24 July, 2007

Entertainer And Performer

There is a weekly article in the British weekend glossy magazine section of The Independent, called How We Met. In this article, two long-time friends tell their story: each gives a microscopic view of their first encounter (e.g., what she wore, what I thought the moment I saw her) and a macroscopic outline of pivotal moments and philosophical significances of their friendship. If I was to write such an article, I would write one of Jules.

Yet, it can only be a one-sided story, for Jules and I are no longer in contact. There is no Dramatic Ending to our friendship. He just disappears into obscurity, into some trite cabaret company in Madrid, never to write or contact me again.

I meet Jules in a city in southern Germany at the end of season party of the state ballet company. He is an Adonis in a curly-dark-mane, gorgeous-long-legs, strong-well-defined-torso, young-buck way. He is gorgeous, gregarious and very gay.

He came to audition from South Africa, his homeland, in a whole series of companies; all in hope of getting a contract somewhere, anywhere, in Europe. More than anything, he wants out of South Africa. He wants to escape his past.

I sit next to Jules at the party. He takes over the party, which is a feat considering the room is filled with dancers, actors, and opera singers. He and I dance, talk, and never stop laughing until the wee hours of the morning. At noon he goes off to audition at another company.

I am visiting a good friend of mine, Nerida, who dances in the company in that southern city in Germany. I’ve gave up dance years ago and I am in the process of studying electrical engineering in Canada. Something I omit to tell Jules during the course of the previous evening. He decides to take the offer at that company. This is partly because the company’s choreographer is very radical and interesting. Partly because of me, he senses a like soul in me (he thinks I am a dancer in the company).

The next year, when I come to visit my friend again, Jules sees me in the theatre cafeteria and screams, “You bloody idiot, why didn’t you tell me you weren’t a dancer?” (Though bloody is not the right word.) He comes running over to my table, gives me a big hug and starts talking and doesn’t stop until I leave three weeks later. Nerida, the dear friend I come to visit, is ever so tolerant of Jules and my budding friendship. Something I love her for.

Jules recounts snippets of his life in bursts and starts: some snippets could be true and some could only be true in his imagination. The stories of his childhood in South Africa contain, a pet monkey, building fires on the beach with his friends, a mother he is devoted to, a mother who is an alcoholic and drug addict, an absent father, sexual abuse, a stint as a male prostitute, living with a wealthy patron, studying dance… I never can quite figure out the truth and the lies of his stories, for Jules is an entertainer through and through.

Our friendship takes us through a decade of annual visits. They started in the southern city in Germany, then move onto London, and then Amsterdam. These visits are filled with talk and laughter, long hours of my sitting in on endless rehearsals, watching numerous evening performances, and Jules showing me nightlife I only read about in decadent stories of strange underworlds.

Jules is a rather good ballet dancer, but he is a better entertainer. He performs his steps dutifully on stage in the evenings, but he truly lights up when he is in a gay bar surrounded by wild and weird people: an audience craving entertainment. Then he takes out his Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli imitations, or sings his extensive repertoire of musical numbers.

Occasionally, very occasionally, as we walk home to his apartment in the early hours before dawn, he recounts again snippets of his early life, which are nearly all sad and melancholic now. It is as though, in those moments, his past catches up on him. His childhood crosses the oceans and continents and the passage of time; making it very difficult for him put on the jolly face of the entertainer. This is probably the real Jules, but one who very rarely surfaces.


  1. Lia, such a beautiful portrait of a lost friend! It makes me want to write a testament to my lost friend (who is also South African and gay) right now. I hope you and Jules find each other one day and enjoy the same hilarious fun together.

  2. Hi Lia, Birdie's blog pointed me your way. This story has wonderful emotional impact, and nice descriptive power. Great writing!