"Cool-Ass Matrix Shit!" / by clare elliott

 Calvert Litho - Lithograph 1890

Calvert Litho - Lithograph 1890

WHAT IS AERIAL/HARNESS-BASED WORK?

I have a dear friend who often (with a glint in his eye) introduces me as his friend who does "Cool-Ass Matrix Shit!". The responses range from feigned interest to enthusiastic grunts that lead to entertaining debates. I have thus been prompted to wax lyrical on my answer to a question we are all asked far too often at dinner parties, " So what is it that you actually do?....."

Super-human abilities, impossible feats, subverting reality, sensations of flying have been captured in man’s cultural imagination for centuries. Frenchman Jules Leotard first invented the flying trapeze by attaching ventilator cords to a bar above his father’s swimming pool in 1859. A century later, Philippe Petite stunned the public by accomplishing his secret mission of walking across a tight-rope between the Twin Towers in New York City, August 1974.  Tricia Brown’s choreographic work explored figures walking down urban surfaces in the 70‘s downtown NY scene and Hong Kong’s longstanding tradition in wire-assisted stage-craft (wire-fu), brought excellent fight sequences to international screens. 

There have been countless permutations in the use of wires, ropes, pulleys and other systems to enable man to achieve inspiring feats and create alternative worlds. In the past decade the use of harness work in film, theatre, arena shows, opening ceremonies and events have become increasingly sophisticated and very much in demand. Usually however the term ‘aerial’ work within the entertainment industry is used somewhat narrowly to denote particular acts that have originated in the circus. Silks (long pieces of fabrics that performers manipulate and hang from), rope acts and trapeze, both static and flying. Aerial Dance has become a popular contemporary art form with many new companies focusing specifically on works that use aerial elements to create narratives and add a different dimension to choreography. Aerial work within film is often used by stunt coordinators to design falls or by fight directors to choreograph complex fight sequences. Olympic ceremonies and arena shows often make use of aerial work to create large-scale spectacular performances needing to be seen by thousands of people.

And then there is the aerial work that fits into none of those categories. It is a way of using intricate systems of ropes, pulleys, motors and harnesses, often within a theatrical context to create imaginary worlds and to challenge our perceptions of what is possible. In other words to create, " cool-ass matrix shit!"