Someone once told me that to have 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 not– but it’s an interesting notion. One of my coaches specializing in handstands describes balancing as having a 6th 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 one’s feet. Hand-balancing is arguably the most difficult discipline in circus: think having the strength, poise, and technique of a ballerina, but on your hands rather than feet.
Balancing is an ancient art form that involves balancing one’s body on the hands, head, or on an apparatus. In Esther de Monteflores’ case, she uses a slack-wire or slack-rope (named depending on the material the apparatus is made from). 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 age twelve, 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.”
Esther de Monteflores is a contemporary circus artist, physical performer and choreographer based in Bellingham, Washington. Esther is one of a tiny handful of circus performers in the USA specializing in slack-rope walking and has received professional training in equilibristics, aerial arts, contortion and hand-balancing at the San Francisco Circus Center and at Trapeze Arts in Oakland. Esther has studied slack-rope walking with Beth Clarke (Sweet Can Productions) and David Hunt (Circus Bella). Esther developed and produced her first solo performance piece, Equilibrium, earlier this year. Equilibrium was funded in part by a Grants for Artists Projects award from Artist Trust (Seattle, WA) and was supported by a residency at the Lookout Arts Center in Alger, Washington. Equilibrium has been performed at the Lookout Arts Center, at Art on the Atlanta Beltline in Atlanta, Georgia, and at the Prop Box in Oakland, California. Esther has toured nationally and internationally as a freelance performer and with Wise Fool New Mexico, The New Old Time Chautauqua as well as with her own troupe, Capistrano Circus.
Zoey Gould is a Contemporary Circus Artist and Engineer, specializing in static trapeze, tissue, and renewable energy. She is presently employed as a Project Coordinator for Engineers Without Borders Canada. www.upsidedownsidecircus.com