corteo, which means “cortege” in Italian, combines the craft of the actor with the prowess of the acrobat to plunge the audience into a world of playfulness and spontaneity situated in a mysterious area between Heaven and Earth. Corteo is a grand procession, a festive parade imagined by a clown. Juxtaposing the large with the small, the ridiculous with the tragic and the magic of perfection with the charm of imperfection, the show highlights the strength and fragility of the clown, as well as his wisdom and kindness, to illustrate the portion of humanity that is within each of us. The clown is Everyman, a cunning idiot, a colorful loser who shines a light on all that is difficult and beautiful in life. Corteo evokes the full spectrum of emotion and experience: love, friendship, pain, joy, wisdom, beauty, life and even death. Corteo, a timeless revel in which illusion teases reality.

By the end we were all singing with friendship, love and joy! The weekend was closed out with a fabulous brunch buffet at Salty’s on Alki Beach with Rich, Heather and Jim. It was yummmmmmmmmmmmy!

Celebri! LAS: “beLIEve it!”

WHERE: Las Vegas, Nevada (USA)
WHAT: Criss Angel BELIEVE & More
WHEN: Sep.12.2008 – Sep.14.2008

When Cirque du Soleil announced the premiere date for their newest spectacle in Las Vegas – Criss Angel BELIEVE – Rich and I were all about grabbing tickets to this and other Cirque du Soleil shows as quickly as we could and organize the next Celebri! What better reason do you need to get together with friends and other Cirque du Soleil fans than the premiere of a brand new show, right?

Of course, Rich and I had an ulterior motive – we already had an invite to BELIEVE’s Gala Premiere and after-show party being held on September 12th (which Rich won during CirqueCon 2006 in Las Vegas – I was his “date”), so why not just stay in town and take in other shows? That was the plan when we began the endeavor; however, as you may know delays at BELIEVE pushed the premiere off our weekend and later delays even pushed off the previews — so we never even got to see the show! (We were comp’d Carrot Top instead, who needs no kind of introduction.)

But that doesn’t mean good times weren’t had.

We made the best of some of the more unique attractions that the Las Vegas area had to offer.

Over at the Wynn, which is a fabulously appointed casino-hotel by mogul Steve Wynn (he previously owned Mirage Resorts, which built The Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio), you’ll find its flagship Ferrari-Maserati car dealership. While you have to have a lot of money to own one of these sports cars, it only takes $10 to take a peek at them. They are truly magnificent machines, but don’t touch! Hell, don’t even breathe on them. But if you are so inclined, take a seat in one specially set aside for public use… and smile: you’re on candid camera! While the Wynn is a departure from the Mirage and Treasure Island, you’ll still find a little bit of the Bellagio here. And if you plan to stick around, try Sugar and Ice over in the Esplanade. It has a great selection of comfort foods for lunch (and, yes, gelato too!) Delicious doesn’t even begin to describe this little café!

In an attempt to “get out of the city”, Rich and I took a little road trip to nearby Valley of Fire state park, located 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. As Nevada’s oldest state park, it offers a wealth of history and intrigue for the casual explorer. Many come for the red sandstone formations that give the area its name, but did you know that the area was once inhabited in prehistoric times? The ancient Pueblos (the Anasazi) once called Valley of Fire home, which you’ll find evidence of all around. Including, but not limited too their rock art, which you can view at various pull offs and locations within. It’s a great little day trip to make, and quite picturesque if you like desert locales. Consequently, Valley of Fire state park is often used by the Motion Picture industry. Captain Kirk fell to his death here in Star Trek: Generations and Autobots were seen driving along roadways in Michael Bay’s Transformers film. For a Cirque du Soleil connection, programme photos of Mystère’s characters were shot here and it’s a location where huge cast parties are sometimes held.

Back in town, Madame Tussauds at the Venetian is a cool way to spend an hour or so. At this museum, you can wax poetically with your favorite celebrities, including: the Rat Pack, Diana Ross, Cher, Elton John, Elvis, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Judy Garland, Liberace, Pavarotti, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Wayne Newton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, The Rock, Humphrey Bogart, Hugh Hefner, Jenna Jameson, Patrick Stewart, The Blue Man Group, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford (as Indiana Jones), Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Siegfried & Roy, amongst many, many others. And unlike many other museums where their hands-off policy is strictly enforced, here you’re encouraged to browse, touch and get involved in the scenes. Madame Tussauds at the Venetian truly is a unique Las Vegas attraction.

Looking for something a little more controversial? Try BODIES, the Exhibition at the Luxor if you can stomach it. Rich and I were given free tickets to the presentation due to the BELIEVE schedule debacle, and although Rich chose not to use his, I couldn’t resist – I’d always wanted to see what this was like! For the uninitiated, BODIES showcases dissected human bodies and its multiple systems in various ways preserved through a special polymer process that prevents decay. These are real human specimens, not fakes, which convey the controversial nature of this exhibit; but it’s fascinating! You’ll not only learn about, but see our skeletal system, muscular, nervous and circulatory systems; digestive, respiratory and urinary systems; and, yes, the reproductive system (including fetal development in its various phases). Through successive rooms you’ll find specimens arranged performing various activities (such as basketball, tennis, discus throwing, running, and the like), intestines stretched out from end to end, skulls and skeletons showcasing various medical procedures, the polluted lungs of a smoker, the brain and various arteries and veins. It really is an enthralling display.

And last but not least, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit over at Tropicana offers an interesting experience for those who are fans of the ill-fated ship and its journey. There are more than 300 authentic artifacts on display that have been brought up to sea level from the Titanic herself. You’ll have to traverse a huge portion of the casino and the hotel to get to it, and Jack and Rose won’t be there to greet you upon arrival, but you can see a 1st class cabin, check out a re-creation of the Boiler Room, see sections of the ship’s hull, and go out on deck the evening of the infamous iceberg strike. For a personal connection, you’re handed a boarding pass with a passenger’s name on it that matches your birthday.

Of course, we attended Cirque du Soleil shows as well.

Rich and I had an interesting time over at Zumanity. Neither one of us could get into Eddie, the show’s newest emcee. Eddie took over the role from phenom Joey Arias earlier this year replacing Joey’s raw and sometimes flamboyantly raunchy dialogue with a more toned-down, baby-doll-esque discourse. While definiately adequate, I must say there’s no one who can replace Joey Arias in that role. The show itself was luke-warm at best. Most of the acts were found within and generally enjoyable; however, Aerial Tissue with Alan and Olga (one of my favorites) did not perform, it was replaced by Roue Cyr instead. Jonas Woolverton is the new Cyr Wheel artist and came to Cirque du Soleil from Cirque Eloize. From what I understand (although I’ve not seen the production), Jonas performed the number in Eloize’s “Rain” production.overall we left Zumanity a little limp.

At “O”, we had excellent seats three rows from the front, just on the left-hand side, but were amidst a chatty group of people, which ultimately detracted from our enjoyment of the show. KÀ was dark, unfortunately, so we couldn’t share in the rescue of the twins, but LOVE was on. Regrettably a technical glitch with the rollerblade set automation stopped the show (Help! I need somebody!). The cast took it in stride (as did the audience) but the sudden break was so jarring that I could no longer turn on, tune in, and drop out. The show went on after about 15 minutes, but the mood was forever spoiled.

Over at Mystère something wonderful happened. After so many years of watching others get the opportunity to be placed front and center at a Cirque du Soleil show, I finally got my 15 minutes of fame. There are some within our special group of friends who can lay the same claim, some who have been at the mercy of the Generics in Quidam, or taken hostage by the Les Cons in La Nouba, or even subjected to the pickpocket in Koozå. My friend Rich had this very same honor not but two years previous (almost to the day). He had the dubious honor of claiming 6057, but 6992 was mine – tonight I became an honorary inductee; an official member of… “THE POPPA CLUB!” And it was an experience I will forever cherish.

Besides becoming Papa for the evening, our experiences with Cirque du Soleil at the Luxor were equally exciting, if you can BELIEVE that. For hanging on the outside of the pyramid was a ginormous banner advertising Criss Angel BELIEVE at the hotel and we just had to have a picture, or two, or twelve!

Spotting it from our rental car while driving down the Strip was our first introduction to the huge banner, and in hindsight we probably should have just pulled over at that moment and taken some shots then, but as the rules that govern hindsight go, you don’t realize that until much, much later. Rather we came upon the bright idea of capturing a picture or two of the huge banner upon visiting the Luxor; however, one of the problems with photographing something that is unusually large is that it’s really huge up close. So our first idea was to snap the photo from outside by the obelisk – that was far enough away to get most of the hotel in the camera’s frame.

Or so we thought.

In order to get better shots of the banner (which included all of the pyramid, the sphinx and the obelisk), we needed to get even further back – but the sidewalk was as far as we could go. Not to be deterred, we wondered then, could we get across the street somehow? Upon first glance though there weren’t any traffic lights or cross-walks within easy reach or at least not ones we wanted to walk a half-mile down to just to cross, so what to do?

“Do you think we can make a run for it?”

Can you imagine us sprinting across Las Vegas Boulevard just to get a picture? Sure, why not; we did! And in the process I learned something about Vegas I didn’t know, but should have figured: did you know the grass in the median is not real grass, but Astroturf? Oh yeah! And our pictures turned out great!

Celebri! ICN: “Viva L’Alegría!”

WHERE: Seoul, South Korea
WHAT: Cirque du Soleil’s Alegría
WHEN: Sunday, November 16th, 2008 @ 7:00pm

As co-organizers of CirqueCon we knew that Tokyo would be the destination of choice for our 2008 event, since we also knew of Cirque du Soleil’s scheduled premiere of ZED that year. But what Rich and I didn’t know at the time was how close another famous Cirque du Soleil show would be to Tokyo so when we learned that Alegría would set up stakes in nearby Seoul, South Korea we knew exactly what our next Celebri would be!

After a wonderful, if not tiring, expedition in Japan that took Rich and me from Tokyo to Kyoto, Osaka, Koyasan, Uji, Nagoya, Inuyama, Matsumoto, and Nagoya and back to Tokyo, we left Tokyo bound for Seoul on the 9:20am Korean Air flight touching down in Seoul-Incheon around Noon the afternoon of Sunday, November 16th. Walking into Seoul-Incheon International airport was like walking into EPCOT itself – this airport was truly a wonder to behold. From there it was an hour ride into Seoul proper on the ultra-new (and ultra-clean) A’REX train. And after a jaunt through the efficient Seoul subway, we arrived at Hongik University station, our home for the night.

Keeping with a true traveler’s spirit we opted for a backpacker’s guest house near central Seoul – LEE & NO ( Lee & No is run by a family who are also long-time travelers and they have graciously opened their residence to us and other visitors over the years. As nice as that sounds (and as adequate as the house ultimately was), we were taken aback by the note left for travelers on how to get past their gate security (I mean, who leaves a note telling passersby what the code is?). Once settled, Rich and I turned round and headed out to hit the town to see a few sights. Unfortunately here we ran into a few hiccups.

Don’t attempt the Seoul Tower unless you know exactly what you’re doing.

Namsan Seoul Tower is probably what most travelers think of when they ponder the city’s attractions. And how could you miss it? It measures 777-feet (236-meters) high and rises 1574-feet (479-meters) above sea level. Perched atop Mt. Namesan in the middle of town, it calls as one of the best observatories in the entire city (although it is by no means the only one). Built in 1969, and opened to the public 11 years later, N Seoul Tower features gift shops, restaurants and an unparalleled view of every dong (re: neighborhood) in Seoul. Unfortunately because we didn’t know what we were doing, we popped out of the subway at the wrong station and took a taxi ride up. And boy was that a ride! Around and around the tower we spiraled before we even began the journey up the tree-lined roadway! Little did we know that a cable-car, taken from near the Meyong-dong station (on line 4) would take us directly to the tower? Because of our short-sidedness, we only got to spend a few rushed minutes here, but the view was spectacular!

Getting the taxi driver to understand “Sports Complex” for the ride down, though, was a little more complicated. And not only that, the Jamsil Sports Complex was clear across town and we were about to brave the roads in the middle of rush hour traffic. Would we get there in time? Rounding the corner of the Sport Complex found the white spires of Alegría big top thrusting ever skyward. The grounds were eerily dark and quiet – patrons had not yet begun to arrive (and little did we know at that point attendance for the show would only be about 25%) but we found Heather & Jim already waiting for us there. And we were right on time. Fancy that!

Like a bolt out of life, Alegría thunders into being with an unsociable need to tell its story. It is a story born of the desire for a better world. A stage is set where old age and youth collide, where fantasy and magic are integral parts of everyday life. Alegría, the Spanish word for “joy”, “elation, “jubilation”, and happiness”, is a celebration of life in its most primitive form: survival. Uncertainty surrounds us all in every day life. It’s a “world of contrasts – power and powerlessness, cruelty and kindness.” In our world evil and hardship remain a constant force, but through this uncertainty is the glow of the human spirit. It is unconquerable, resolute in its strength. Alegría celebrates this strength by crying out for change, to shake the foundations of society and force those who control to see the error in their ways — to change. So that together we, as a unified people, can build a better tomorrow.

Settling into our seats in section 200, Row I, the group of us watched intently as Little Tamir took to the stage. His warnings about not using flash photography or cell phones during the show were well met, although he did incite a chuckle out of the audience with his attempt to welcome the group in their native Korean tongue (I guess he misspoke), and just as quickly as he shuffled on stage, he was gone, replaced with three clowns, a bright, white light and the wonderful sounds of Alegría.

And from the very start we received few thrills through exposure to the show’s back-up and alternate acts.

Solo Trapeze took the place of Duo Trapeze and I must say I prefer Solo to the normal Duo performance; Stephanie Gasparoli twisted about the trapeze bar like I’ve not seen in ages — truly a technically strong and visually exciting performance! Trapeze was followed by Fast Track, which was just as poignant as ever, even with a quarter-full big top. Fire Dance followed FastTrack and I was pleased to see that both men (Malli Mafakigi Sumeo and Karl Sanft) came out to give all they could. Hoops/Manipulation was canceled and in its place stood Denys Tolstov’s amazing Hand-balancing act. Both elegant and strong, Denys uses his incredible upper body strength to hold figures and poses on canes of various heights (one is at least a meter or more tall!). And you’ll be amazed when you see him jump down from one to the next using only his hands. Strong Man was also absent from our performance, replaced by a young artist who normally performs in the Russian Bars number. It is said he wished to create his own act and thus learned the art of juggling; however, either by nature of the audience or the number of mistakes made, I was not overly impressed. And, of course, the Snowstorm closed out Act One.

Act Two was sadly devoid of Flying Man (either Aleksandr Dobrynin’s famous number or Aerial Cube, which was performed as an act-in-rotation for Alegría 2 in Japan); after Danse Vazoule the show went immediately into Russian bars, which itself was a very short presentation. I’m not sure what choreography the artists were using but it was neither the latest nor the first (as seen on the DVD). Only a few tricks here and then they were off – I was quite disappointed, as Russian Bars is one of my favorite performances from Alegría! Ulziibuyan Mergen and Oyun-Erdene Senge saved the moment with their slow, fluid movements. Contortionists both; it had been such a long time since I had witnessed both performers I had forgotten how beautiful an act it was – duality truly in motion. High Bar closed out the show as usual.

While I can’t speak for my traveling companions, overall I’d give this performance of Alegría a 3.5 out of 5. There were some bright spots within (such as Solo Trapeze, Hand-Balancing, Fire/Knife Dance and Contortion) but otherwise the absences were greatly missed.

Seoul is very much the international destination it packages itself to be. Getting around the city is as easy here as it is in Tokyo, London, Paris or any other hugely international destination. Its subway announcements are in Korean, Chinese, Japanese and English, which makes getting lost in Seoul a very difficult proposition. Unfortunately our time in Seoul was just under 24 hours, and by the wee hours of the following morning, Rich and I concluded our last Celebri of 2008 and were on our way back to the United States. I’d like to return to Seoul again someday, though, to take on the city at a little slower pace.

# # #

Celebri! is a coming together of family and friends to celebrate our friendship and Cirque du Soleil in various parts of the world. We desire to ensnare the jubilant, ecstatic, and euphoric feelings that well up inside each avid Cirque fan and nurture that festivity into a joyous and wonderful occasion with friends and fellow fans alike.

Through these first five events we’ve had a chance to meet and be with great people who have become fast friends – folks we could call family. And while we don’t always see them at every event we hold, they’re always with us in spirit.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read about Celebri, we’d love to have you at our next adventure. We announce the city and our timetable and all that’s required is for you to set your itinerary and join us. There are no sign-up fees, no restrictions and no limits on fun!

Upcoming Celebri!:

Celebri!: YUL – “À l’Aventure en Montréal”

WHERE: Montréal, Quebec (CAN)
WHAT: Koozå (NYC) & Cirque 2009 (Montréal)
WHEN: Wednesday, April 22nd to Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Join us in the beautiful city of Montréal to witness the premiere of Cirque du Soleil’s latest touring production, tentatively titled “Cirque 2009”! Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Cirque du Soleil at their newest show with the hometown crowd! But first, journey with us to the Big Apple as we take in Koozå under the Grand Chapiteau, at New York City’s Randall’s Island Park and Lion King on Broadway!