by Magali Sizorn

Suspended from a hook, two widths of fabric are tied together and hang vertically. The jersey, material oscillates, is resistant and elastic. This aerial apparatus explores the floor/air axis. It is an apparatus that leads both to elevation, and to fall.

A change in material

Reminiscent of the Chinese aerial ballets, and very similar to the rope and aerial straps acts in the techniques and uses of the body in motion, the silks, which appeared in the 1990s, are a recent invention in the history of the circus. Breaking away from references to gymnastic methods and the physical culture of the 19th century, which long marked the physicality of circus acrobats, the silks proceed, through a change of material, to a change in imagination. The rope becomes a ribbon and it is no longer so much the physical strength that is admired, but the fluid and powerful movements of the body, contorted or curled up in sections of the apparatus.

Gérard Fasoli, a former high-level trampoline artist, acrobat and trainer who is currently the Director of the Cnac, designed the aerial silks, which were initially called "Fasoli ropes." His pupil Isabelle Vaudelle was the first to present the act, and was rewarded in 1995 with the silver medal at the Festival mondial du cirque de demain. This "contortion, air and silk" act then became one of the star turns in Quidam by the Cirque du Soleil (1996). Today, the silks are a classic element of circus and cabaret shows, beyond the diversity of projects and aesthetics developed.



Climb, wrap, and fall

"Man cannot live horizontally as man. Rest, and sleep is more often than not a fall," wrote Gaston Bachelard in 1943. The silks acrobats cling on, and climb up by the strength of their arms, performing figures several metres above the ground and hinting at the shape of their faces and bodies behind the stretched fabric of an apparatus turned cocoon. Rolling, climbing and flag or iron cross suspensions are moments that precede the genuine aerial experiences on the silks: the falls, and the confrontation with vertigo and the void.

The first acts, which were often performed by females, were based mainly on a combination of strength and flexibility work. The silks have recently evolved towards a more acrobatic stance. In Âm the Cnac 2010 graduation show directed by Stéphane Ricordel, Romain Guiniot played with the elasticity of the material, performing twists, with the fabric gathered together, and passing from one section to another, letting go of the apparatus.



A dreamlike atmosphere and graphic explorations

The silks act lends itself particularly well to theatricality, surpassing the framework of physical and technical demonstration (Boudreault, 2002). Although several registers are invested, it is often a certain dreamlike quality that emerges from the oscillations of the ribbons. The object also offers possibilities for graphic exploitations, such as those developed by Armance Brown and Bruno Krief (from the Compagnie Arts des Airs), in collaboration with the artist Daniel Buren, for a contemporary design duo created for Adrienne Larue and Dan Demuynck's Compagnie Foraine.

The black and white bands of a cylinder enveloping the acrobats of Et qui libre recall the verticality of the white fabric. The variations offered in the use of the silks are also seen in duo research, mainly with lifts (Cécile Mont-Reynaud and Sébastien Bruas from the Lunatic company, developed this work in Petites histoires en l’air (1999). Other configurations and performances with the apparatus are finally offered: the flying silks of the Les Escargots Ailés company are similar to the cloud swing; vertical chains replace the textile softness. Gérard Fasoli, the silks inventor, clings to, gets tangled up in, and hangs from, metallic threads in Espèces, pièce de cirque (Culture Commune, Furies 2002-Paris Villette 2004), written and directed by Christophe Huysman.