An acrobatic performance at the Air Temple in Woodbridge, CT
The air smells of fabric and makeup, with hints of foam, and bursts of cleaner, as the performers spray something on their legs and feet. Like washing your hands before you perform, or to help with their grip?
The space is rough, with ropes and lights hanging from the rafters, waiting. The walls have a few drawings and pictures on them, much like a refrigerator door, scrawlings in the style of Harry Potter, or something like it. This is a very intimate setting, and I am an outsider. No one has said a word, but it’s clear that everyone here is personally connected to this community in some way, while I am only an audience. Even as these performers yearn for a more general audience, in this moment it is not the case, and that intimacy will change their performance. But, having come this far, I choose to stay. No matter what I may sense, they chose to make this public, and while an outsider, I am eager to learn.
The first performer arranges herself within a large metal ring, like a giant medallion, posing in various ways, rarely using her hands. The performance lacks elegance, but the skill and strength needed are undeniable. And throughout the performance her face flashes a series of looks, a mixture of surprise, disappointment, and inspiration. Without saying a word she’s telling a story.
The next one climbs up on thick silk ropes, winding and twining them around her legs, tying knots with her feet, or by pulling her leg out of the loops in just the right way. She seems more at home there than on the ground. The silk moves like another set of limbs, as if a beautiful spider gracefully twirled and spun, enwrapping herself in threads, and then spinning out of them as they fall into place. There’s an otherness about it, as if she’s not human, but not less for it. She is elegantly beautiful and thoroughly alien. There is no fear as I watch this spider, only beauty.
The next one is more akin to a caterpillar, or a butterfly. She spreads the silk as she climbs, creating a cocoon from which her hands drift out like fingers on a harp. She climbs and spins, but her poses are more akin to flight, her arms spreading the silk wide to catch the wind.
Next comes something I hesitate to call juggling. A woman cradles and carries a bauble, holding it in the crook of her neck as she flips and rolls, then rolls it along her arm and onto a length of string. The performance is deceptively simple, but her hands shake with tension, and though I can’t see the string, I can imagine how hard it is to keep something so fine from tangling.
Next a performer walks upon another, walking up their thighs and chest as naturally as someone might walk on a sidewalk. The other of course holds their hands to provide support, but the movement is graceful in its cavalierety.
Others take to the sky, and as I watch I’m struck by how dexterous they are. They use their feet as easily as their hands, and even their shins and thighs seem able to weave and twist with an incredible amount of control. Some wear the mask of an actor, an ever changing face to match their tale, while others stare blankly, focused on what they feel. And one, a first timer, performed with her eyes closed, and yet I could feel her looking out at the audience, her breath in her throat as she struggled to match her own expectations. Her face was raw with emotion, and it matched her performance perfectly, and enhanced it. The very fact that she was so raw gave it a vibrancy, a potent promise of how desperately she wanted this, and how hard she would work, regardless of the outcome.
Throughout each performance music plays, giving order to the performance, and I’m struck by what an amalgam this is. Dexterity and acrobatics are part of it, but so are rhythm, body language, and storytelling. Without saying a word every one of them has told a story, as clearly as any gesture from an actor, or note from a song.
As the performance draws to a close, and I watch as deft hands pull the ropes back into the rafters, I can’t help but consider how this may hold some kinship with pirates on the open sea, climbing and dangling through rigging, tangled or secure, held up in the air without a secure purchase, with only balance and an awareness of their surroundings to keep them safe.
They walk on the ground, and there’s a…not falseness, but a difference, as if this isn’t the same person. Having flown aloft, that person has now retreated, leaving another to stand guard, ensuring they have ample time to rest, before their next performance.
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