by Saori Wall
The origins of aerial silks, or tissu, are mysterious. The oldest known photograph of the art is of a woman named Amy LaVan, dating back to the early 1900’s. Since then many people have been credited with pioneering silks. A small french newspaper in 1959 was the first mention in print. However, many agree aerial silks were internationally recognized between 1995-1998 at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain, where Isabelle Vaudelle premiered the act and, later joined by Isabelle Chasse in Quidam, a Cirque du Soleil performance. As a child I was taken to Quidam, where a young girl named Zoe, bored out of her wits, wanting to escape the monotony of her life, imagines an alternate world. Her companion is a headless man in a suit carrying an umbrella and bowler hat. Quidam is said to be the embodiment of everyone and no one, and the whimsical world brought to life by set designer Michel Crête remains one of the most extraordinary performances I have ever witnessed.
Luckily for us yearning for an alternate world, there is an outdoor pavilion in the canyon with aerial arts classes for children and adults. Whether you can relate to Zoe’s quest to escape the mundane or you’ve been feeling like an apathetic headless man carrying around your bowler hat and umbrella (and the rain is somehow coming up at you from the ground) FOCUSfish is most definitely the school for you.
FOCUSfish, is a 501c3 non-profit partnered with Cali-Camp to design and implement an outdoor aerial pavilion. With a unique pulley system by Paul Beauvais, the pavilion allows people of all ages to move safely, outdoors. Executive director, Kristy Beauvais says “It was time for innovation, not evacuation.”
“So much of our lives are dictated with such prohibition and alarm. Isn’t that dangerous? What if my child falls? What about our body’s ability to take care of itself? To trust itself in a situation? To be independent? And now we wear masks. We have to cope. This makes us stronger and our bodies more informed. This is why FOCUSfish had to come up with a plan to get back up in the air during the age of Covid-19.”
FOCUSfish opened in early July, and classes have been filling up. In August a new program developed by Kristy and Lexi Pearl, the organization’s advanced aerial teacher and local Topangan, will begin. Children will learn costume and makeup through online tutorials, as well as receive private vocal coaching through videos and Zoom. All will culminate in a video performance. Kristy says they are “happy to be outdoors, where the space is safe, nature thrives, and art lives.”
I met with the Beauvais family for a socially distanced preview of their updated pavilion. Greeted by Big Rock in the distance, to my left were two sisters supporting one another with words of encouragement as they finessed their craft. Kristy stood nearby proudly beaming as her youngest, Brodie climbed the tissu tied to the 18-foot-high structure and spun beautifully into a split. In this space, when on the mat there seemed to be only room for discipline and encouragement between sisters. I asked their oldest, Gabbi, if there is any hope for me to put down my bowler hat and umbrella and to learn a completely new skill.
“If you want to feel like a fierce fairy warrior god/goddess, I highly recommend aerial arts,” she replied. “It’s an amazing workout that builds all the right muscles for you to feel strong, safe, and graceful while levitating. It’s kind of a super power! To everyone who is just starting out or wants to, remember that it is always going to be hard, but our bodies are amazing things and if we persist, we get stronger every time.”
For more information on their program visit www.focusfish.com
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