Last night I had dinner with two acrobats, Alicia and David Gray. This engaging couple are stopping in Nice as the only two acrobat performers in the current Holiday on Ice show called SPEED.
We were offered free tickets to SPEED, so three of us attended the show at the Nikaia on Friday. There we were fascinated to find DAvid and Alicia as a featured act floating above the ice rink. The free tickets had come from Alicia's father who went to High School with Jeanne so we met up for a few minutes after the show to introduce ourselves.
No more pastel costumes and serene ice waltzing of yesteryear for the new HOliday on Ice. Now we have motorcycles and ramp jumping, elaborate go-go dance numbers, skaters on stilts, fireworks, fire wands, ice races and audience participation. And with all this glitz, come some quite dazzling performers as well. (I am in love with the male skater from Chicago, a Mr. Wade, for one. )
But Sunday being the end of the run in Nice, David and Alicia agreed to let us take them out for an authentic nicoise meal in the old town.
On the way over we had been talking about what it means to get a good hamburger in Europe, so David's face fell as I gleefully read off the first three offerings on the menu posted outside the restaurant: sheep testicles, tripe and veal kidneys, not to mention "merde de can" gnocchi later found on the menu. ( Yes, that's Dog shit in Nicois, a joke on the way the gnocchi with stew sauce looks) Of course we found some wonderful ravioli, stuffed zucchini flowers and other nicoise treats that pleased everyone and settled in for a fun evening of story swapping.
Alicia 28, and David 32, are as genial and charming as they look and aside from their good looks and toned bodies, there are no special give-aways about their profession. It is somehow amazing to find that they are American acrobats...a rare species. So how did they begin?
What started it all off for Alicia, a Californian, was a "coup de foudre" for circus camp when she was aged eight. When she got home from the camp week, she kept taking lessons. Her dad was not pleased when years later she announced that she wanted to make acrobatics her life's work but her parents have changed their mind now that they see that the two are happy and have made successful careers for themselves.
David, from Champagne , Illinois got his start with school gymnastics and went from there to the Circus Center in San FRancisco where he met Alicia. Just like an acting career, very few in America are able to make circus performance into a substantial job. One needs to have a "savoir faire" about how to market and sell your act and this is not taught at the circus school, they claimed.
Asked how long a acrobatic career lasts, the couple felt that with careful selection of acts and no accidents along the way they could keep going into their fifties. They are married now and if they would start a family, David revealed, one must have good connections with the management. Few children are invited to come along on the grueling tours. It is not ideal for the performers or their fellow show members to have a split focus over kids being present, not to mention the hardships on the kids.
Speaking of split focus, DAvid admitted to having Attention Deficiency Disorder when he started out. When I asked how he conquered that problem, he replied blandly, " I got a lot of shoes thrown at my head. " ( by his coach in the beginning).
Alica and David have known each other over twelve years.... having met at Circus school in San Francisco. Some of those twelve years they have been traveling the world as performers and as a married couple.
One and a half years of that time was spent in Japan with a Disney show. The couple had some funny stories about their time there where foreigners are still rare enough that mothers regularly thrust babies into their arms for photos. One time workmen inside the dressing room started stroking Alicia's golden locks while she was taking a nap in the woman's dressing room. Her friends told her later, we figured you knew it and didn't care or were so asleep that it wouldn't make any difference!
For some of the twelve years, Alicia and David worked the enormous cruise ships and got used to balancing on their big wheel act and trapeze bars, even with the sway of the ship. Alica admits to taking dramamine for cruise work and even on dry land she will take it too, if they have a long day of rehearsals where she will be required to do a lot of spinning.
Most of the time now, the couple prefer to live in Las Vegas where they have an apartment , a dog and regular acrobatic work. ( The dog goes to the parents when they are away).
Speaking of Las Vegas, David says that the quality and stamina of dancers in Vegas is much higher than on Broadway or elsewhere, even in Europe. American dancers tend to have a panache and stamina that European performers are missing although there are both in the show and both contribute differently. The show needs bi and tri-lingual performers and language is not an American strong suit. In SPEED now traveling throughout FRance, the show was narrated by a former Miss France on video screens disguised as huge wheels, but a few numbers were announced by a German ice dancer who spoke fluent French and English.
The wheels are video screens. The set is inflatable.
We were interested to hear from the tattoo generation, when the subject came up. David and Alicia have only one tattoo each, sort of an ironic comment on the whole tattoo culture and meant to amuse. Its a little mustache on the outside of their first digit! Here they are showing that one off.
I say, If I were a parent, I would be proud to claim either one of these two as my own. They are fun, "down to earth" (pun intended) and a credit to their generation !
Good luck out there David and Alicia , we will be thinking of you as you spin and walk your way around the globe high above us all.