Bringing high-flying thrills to the masses

October 23, 2013

Prior to 2004, Aerial Circusry didn’t have a firm grip in the Republic of Ireland. With insurance and development barriers in place, Donegal based Fidget Feet, founded by husband and wife team Jym Daly and Chantal McCormick, left Ireland for London to up skill. Returning to inseminate the barren womb of Irish arts, they produced a flurry of work that excited audiences and inspired the next generation. One such group that has benefited from the training opportunities they provided were Paper Dolls, who in the space of two short years stole one fringe and were declared the Spirit of another, with their aesthetically stunning and technically novel work.

“I met the rest of the girls who would go on to form Paper Dolls at Fidget Feet work shops,” Emily Aoibheann tells me. “We quickly realised that doing a two week workshop every couple of months was not going to bring us to a level where we could really explore the art form. So we took it upon ourselves to sort out a space where things could happen.”

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and so it was with the theatre community, who nurtured Paper Dolls youthful enthusiasm through informal mentoring and helping hands. “We met Vanessa Fielding, artistic director of the Complex, in Smithfield, who provided us with a temporary training space and venue for our self-titled show in the Absolout Fringe in 2011. We went straight from there to enroll in a yearlong aerial and acrobatics training course at Belfast Circus School, which culminated in The Land of Giants, the largest outdoor event ever to be held in Northern Ireland, performed to 20,000 people.”

When they returned to Dublin, The Complex had been put out on the street after an aggressive take over by Tesco of their home, so Mark O Brien at the axis: Ballymun fostered the girl’s talent. He’d give them space to workshop their show Constellations, which would eventually win top prize at this years Fringe Festival, if they gave workshops to the local community. “Teaching is part of the ethos we inherited as part of our relationship with Fidget Feet,” Emily says. “Their etiquette is one of community. At first they just taught us our trade. But now they are actually supporting us in a much more holistic sense.

“From providing equipment for a production we had to fund ourselves to passing on ideas and approaches, motivations, inspirations and contacts. They notify us about significant events that are on and encourage us to represent Paper Dolls at them. In terms of networking, that kind of support-when building a company, is a priceless generosity. It’s something that we try to invest and instill in the people that we collaborate with and, now, in our students.”

Paper Dolls started paying it forward this November by launching a two hour conditioning and technique class over seven weeks, which allowed people with no experience of aerial to pull up a rope and give it a go. In it, students were taught the fundamental vocabulary of aerial and began to learn the relationship between themselves and the apparatus. “It’s so much easier to grasp once you have that foundation of body awareness under your belt. It’s how we were taught. We had to be able to do certain things before we were rewarded with learning a trick.”

Small steps can bring you to great places. So the earlier weeks were spent getting the body used to the movement and the equipment. “You spend around a half an hour doing stretches and exercises, hauling your body weight onto things,” says Richard Weld-Moore, a 36-year old graphic designer from Dublin, who took the course as a way to combat a minor fear of heights. “Then they taught us a few basic climbs, how to mount the rope, leg raises and trapeze work. After the first few weeks your arms are in bits and there were certain moves, like the pike or turning yourself into a ball that I found impossible to do alone. But as the course develops you develop the body strength.”

Fiona Mooney, 20, is taking the class as she is to tour around the Unites States with a Circus as part of her J1. “We did different stretches every week,” she says, “so I started taking a notebook so I could do them at home. I used to consider myself the weakest thing ever. Now I go into my little sister’s room and get her to poke my new muscles. I’m proud of them.”

This semester the people who completed the foundational course will go on to do a beginners repertoire one, using a variety of different apparatus -rope, silks, hoop and trapeze, as well as playing around with tricks. “During a recent workshop I learned The Gladiator where I got to wrap my feet around the trapeze and go backwards hanging upside down,” Fiona tells me.

It’s fundamentally a really engaging work out for people who are adventurous and who like a challenge. “You begin to realise the capacity of your own body,” Emily says. “You learn to negotiate uncomfortable feelings; your pain threshold increases and people who stick with it are strong as oxes. And you are working your brain. The technique aspect, the logic, puts your brain to work.”

Emily tells me about a really interesting project in a women’s circus in Melbourne who have done a lot of work with people who have had experiences of domestic violence or who had body dysmorphia issues, who used the aerial training to reclaim their own sense of bodilyness. There are also studies done on the role circus can play in peoples recovery from addiction.

“This unique mixture between adrenalin and adventure and physical and mental application means there is so much potential for a social circus aspect to emerge in Dublin as well,” Emily says. “The problem lies in where the money is going to come from.”

There is a particular dress code for every class. Zips or jewelry are verboten as they get caught in the equipment. Emily suggests people wear relatively tight fitting clothes and layer up. A couple of pairs of tights, track suit bottoms and tops, high-waisted shorts.

“You do a lot of work around your midriff once you start doing the repertoire stuff and equipment can be abrasive,” she says. “You will be bruised, bumped and burned. We try and avoid those things by layering clothing and protecting the skin. But it is a bit rough and ready.”

Next up for Paper Dolls is a Shibari work shop. “Shibari is a technique of bodily suspension using hemp and jute rope,” Aoibheann says. “We started exploring self-suspension and the suspension of others for Constellations and liked the organic elements of the rope and the construction of aerial apparatus using knots and ties. The visual element really appealed to us so we’ve continued to explore using ropes performatively, integrating it with conventional aerial apparatus.”

Their workshops will cover the basic principles of shibari knot tying and a little about the tradition before moving on to basic harness building and partial self-suspension.

“The way the guys teach is very good,” Richard says. “They obviously have a passion for this stuff and want to see it done well. When someone is that into doing what they are doing its quite an inspiring and you really want to learn from them. I was only going to do it for a few weeks but it’s infectious now I’ve signed up for more and more.”

PaperDolls are doing a weekend of Shibari workshops in Circus Factory Cork 6th/ 7th April with new aerial classes commencing in Dublin this week. Mail for details

Full Article Irish Examiner April 02, 2013


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