Falling Is Not An Option: The Art of Balancing

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 fourth in a series of guest blogs examining what contemporary circus means today.

By Zoey Gould

Someone once told me that to be able to balance on one’s hands is to have balance in life. I’m not sure if that saying is true or not — I’m pretty sure it’s not — but it’s an interesting notion. One of my coaches specializing in handstands describes balancing as having a sixth sense, a handstand sense, in his case.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of balancing on one’s hands, but it is most certainly different than standing on the feet. Hand-balancing is arguably the most difficult discipline in circus: it requires having the strength, poise, and technique of a ballerina, but on your hands rather than feet.

This is an ancient art form that involves balancing one’s body on the hands, head, or on an apparatus. In the case of contemporary circus artist Esther de Monteflores,’ a slack-wire or slack-rope (depending on the material the apparatus is made from) is used. Slack-wire is a historic apparatus, falling under the genre of “funambulism,” which includes similar apparatuses such as tightwire and slackline. Unlike a slackline, which is made out of thick, flat webbing, a slack-rope/wire is a length of thin, static rope or cable that hangs without tension.

Aside from the difference in material, Esther also points out that “slacklining came out of a culture of rock-climbing, which lacks the focus on performance that slack-rope, being a circus discipline, has. The slack-rope/wire is characterized by the A-frames or poles that support it at both ends, and the side-to-side swinging motion that the loose rope or wire can create.”

Esther grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was exposed to high-quality circus from a young age. This exposure was mainly in the form of the SF-based companies The Pickle Family Circus and Make*A*Circus, as well as TV recordings of Cirque du Soleil. She was especially enamoured by the tightwire act.

Esther began her training at 12, specializing in aerial arts. It wasn’t until many years later that she decided to pursue circus professionally, and she began training in tight-wire and aerials at the Vancouver Circus School. “A couple of years later, while visiting a friend at a circus school in Paris,” Esther recalls, “I watched a student working on slack-rope in a way that I found incredibly inspiring. I had thought that slack-rope was just something that people juggled and unicycled on, but seeing the apparatus used in a way reminiscent of dance and acrobatics was phenomenal.”

Esther says the most challenging thing about slack-rope is maintaining the focus and concentration needed to perform, while still being open to an audience and not shutting them out. “I feel that there is so much vulnerability to the slack-rope,” she says, “and I think that vulnerability is one of the most interesting things to show on stage.”

“Funambulism is an activity that demands complete focus; a release of all other thoughts and an attention to the present. I think we all need more opportunities for balance and the quieting of mind and body.”

Zoey Gould is a Contemporary Circus Artist and Engineer, specializing in static trapeze, tissue, and renewable energy. upsidedownsidecircus.com

Photo: ©kate russell/Circus Luminous