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Sunday, July 02, 2017 - 19:20 SGT
Posted By: Gilbert

Physique: A Celebration In Two Parts

"It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable."

- Socrates

More than ever, it appears that we have come to esteem the brain, and disdain the body; worshipping at the altar of the intellect (which tends to pay better nowadays, true), we mortify the flesh, and shy from what it can do, the beauty it can attain (more from training and discipline, less from plastic surgery)

This post is dedicated to those who continue to make a living from it. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

WWE Live!

Wednesday. Browsing the news on the Circle Line - which, thankfully, has thus far been less-plagued by breakdowns compared to the more-venerable East-West and North-South Lines - the latest CNN Fake News exposé popped up: so, they've been caught peddling baseless Russian accusations yet again, with their producers admitting privately that "it's mostly bullshit" and that it was all about the ratings (i.e. money), while exhibiting little but contempt for the everyday voter.

Well, it's not like we didn't know that all along, and frankly, given how the mainstream media continues slowly sinking, I can even sympathize; mixing entertainment with serious business is, after all, a time-honoured endeavour...

The Sport of Top Presidents!
[N.B. In the best traditions of Honest Abe Lincoln and George Washington]
[N.N.B. He tweeted it himself on @POTUS, the ABSOLUTE MADMAN]
(Source: r/the_donald)

Being a moderately-long ride from Kent Ridge, there was ample opportunity to catch up with new happenings - well, well, the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that TRUMP's travel ban will be enforced as directed. Of course, as we noted in February, anyone with any scrap of reading comprehension would have realised that this was the only possible outcome, given that the law unambigiously states that admittance of non-citizens is at the President's sole discretion, which even Ginsburg must have been wise enough to concede. Not that this is going to stop CNN and their allies from continuing to play up the non-event, but then, it's not as if the liberal establishment were ever that much concerned about consistency in application of principles...

..and what's this - wear army uniform to get free rides on public transport on Friday? I'm not sure which bright bulb came up with this idea, but at least it shouldn't hurt SMRT's bottom line too much, since I'd wager that only a tiny fraction of servicemen are either garang or gian png enough to go along.


This being my first time at the Stadium station, I wasn't entirely certain that I was heading in the right direction... when a guy cut across with a Money In The Bank briefcase. Then, from the distance, came the familiar, hearty shout:

John Cena sucks!

Yep, on the right track.

Security was fairly tight, but I was soon in, and was relieved to discover that unlike in a number of other countries, we do stick with our assigned seats. It was soon evident that the guys on either side were actively following current WWE storylines, which I have got to confess, I've not been doing. In fact, I hadn't even considered the match card, when I bought the ticket. Time to discover in just how much regard the WWE bigwigs hold of their Singaporean fans...

View from my seat

A minute after the seven-thirty start time and... omigawd, it's Chris Jericho! I thought he had (semi-)retired! But there he was, in the flesh, Y2J, bringing back memories from those secondary school days. The WWE technical team do have to up their game, though - they misspelt "BUILD THE WALL" on his entrance video.

Jericho may be many things, but he's seldom boring, and after his drawn-out swagger to the ring, he gets to yanking the audience about with his mic skills, fishing for cheap heel heat with a proclamation that Singapore Stinks! By the way, one of the delights of live wrestling events is the spontaneous crowd reaction, and audience wags can and do outshine the stars in their (admittedly usually one-sided) wisecracks:

That doesn't work on us, the government already screws us way worse everyday!

Ah, the magic of open participation.

Y2J's riling-up goes over moderately well, considering his heart probably not being in it, and his opponent eventually enters - Hideo Itami. Nope, haven't heard of him... wait, is it that guy I saw in Japan... nah, that's KENSO, Hideo was KENTA. Anyway, this being Asia, the rising Asian new guy gets promoted by the done-it-all veteran, who did seem to be enjoying himself (something that we would see plenty of, though the night)

Next up, Titus O'Neal versus motivational speaker, "Bolieve" Bo Dallas - who loses after a frantic start, to his disbolief. Oh, there's actually going to be a title match too: Heath Slater and Rhyno, against Cesaro and Sheamus. This gon be gud.

New entrance music? Nah, too expensive, the man's got kids
[N.B. Buy the merch, support the man]

I've got to admit, Slater's grown on me since his Nexus days, when I was still watching WWE fairly regularly. While he might never be the face of the promotion, he's always been an excellent worker, performs his regular job (get it, job?) of getting beaten up uncomplainingly, sells at Ziggler-tier when called on to, and is a right hoot when given the chance. I'm just glad to see him get more exposure and airtime... wtf, his former 3MB teammate Jinder Mahal just got pushed to the WWE Championship out of absolutely nowhere?!

So poor Slater's still getting the short end of the stick - but as gimmicks go, plucky Charlie Brownish underdog's not that bad. And, talking of sticks, I'd legitimately mark out if they got Kane in... and referenced a Singapore Kane match. You heard it here first. Back to the match, Cesaro+Sheamus' star power wins out, but they were probably never going to have the belt change hands during a house show anyhow...

Mr. Robo: Wait, you're saying that the matches are scripted? Next thing you'll be telling me, is that the Easter Bunny isn't real.

Me: Erm, talk to you after this, Mr. Robo. The next segment was pure story-advancement, on the drama between Enzo Amore (who has one of the catchiest crowd chants that I've heard - OOOH, ENZOO AMOREEE) and his former tag-team partner, Big Cass. As so often happens when a team's getting stale, one of them turns heel with a betrayal - in this case, Big Cass. He seems to regret it, though, and comes out to sincerely apologize, with Enzo taking his time to consider whether to accept a reconciliation with his old bud.

Only slight problem was, this exact scenario had been played out on television already, and thus the smarks in the audience more or less knew exactly how it would turn out (spoiler: Enzo forgives Big Cass, who duly kicks him in the face out of the blue once more. Perhaps it's the amnesia from the brain damage...)

Next match, The Miz and Samoa Joe (accompanied by the lovely Maryse, another recent returnee) take on Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. The Miz is another of those who can genuinely get under the spectators' skins, but this being a sort-of-holiday-camp, we're tilting heavily to the comedy side. There're fun "KFC" chants after The Miz plays his villainous coward persona convincingly, but he eventually gets pinned after Maryse gets sent off for repeated interference (yes, that's a thing). Plenty of "We want Maryse" cheers were heard too.

WWE supports gender equality

There would be more of that in a way, with a six-woman Divas' contest on after the intermission (there was some Mediacorp Class 95 guest bellringer, but that was so surreal, it hardly registered). In order of appearance: Niz Jax, Emma and Alexa Bliss (a.k.a latest Harley Quinn bandwagon jumper, but we'll let it slide), versus Bayley, Sasha Banks and Asuka. Now, given "home ground advantage" and the fact that she's the Women's Division's Goldberg, it was pretty much a given that Asuka's team would come out on top - the only question was how.

So, can you say butt-oriented offense (no, such moves aren't the sole province of Keijo!!!!!!!!)? Poor Emma gets Rikishi'ed by all her opponents, before predictably eventually getting submitted by Asuka. Was an okay exhibition and all, but what I'd give for an AJ Lee appearance...

We're nearing the end by now, and the last fixture before the Main Event sees Anderson (with Luke Gallows) against Finn Bálor, who seems the high-flying type (and, as it happens, is already an ex-WWE Universal Champion). Bálor prevails, but for some reason I wasn't too taken in.

Finally, the big one. The arena goes dark, and Bray Wyatt enters, swinging his trademark lantern ominously - the crowd plays along by slowly waving their handphones in torch mode. He's got the on-tap creepy vibe down pat, I gotta say. But, do not fear - facing him this day is the Hero of the WWE Universe, Retirer of The Undertaker, the one, the only, Roman Reigns!

Eh, he's at least drawing *some* reaction...

Boooo. Boooooo. Booooooo!

Well, they can't say they didn't see that coming. One can feel a little sorry for Reigns, though - he probably didn't ask to be The Rock's cousin, and to get so persistently, relentlessly pushed to the head of the line, against the bulk of the fans' wishes.

Wyatt starts strongly, and after a while, Reigns retaliates with a mighty strong-looking right uppercut. Now, that's a big right hand.

And another one. And another one.

Wyatt unleashes his arsenal, playacts in the corner, tries to set moves up. Reigns punches. And punches. And punches.

Alright, he grapples once in a while, generally to push Wyatt into the ropes, or the corner. For a punch. I think there was a spear in there somewhere. Followed by a punch. And not just any punch, the same one punch. Yes, the big men of wrestling have never been accused of being technicians, but this is getting ridiculous. The booing is getting louder. Reigns asks for a microphone. The first one doesn't work, which somehow feels fitting. He growls something about The Undertaker into the second one. That doesn't work either. Wyatt smacks him down and asks if the crowd paid to see this. The crowd pops.

Wyatt is finished off with a Superman Punch.

Boooo. Boooooo. Booooooo!

It's almost like the media trying to force Hillary down the audience's throats - it was never going to bring the ultra-cool anti-hero (i.e. Stone Cold Steve Austin, GOD-EMPEROR TRUMP) down. The guy in front of me takes a photo of himself giving the winner the finger. Reigns, seemingly used to the reaction, ignores it all and strikes his mandated poses. Slowly, the crowd disperses, a few to write reviews. A fine night, all in all. Maybe I should start supporting the local scene...

Sleep No More

There is a block of abandoned warehouses on the West Side of The City That Never Sleeps. In another time, loitering about these parts might have been a questionable choice, and the buildings do still bear the marks of their gritty beginnings. The gentrification of the High Line and Chelsea Market hadn't quite extended here. Thankfully, it wasn't desolate - a tidy queue had formed, with guests of all shapes and sizes and colours, if slightly disproportionately of Chinese (which may explain their expansion to Shanghai). Directly in front of me was a pair of guys, one white, one black, both in shorts. They seemed more than friends, but this was New York City. It would take much, much more than that, to gain fleeting notice.

A burly doorman - bouncer? - moves down the line, absentmindedly checking I.D., perfunctorily asking if any of us had shelled out for the optional extras. And then we were in. I handed my bag off at the counter, and shoved my four bucks over when it was evident that they had forgotten about it. These things had to be done the right way. I was then handed a mask, a playing card, and directed into a twisting, barely-lighted passage (I forget the exact order), which led to a cosy bar. In another reality, I might have found cause to be seated, but I was by myself, and perhaps twenty years from that being done.

The seats are all reserved
[N.B. Alternatively, there's the MIT Media Lab extension]
(Source: the-mckittrick-hotel.myshopify.com)

The surroundings remain dim, my fellow guests expressionless by design, their diverse identities and individuality supplanted by a simple veil of moulded plastic. They huddle in small groups, aware that locating each other would be hard, were they to be separated. A few lovebirds hold hands. All wait. Finally, a man takes the stage. He identifies himself as Valentine - Victor? Vincent? It doesn't matter, this too is a mask. He requests that the Aces step forward (so that was why Mr. Neuroscientist said to arrive early). It was beginning.

Valentine works his way through the deck, and my number comes up. I stand before the exit/entrance. A lady, for whom the very term statuesque must have been invented, takes charge. Her voice is deep and syrupy, with overtones of command. My lovelies, she addresses her faceless and voiceless flock. It's hard to tell if she means any of it. There are some instructions, probably the usual disclaimers, and we're led to an unadorned stairwell.

Up, or down?

There were, unavoidably, certain associations, and the vast majority ascended after some slight hesitation. I went down, for otherwise, who would? There were some few others too, who took in the incongruous sights - was that a tent? Catching up with some fellow wanderers, I returned to more domestic environs, in time to watch a gentleman stumble by - I would later learn that he was likely Banquo. He flails, collapses and rises, anguished yet controlled.

Another performer passes by sometime, his shirt stained with blood. Now, I may have dropped literature after my second year, but I knew a Scottish King when I saw one. Why is there a bathtub in the middle of the room? We find out soon enough. His wife enters, aflame with ambition - maybe also something else, but mostly ambition. The couple smoulders as they twirl - the choreography is immaculate. Finally, Macbeth bares himself completely (untamed and uncut), and enters the functioning bathtub. Lady Macbeth washes him tenderly, but as we well know, absolution does not come that easily.

...and no running with sharp objects next time!
(Source: sleepnomore.wikia.com)

I quite naturally switched my tracking to Lady Macbeth after this scene, and she does get her own bath moment (out, damned spot!), in another place. The performers (mute actors? dancers?) one swiftly realises, are experts, as comfortable in their own skin as showing it (but please, do not laugh). Sure, there's nudity enough if you're after it, though it's not really of the titillating variety (but I won't judge). The main actresses are undeniably beautiful, and their attractiveness is only accentuated by the sureness of their movements - confidence is, after all, universally sexy.

It's also easy to realise that there's no way to experience all the threads of the narrative - there's just too much going on simultaneously. Standard advice is to trail a major character, but if it ever gets too much, there's always examining the intricate sets at one's own leisure. There might even be a few surprises in store, but I'm not going to give away too much.

The parallels between this flavour of immersive theatre and professional wrestling are plenty. Watching Macbeth tangle with his lady, one cannot help but recall the similarly-impressive coordination in, say, Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk. Certainly, there are the little divergences: in pro wrestling, the performers are adversarial on the surface, and have to disguise their cooperation; whereas for the Macbeths, they dance, to outsiders, in unison - but are they, actually, together?

Also, to the best of my knowledge, the move sequences are fixed for this theatre, from how the walls and furniture are incorporated to virtually no margin for error. One expects the dancers to work through their routine almost like clockwork, multiple times per night, night on night. Wrestlers, for their part, have to improvise. While the basic elements of their stories - their movesets - do not vary much, they have to come up with a fresh new tale for every show, a unique take on the eternal monomyth. Shakespeare himself would be humbled.

Only fifty-two - 56? - cards, but a near-infinite number of games

This recurrence is hinted at in the production, as the performers congregate on the hour. Some of the more conventionally-pious would have recognized the possibly-blasphemous symbolism about the Last Supper in that presentation, but frankly, they (and perhaps those with epilepsy) should probably not have been here in the first place. When one buys a ticket to Hell in a Cell, one can hardly expect a sermon, can he?

The banquet concluded, the actors and actresses scatter, taking their ghostly retinue with them. But, surely, Macbeth now knows his treachery will end in his downfall, Banquo knows that he will be murdered by his friend, Lady Macduff knows she will not last the night? It does not matter - what must be done, will be done. Everyone, after all, dies. A lady in scarlet hovers and schemes in the background, seemingly the conductor of this tragic opera. The song that is played, however, is far older than even her...

The soft music plays on, in Manderley Bar.

The characters may be doomed, but they are not dead yet, and so they dance. I resolved to follow the pretty ladies - life is too short to waste on maintaining appearances, after all. She took off her wig. Hey, I can get behind the young Sinéad O'Connor look. Her set was, for want of a better term, masculine, but no less enthralling for that. Can't be top-heavy in this line, by the way. I suppose they get in the way.

I can hardly remember my target on the third run-through, but I would come to appreciate the famous motto: Who Dares, Wins. There is no reward for staying in the middle of the pack, unless one considers staring at fellow spectators' backs as one. No, it's all about being at the forefront, close enough to make out the hairs on their heads. Banquo intentionally backs into me twice during his dance in the Replica Bar, my mask nearly gets kicked off in the ballroom social. It's all good.

The third iteration was an ending, and with the spell broken, we were set on the path back to the real world, aptly signified by a diligent barker hawking the souvenir program, swearing that it would explain everything (Mr. Neuroscientist: it explains nothing; that probably comes closer to the truth). I'll be straight - the show could be a bit hard to digest in one sitting. Then again, I mused, if not very originally: we're also all just actors, like them. Merely not quite as good at the foxtrot and tango.

Waiting for legwarmers to return...
[N.B. Scored Moorcock's The Dancers at the End of Time and The History of the Runestaff from the Co-op, at a dollar for both; this must be the best bargain I've snagged since A&W root beer was at two for a dollar too]

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