LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Friday, 31 January 2014

World's first quintuple somersault on the flying trapeze - but is it a genuine quintuple?

A YouTube video from the 21st World Christmas Circus in Stuttgart, Germany shows Han Ho Song apparently breaking a new frontier in the world of flying trapeze - a quintuple somersault.

But is it a 'genuine' quintuple? Documentary maker Phil Wayland has poured cold water on the achievement by calling the stunt an "assisted quintuple," because Song doesn't leave the fly bar alone, he's thrown into the air by another performer.

Commenting on America's most penetrating circus blog, Showbiz David, Wayland says:

"It's an impressive acrobatic feat... but not "classical" trapeze in any sense. The "flyer" hangs from a third performer who then flings the "flyer" up into the the "flyer" additional momentum unachievable by a solo performer".

Wayland is in the process of making a film about Miguel Vazquez, the first man to turn a quadruple somersault on the flying trapeze. He surely knows his stuff. Read the full post here. And if you haven't seen it yet, click here to watch Song's performance.

But should Song's quintuple be dismissed simply because it doesn't fit the ideal of "classical" trapeze? His troupe's whole act, after all, features multiple performers on multiple swings and shows how trapeze itself has evolved and progressed in the 150 years since Jules Leotard made the first leap from swing to swing.

I'm reminded of the scene in the Burt Lancaster film Trapeze when Lancaster's character talks about the "purity" of the flying trapeze: "One flyer, one catcher." The circus owner mocks Lancaster's ideals and insists Gina Lollobrigida's character joins the act, because he knows the public care nothing for "purity" just glamour and spectacle.

Lancaster counters that the showman is only interested in box office takings, to which the boss replies, "Do you want to work for no pay?"

Wherever art meets entertainment, the purists will always be offended by the impurity of change. But ultimately, it's innovation and change that keeps tradition alive.

The show must go on and, pure, classical, assisted or otherwise, the quintuple-throwing Han Ho Song sure puts on a show!

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For more on the flying trapeze, go backstage at Britain’s oldest circus building, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, to meet Brazilian trapeze stars The Flying Neves in rehearsal and warm-up, in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus by Douglas McPherson.

Described by the Mail on Sunday as “A brilliant account of a vanishing art form,” Circus Mania is a behind-the-scenes journey through the world of circus from traditional big top shows with Britain’s last tigers and elephants to the sophistication of Cirque du Soleil.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

Those daring young men on the flying trapeze
The Flying Neves Family
a picture from Circus Mania
(Photographer: David Street)

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