Astonishing balancing performance

I'm going to recommend a video in a minute. But first, some backstory:

Kam and I went to see Cirque du Soleil's show Amaluna in San José the other night. If you're already planning to see the show, then don't bother reading the rest of this entry; just go see the show.

But most of you aren't likely to, or can't, so I wanted to point you to a video of the most amazing act in it.

I've seen half a dozen circus-arts shows, including several previous Cirque shows, so I figured I knew what to expect. But I was surprised from the start to learn that, for the first time for a Cirque show, 70% of the performers were female.

I still thought I knew what to expect, but there were further surprises. For one thing, it wasn't until half an hour into the show that I realized that there was a reason the young woman was named Miranda and that she had a semi-monstrous companion (an attractive shirtless guy with a super-cool near-prehensile tail): the plot (such as it was) was, in fact, a reworking of The Tempest.

But even though the show contained more plot and more women than other Cirque shows I'd seen, and even though I enjoyed the clowns more than I usually do, and even though several of the acts were awesome, it still seemed overall relatively similar to other Cirque shows I'd seen.

Until maybe three-quarters of the way through the show, when Lara Jacobs came out and did her balance act.

I'm used to circus-arts shows involving a lot of motion, usually a lot of fast motion. Beauty, yes, but a lot of focus on strength, agility, speed, and acrobatics. Occasional slow contemplative pieces, but most of those are focused on one person lifting and holding another person in a remarkable position.

Jacobs's performance was different. One woman, with thirteen palm-frond spines that looked a bit like whale bones, which she proceeded to balance in a remarkable way. With quiet music, and the sound of breathing. And it nonetheless had the most dramatic tension of anything in the show. Captivating.

With the other acts, a small slip wouldn't usually have mattered. In fact, there had been several small slips in other acts earlier in the evening, from which the performers had recovered gracefully. With Jacobs, I had the impression (possibly false) that there almost no room for error. The tension came from not knowing whether she would succeed or not, but even if she hadn't, it would have been an amazing performance. And the staging and presentation were excellent as well.

...The next night, I asked a soon-to-be-11-year-old what she'd thought of the show, and she specifically called out Jacobs's piece as boring. So your mileage may vary.

And so although I'm going to link to a video of it, I'm going to strongly recommend that you go into it with a sense of patience. The video is fifteen minutes long, but it's really worth watching in its entirety. (And I say that as someone who almost never links to any video more than five minutes long.) Set aside fifteen minutes of quiet when you can pay attention to it, and watch it fullscreen, ideally in a dark room. You'll lose most of the impact if you skip ahead and just look at a few bits here and there. And if you find yourself bored and restless by three or four minutes in, then you should probably give up; it's fairly consistent in tone and pacing.

But if you can take the time to watch the whole thing, it's worth it. And do keep watching all the way to the fifteen-minute mark (after the applause); the ending is really nicely done too.

You lose the dramatic tension of seeing it live, but at least this particular video is of a live performance; and you get to see some closeups of what she's doing, which makes it even cooler.

Here's the video: Balance goddess: Lara Jacobs at TEDxEdmonton.

One Response to “Astonishing balancing performance”

  1. Jed

    For more about this, see comments on the Facebook thread for this post.

    In particular, it turns out that the act was originated by Lara Jacobs’s father, Mädir Eugster. I gather that both Jacobs and Miyoko Shida learned it via Eugster’s troupe Rigolo. The piece appears to be called “Sanddornbalance.”

    I’m not sure whether that was actually Lara Jacobs I saw or someone else; I had assumed she was the only one performing it. And the video I linked to is very similar to the version I saw, especially the breathing and the pacing. But the performer I saw live could well have been someone else; one of the posts about it says there are now six people from Rigolo performing this piece in various contexts.


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