By Peta Tait
This pioneering examine is likely one of the significant courses within the more and more renowned and principally undocumented sector of circus reviews. via photos and illustrations, Peta Tait offers a rare survey of one hundred forty years of trapeze acts and the socially altering principles of muscular motion on the subject of our figuring out of gender and sexuality. She questions how spectators see and luxuriate in aerial activities, and what cultural identities are offered via our bodies in quick, actual aerial move. Adeptly finding aerial functionality in the wider cultural historical past of our bodies and their identities, Circus our bodies explores this topic via a number motion pictures reminiscent of Trapeze (1956) and Wings of wish (1987) and Tait additionally examines stay performances together with: * the 1st trapeze performers: L?otard and the Hanlon Brothers* woman celebrities; Azella, Sanyeah, black French aerialist LaLa, the notorious Leona Dare, and the feminine human cannonballs* twentieth-century gender benders; Barbette and Luisita Leers* the Codonas, Concellos, Gaonas, Vazquez and Pages troupes* inventive aerial acts in Cirque de Soleil and Circus ounces productions. This booklet will end up a useful source for all scholars and students drawn to this attention-grabbing box.
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Extra info for Circus Bodies Cultural Identity in Aerial Performance
I could look for hours at the supple exercises of a well-graced athlete . . the well-developed calves of his legs are things of beauty. That foible is shared by hundreds of thousands. (1892: 281) O’Shea assumes that women, in line with convoluted social Darwinism, were ruled by evolutionary instincts, and could not help but look at the most welldeveloped male bodies. The foreground of James Tissot’s painting The Sporting Ladies (1883–5) (Speaight 1980: 160) has two female spectators and other women in the background crowd, and above them are two male aerialists sitting on trapeze bars in an overtly sexualized manner, with muscular chests and spread thighs.
38 By then Azella had her own imitators (Munby 1972: 255). 39 Gossard’s research into the origins of the flying return act finds that as one of its pioneers, Azella left Gonza’s grasp and returned across the space to the swinging trapeze and then to her starting point, executing a flying return (1994: 114). There were also double somersaults to a catcher in this act. The return action would subsequently become the basis of all ﬂying trapeze routines. Females in aerial work were exposed to sexual inferences and no doubt middle-class men’s perceptions were that performers were of a lower class, and that they were not only sexually available but were also temptresses (Dijkstra 22 Graceful manliness, unfeminine maidens and erotic gods 1986: 356–8).
Emotional metonymy was evident in the responses to muscular bodies in aerial action. 60 For example, Kingsley’s claim that the soul in flight from its proper body was feminine is reiterated by descriptions in Graceful manliness, unfeminine maidens and erotic gods 35 poetry of its torment and ecstasy, and violent tearing from the body (Tucker 1996: 170). The soul’s transcendence was a poetic preoccupation so physical acts of transcendence by aerialists also appealed to poetic sensibilities. Aerialists became poetically metonymic of the sublimation of nature as well as of its excessive passions.