|The Flying Caceres (AP Photo)Catch Caceres' Flying Trapezists
Posted: December 5, 2006
SARASOTA, Florida (AP) -- In his father's day, a triple or quadruple somersault was the most daring feat a trapeze artist could do. But after Cirque du Soleil gained fame with its theatrics and contortions, George Caceres decided the number of rotations in flight was not as exciting as the number of people flying in sync.
Caceres followed his family into the mid-air somersault business when he was 5, touring the world and performing for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Now 28, he has revived his Colombian-born father's troupe with Cirque du Soleil's finesse holding precedence over his Ringling roots.
Instead of just swinging from one trapeze to another in a straight line, Caceres choreographed a routine that sends his troupe vertically and diagonally across a custom-made rigging, with as many as four of the seven members flying at the same time -- two on high bars and two below.
"Flying trapeze is very predictable. It doesn't really thrill people like it did in 1859 when Jules Leotard invented it in Paris. You know what's going to happen," Caceres said. "When you watch flying trapeze and if there's one catcher, one bar, he's going in that direction. When you see this act, people don't know. It keeps them on their toes a little bit more. That's what makes it different."
He freely credits the Cirque du Soleil's resident production "La Nouba" in Orlando as his inspiration for a new circus act, but insists it's not a copy of that performance. "They have 13 men. I have half as many people to do the act with, plus I have women. They have one girl, I have five," he said.
The new Flying Caceres practiced in Florida for a year before booking their first performance earlier this month at a circus festival in Grenoble, France.
Their 36-foot-high (11-meter-high) rigging was set up in the front yard of the Caceres' house in Sarasota, where streets and an art museum bear the name of John Ringling, who in 1927 made the city the winter home for his circus.
A few weeks before leaving for France, the troupe ran through the first half of their act with a handful of cars nearly parked under the rigging's safety net. The seven members, including Caceres' sister Krizia, range in age from 22 to 31.
The traditional flying trapeze setup has two platforms at either end of the net, and one or two bars swinging in between. Caceres' rigging boasts four platforms and four trapeze bars; everything supported by metal poles in his Sarasota yard will hang from the ceiling in European venues.
The troupe's five women dominate the first half of the performance, doing splits and somersaults from one bar to the next and posing with pointed toes and outstretched arms once they reach the next platform.
Caceres could not practice his part in the second half of the 10-minute act that Friday because of a strained muscle over his rib cage: He drops from one of the high bars in a series of twists and somersaults into the hands of Colby Balch, the catcher hanging upside down below.
The act concludes with all the performers taking turns swinging over the middle of the safety net, letting go into somersaults and falling to bounce on their backs.
Caceres' injury was the latest obstacle to getting the troupe flying. Local welders initially refused to build the rigging Caceres designed to be over a meter (4 feet) taller than the average flying trapeze setup; a former circus performer who lives next door finally offered to build it in his own machine shop.
Many flying trapeze acts consist of extended families that have performed together for generations. Unlike George and Krizia Caceres who are third-generation circus performers, the troupe's five other members first learned the flying trapeze at Club Med resorts or circus-themed camps and had no industry ties to help them book performances. The troupe had to prove they were trained professionals offering a fresh perspective, not just a group of wannabes, Balch said.
Challenging male-dominated trapeze tradition
With five women, The Flying Caceres also breaks the male-dominated flying trapeze tradition.
"A lot of people who do this have no faith in girls performing. They say, 'Girls are not strong enough,"' said Elena Egorova, whose parents were circus performers in Russia.
On the strength of a homemade DVD showcasing their act, complete with the skintight white costumes hand-sewn by Krizia Caceres, the troupe secured two contracts for after the Grenoble festival: a five-week stint with the Gran Circo Mundial in Spain, then a longer stretch back in France with Cirque Arlette Gruss.
"Circus in Europe is a different culture," Egorova, 27, said. "It's more on the level of opera, ballet or theater."
The promise of travel and a more relaxed lifestyle lured the troupe's members to Sarasota, where they worked part-time jobs, lived off savings and crashed in the home of Caceres' father, Miguel, while putting together the act. George and Krizia Caceres recruited some members through the online network MySpace.
"What I love is that it's a sport but also an art form. It blends ultra-athleticism and artistic expression," said Balch, 30, originally from Atlanta. He is the troupe's catcher, whose primary job is hanging by his knees to catch the other members who launch off other trapeze bars.
Some older performers say the circus' shift toward the theatrical is the latest attempt to attract a new audience.
Flying trapeze artists maintain the tradition of going for the most daring trick, but they also cloak simpler moves in drama, said Norma Fox, who as "La Norma" once spun with a trapeze bar clamped between her teeth.
"They turn it in more slow motion, turn it a little sexier. They're not looking for the dangerous part, they want to have it beautiful," said Fox, now in her late 70s and retired in Sarasota.
Miguel Caceres' goal when he started The Flying Caceres in 1982 was to push the limits of the human body in flight. His son pushes those limits with more panache, he said.
"It's more complicated. There's more excitement, more action in the air," said Miguel Caceres, who learned the flying trapeze as a boy. "It's a new dimension of flying today. ... Today, it's not really how much you do up there, it's really how you do it."