Saturday, November 14, 2009

I Ruminate on the Olympics, BCS and Cirque Shanghai

Cirque Shanghai: Bai Xi

I've never thought of synchronized swimming as a sport. If we can't agree on that simple premise, stop reading right now. We'll never have a meeting of the minds on the rest of this. Figure skating isn't sport, either. Neither belongs in the Olympics. Gymnastics probably doesn't either. In fact, toss out all the events that rely on a judge instead of a scoreboard to determine who wins and loses. You can't add judges to performing art and pretend it's sport.

Football is sport. Here, the judges (aka referees) make countless play-by-play decisions that, in sum, may determine the outcome of the game (was that holding? pass interference? did he have possession before he went out of bounds?), but when the clock runs down to zero, it's the score on the board that determines the winner. The referees may huddle after every tossed flag during the game, but at the end of the game, they hurry off the field, the sooner, the better. The crowd doesn't want to see them huddling one last time to pick the winner.

Even though a football game qualifies as sport, the college BCS system of picking a season's national champion does not. It's worse than figure skating in that it asks coaches, sportswriters, computers and Magic 8 Balls for their opinion before crowning one team the best team in the country for the entire year. About the only people left out of the decision making are the teams on the field. The BCS system is not a sport. And it's not performing art, either. It's an abomination.

What about American Idol? Or Dancing with the Stars? These aren't sports, but no one markets them as such, so they are (relatively) safe from criticism here. These are simply popularity contests. Who is the most popular singer? Not the most artistic, mind you. The most popular.

What about marching band? It is music combined with dance, so it is clearly not sport. The band is great entertainment during halftime of sports (without the band, it's just a game), but marching band is not sport itself even though marching band competitions have judges who huddle after the performances and pick a winner. Everyone pretends the judges pick the best band, but like American Idol, all they are really picking is the most popular band. Know that and you can watch marching band competitions and not be disappointed. Forget that and the awards ceremonies will eat your heart out.

OK, what's left? How about circuses? Not sport. Once in a very great while the lion tamer might get mauled by the lion, the acrobats might miss the trapeze bar, but no one keeps score, no one expects the lion to ever be crowned champion. Circuses are pure entertainment, unspoiled by judges. The best ones are like the movie Godzilla or, more recently, 2012. No plot. No character development. As little dialog as possible. Nothing to take time away from the main attraction - thrills and danger (enhanced in the movies' case with CGI special effects).

That brings me to Cirque Shanghai: Bai Xi, the Chinese acrobatic spectacle at Richardson's Eisemann Center Saturday evening. Nothing CGI about this entertainment. It's billed as a combination of "all aspects of the traditional and the modern in acrobatic stage performance in a grand theatrical production with spectacular costumes." Note the details. Stage (not field, court, arena). Theatrical production (not game, contest, sport). Costumes (not uniforms, equipment, gear). Not a scoreboard or referee or judge in sight. In fact, scorekeeping would be a distraction from the main attraction. Pure entertainment. If you can't understand why anyone would be entertained watching pretty girls in shiny costumes contort their bodies while stacking golden plates on their heads, stop reading right now. I refuse to explain that. I say, see it.

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