Tension and Trepidation: The Thrill of Aerial Arts

Circus Sessions is produced by Femmes du Feu with artistic partners CCAFT. It is a weeklong creative laboratory and think-tank for 15 Canadian and international contemporary circus artists. Fred Deb, an aerial circus artist from France, will mentor and guide the artists through the creative process. This initiative spans the five families of circus: Aerial, Acrobatics, Balancing, Object Manipulation and Clown. Circus Sessions looks to encourage artists to engage in a creative dialogue that examines their evolving form, and cultivates experimentation in performance, networking, advocacy and audience development. The weeklong workshop will culminate in two nights of shows, open to the public.

This is the second in a series of guest blogs examining what contemporary circus means today.


Tension and Trepidation: The Thrill of Aerial Arts
By Mary-Margaret Scrimger

Trying to define aerial arts is like trying to pin down a cloud. Aerial artist Emily Hughes, a participant in Circus Sessions, defines aerial arts as anything suspended. Literally, this is exactly what it is. The base of every aerial apparatus is suspension, be it from silks performed at 40 feet to an aerial hoop that is four feet off the ground. Any time you see someone dangling from I-beams in a ceiling, a free standing rig or even helium balloons, that’s aerial arts.

But aerial arts includes something that makes it more than just a body in the sky. Tension. Like all performing arts, tension progresses the story line, provides interest and creates drama. Hughes demonstrates this in her work which ranges from contemporary circus acts suitable for corporate events to character-based pieces heavily influenced by her theatre background. Tension makes your heart lift at the dramatic crescendo in a song when a silks artist unravels down the fabric in harmony with gravity.

Unlike other performing arts, tension is also what keeps an aerial artist safe. While it may look like aerial artists have made pacts with the devil, an agreement that makes them immune to the laws of nature, artists actually use these laws to their advantage. Every trick, roll and hang a performer executes is possible because of the laws of physics. The point of contact the body has with the apparatus is what allows them to do seemingly impossible stunts. It may just be a hand on a bar where the body contorts or it can be 12 wraps around the body.

In addition, aerial arts allows the audience to experience trepidation. They can watch a performer fall from the sky with the belief that the artist may not catch. (In reality, any artist worth their salt doesn’t perform a trick they aren’t 99.99% sure of). There is exhilaration in the ‘what if.’ With 20 years of circus experience, Hughes embraces the thrill in aerial. Audiences experience the anticipation of a drop in a performance and that drop was likely very scary the first time the aerialist attempted it.

In the studio, Hughes also loves the thrill of exploring her apparatus. While she does a variety of aerial apparatuses, silks is her favourite because of the endless possibilities. And that is what Circus Sessions is about, the boundless prospects in the creation process. Aerial to acrobatics to juggling, the thrill of circus is no longer limited to the big top.

A writer by trade, Mary-Margaret Scrimger has worked in a variety of sectors such as finance, technology and publishing. In addition, she is a circus performer who has trained in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. She has just finished her certificate in public relations and hopes to meld it with her creativity and financial knowledge.