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Trance on a trapeze

by Rosslyn Hyams

Article published on the 2010-01-30 Latest update 2010-01-30 12:41 TU

Jane Allan performing in Paris(Photo: Christophe Bailleul)

Jane Allan performing in Paris
(Photo: Christophe Bailleul)

Culture in France: art of trapeze

30/01/2010 by Rosslyn Hyams

Today’s circus absorbs and reflects poetry and drama and expression - a far cry from whipping lions through hoops or having clowns with a limited range of codified expressions chase each other ‘round the ring with a fire hose.

Though within the restored wooden, closed ring of the Cabaret Sauvage at La Villette, you can find a more traditional circus feel.

The last time I was there, the Folles Nuits Berbères, a North African theme event, was on: donkeys were being tickled on the rump to jump over sticks, and the clown was a woman, well over twenty, in a traditional robe performing slam, but also hanging her washing on the trapeze artist's anchor ropes, only to be chased off by the ringmaster.

Yuki, the Japanese yo-yo master, did somersaults on the floor while juggling his spinning, flashing yo-yos that seem stuck to his fingers.

The trapeze is still a main attraction of the circus. The ceiling of the Cabaret Sauvage is not as high as a bigger circus ring, but the show put on by trapeze artist Jane Allan brought ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ as she performed gravity-defying feats in mid-air, dropping several metres at quite a speed, without a safety net.

Jane Allan flies through the air at the Cabaret Suavage(Photo: Christophe Bailleul)

Jane Allan flies through the air at the Cabaret Suavage
(Photo: Christophe Bailleul)

Allan, an English woman, took her courage in both hands 20 years ago, flew  through the air, landed in France and then spread her wings to infuse her skills with traditional dance customs from Africa and Asia.

“I had seen the Wim Wenders film, 'The Wings of Desire' and I think I wanted to be a fairy with sparkly wings,” she confides.

Her show is more than just sparkly costumes, although she does say “sparkles always add to charmingness, generally!”

Allan's choreographic work also adds to the charm. One of her numbers is inspired by the Indian dance form Mohiniyattam, which she performs in a sparkly and rather “bare” (her word) costume.

She is also drawn to the trance that goes with African Gnawa music, although she says she doesn't actually go into a full-blown trance.

“I'm in another state, and I think you can see that when I perform this number,” she says. “I'm in a different mental space.”

Jane Allan, inspired by the Indian dance form Mohiniyattam(Photo: Christophe Bailleul)

Jane Allan, inspired by the Indian dance form Mohiniyattam
(Photo: Christophe Bailleul)

Unlike traditional trapeze, where the artists have their hair neatly drawn back and everything is streamlined and rigid, in Allan's Gnawa-trance-dance-on-a-trapeze, in her draped, flowing costume, she gives the impression of letting go, hair and all. But of course, that's just an illusion

“When you dance on the floor, the floor doesn't move, but the trapeze moves when you move, and you have to be especially strong to control the trapeze when you introduce choreography into your act,” she says.

Because it is such a physically wearing occupation and art, trapeze artists usually stop their performing careers relatively early. Allan credits her exercise regimen - Pilates and yoga – which, along with trapeze practice several times a week, she says are taking her to new heights.

“What it comes down to is how much you can actually do in the aerial situation,” she says. “I’ve never been able to do so much. So it would be a bad time to stop!”

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