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Current as of 24/05/17 07:20PM NZST

Trapeze, the highest form of art

By Hannah Lawrence

Les Arts Sauts was set up in 1993 in France by a group of acrobat friends, a decision which has led to more than a decade of touring the world, sharing their love of flight.

"We're following an idea about the flying trapeze that it's a beautiful art and we can fly as much as we want," Stephane Ricordel says. "It's a story of passion. We love trapeze, so we did start by thinking that trapeze could be an art by itself."

Les Arts Sauts will perform their new show Ola Kola (Greek for "all's well") at the New Zealand International Arts Festival, beginning in Wellington on Friday. The group is no stranger to the Wellington event - it was the runaway hit of the 2000 festival, selling out an entire 15-night season.

They have wanted to return since, Ricordel says, and six years later are back, bigger and higher than before. In Ola Kala the trapeze artists fly in all directions and perform their aerial magic in a 28m white inflatable dome, eight metres higher than in 2000.

The music also descends from the skies, from five musicians and a singer suspended 12 metres above ground.

The audience lies back in specially designed lounger-style deck chairs, complete with rubber rolls for neck support, while the magic unfolds above them.

Despite the dizzying heights, Ricordel says they are not trying to create an impression of fear or danger.

"I don't think it's frightening. Some people think so, of course, because we are working high. But we are not playing with that kind of feeling. We try to get emotion out of the trapeze, not fear."

He hopes the audience leave with a feeling of the teamwork and closeness that make the performance possible, because nothing can be done by one person alone.

"We are working as a team, so we are 17 people up there. And when one guy does a trick, 16 other guys are working just for him. So it's a kind of really deep, group feeling."

They have enormous faith in each other, he says. "Trust, confidence and love."

From the outset they defined themselves as a collective, in which everyone has a place and the wages are equal.

"It's not family because when we are not working we are not together. Everybody has his own life, but we are a very good team and very good friends."

Family is important to the group. Family members form part of the entourage, and a teacher takes care of the children's schooling. "It has to be like that because we are touring almost all the months in the year," Ricordel says. "So if you want to keep your family you have to be with them."

Touring the world is a fantastic experience for the children, he says.

"My son is now 12. He was born in Les Arts Sauts and has been travelling all his life. He has done 39 countries. So we are together with him. He goes to school, so it's a good life."

There is no pressure for the children to follow in their parents' footsteps.

"We are not pushing them that way. They are just seeing that this life can be done and that it's a nice life, so I hope they will take something from it."

The group is looking forward to returning to New Zealand. "We had a very, very great time in Wellington. The festival's great and we did meet a lot of people," he says. " The audience was responding like hell. It was full all the time. I think it's going to be full again."

It will be New Zealand's last chance to witness the artistry of Les Arts Sauts, as Ola Kala will be their final show. The company will disband when they finish touring with it.

The group want to go out the way they began - with passion. "In two years we stop because 15 years together is a long time. We will start being too old to do flying trapeze."


* What: Ola Kala, by Les Arts Sauts, NZ International Arts Festival.
* Where and when: Waitangi Park, Wellington, from Friday


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